When Patrick Ewing was hired in April 2017, the Georgetown Basketball program desperately needed change. They needed to change the way they defended, they needed to change the pace of their offense, and they needed to change how they recruited. Looking back, change doesn’t always mean improvement. Different doesn’t always mean better. The noble experiment of hiring Georgetown’s favorite son and basketball legend as the head coach and presumed leader of the program is currently failing badly. And the only way out—causing as little further damage to this once-storied program, and the legacy of John Thompson, Jr.—is for Patrick Ewing to step down as head coach.
The national media articles have said a fair amount recently, but not enough. The Washington Post suggested that Georgetown no longer resembles the program of Big John’s Hoyas. Tony Kornheiser suggested Georgetown firing Ewing on his podcast. Myron Medcalf of ESPN noted that “It’s fair to wonder, however, how long Ewing will stay at Georgetown” and “John Thompson III was fired for less, proving that an appetite for struggles is conditional, even with a coach who has close ties to Big John.” Zach Braziller of the New York Post wrote “I doubt Georgetown would outright fire the legendary player, especially after giving him a contract extension last April” and that “an amicable parting ways would be the best thing for both parties” before coming on Kente Korner and elaborating.
The loss to a shorthanded DePaul team missing its leading scorer, due to a 26-0 second-half run, was more symptomatic than climactic. No Georgetown fan was surprised that the Blue Demons shot 7-10 from beyond the arc in 16 minutes since halftime. But seeing the perennial basement dweller embarrass the Hoyas made this post inevitable. Patrick Ewing is not the guy to turn the program around right now.
This is not saying he’s not a good coach, or that he hasn’t worked hard. His 15 years as an NBA assistant, his glowing recommendations from NBA players, the Van Gundy brothers, Steve Clifford, Pat Riley and more, and even the efforts fans saw with his 7-foot frame sitting in high school gyms across the nation all speak to his determination and dedication to becoming an excellent coach. This experiment was never phoned-in, rushed, or given less than 100% effort. For that, Patrick Ewing is to be commended.
But the record speaks for itself. Georgetown is 0-11 in BIG EAST play this year and 6-16 overall. The team hasn’t shown any improvement since a shocking season opening loss to Ivy League afterthoughts Dartmouth on November 13th. Last year, the Hoyas were 7-9 in the conference and 13-13 for the season. In 2019-2020, Georgetown was 5-13 in the conference and 15-17 overall. In 2018-2019, the Hoyas were 9-9 in the conference (3rd place) and 19-14 for the year. Ewing was 15-15 (5-13 in the BIG EAST) in his first year at the helm. That makes, at this point, Ewing’s record 26-55 in the BIG EAST and 68-75 overall. Of course, a conference tournament championship and NCAA Tournament appearance last year should be noted, too. It’s just not enough. Based on those numbers alone, Ewing has one of the worst records for Big East coaches given at least five years and it’s trending in the wrong direction.
What fans saw last February and March that was different from the 100+ other games coached by Patrick Ewing, was defense. Whether it was an adjustment in coaching, or a combination of length and experience in personnel, the defensive improvement made all the difference in the world. Georgetown’s 8th BIG EAST Tournament Championship, the most of any program in the BIG EAST, is a credit to Ewing, the staff, and the players. Nothing will ever take that away from them or the program.
However, what fans expected this season—at least in January or February—was some semblance of last year’s stronger defense. Fans wanted some indication that Ewing had figured out what it takes to be successful in the BIG EAST and college basketball generally. Instead, the program has exhibited the same tired issues on that end of the floor: poor switching on screens, abysmal perimeter guarding, over-helping inside, and impatience on head fakes. These have unfortunately become the hallmarks of the Ewing Era Defense. A far cry from John Thompson, Jr.’s full-court, 40-minute Hoya Paranoia Press.
The offense has had its problems under Coach Ewing, too. Ewing has long preached a high-pace of play that resembles NBA-style and is thought to be attractive to recruits. Through the first four years, Ewing’s teams generally have not had issues putting up 70 points. Still, concerns such as poor ball movement, point guards blindly driving into traffic, and sloppy turnovers are typical reasons a Ewing-led offense is on the wrong side of one of the numerous 20-2-style swings. There are too many horrific runs to count these past five seasons, but catastrophic collapses like last night harkened memories of the 0-23 game-ending run against St. John’s in the first round of the COVID-canceled BIG EAST Tournament in March 2020. There has to be a better plan to find buckets during a drought, especially down the stretch.
Perhaps having more players and more experience on each roster may have curbed some of those runs. But as head chef at Georgetown, Ewing is not only in charge of cooking the gumbo, he is supposed to buy the ingredients. Ewing asks a lot out of his top guys in the second half, so having enough gas in the tank should definitely be a concern for his staff. Stocking the roster with 5-7 new faces every year doesn’t seem to be the best strategy to combat this. While some coaches are keeping their roster a little thinner to add quality players and maintain culture—Ewing and his staff appear to have the philosophy of filling the barn with “horses” as he calls them. This strategy has failed. The culture and discipline has not held up. Kids are mad about minutes from Day 1. Having three 7-footers on a team hurts other positions. Having two score-first, need-ball point guards starting for 40 games from 2018-2020 didn’t work. Dismissing players like Chris Sodom, Antwan Walker, and Tre King early in the season has not worked.
The transfers certainly are an issue in themselves. Perhaps more than a few can be written off as stubborn individuals or handlers who didn’t reveal themselves until it was too late. But the amount of players who have left, even in the free-agency transfer portal era, is staggering. Here’s the full list: Chris Sodom, Antwan Walker, Grayson Carter, Josh LeBlanc, James Akinjo, Galen Alexander, Myron Gardner, Mac McClung, Qudus Wahab, Jamari Sibley, and T.J. Berger, as well as Tre King never playing a game and Jalen Harris leaving the team after five games last season for family reasons. While none of them are world-beaters, and every one has personal reasons, the collection represents a huge loss of talent and some horribly wasted time for Ewing’s staff by recruiting each one.
Looking back to December 2019, while we can’t conclude anything, we know there was an issue with Josh LeBlanc and, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, Galen Alexander and Myron Gardner were involved. Before the news broke, LeBlanc was playing fewer minutes and performing like a lesser version of his 2018-19 self. The Hoyas were struggling well before the mass exodus brought a dark cloud over that season. LeBlanc announced his departure. James Akinjo also announced his intent to transfer that same day. Whether that decision was based on the many rumors of disagreement with Mac McClung, some beef with Ewing, the expected turmoil with LaBlanc’s defection, or something else, we may never know. But Ewing saw two BIG EAST All-Freshman team members leave that December, with a third in Mac McClung following—in a much different drama-infused path at the end of the 2019-2020 season. All three had their faults on and off the court, but a coach’s job is to manage that under a united goal of development, winning, and success.
That’s not to say that Ewing and the Hoyas were doomed since those transfers, but the uphill road has been brutal. Georgetown was 3rd in the BIG EAST at 9-9 in 2018-19 and the program was trending in the right direction. Then it wasn’t. And the consequence is having a current roster without any true seniors, let alone three guys who were on the all-freshman team. Maybe Georgetown could have weathered the storm better if they hadn’t lost other guys to transfers.
But this is more than just about the transfers. The roster construction year-to-year looks like Ewing’s staff lacks a plan. Speaking of the staff, Ewing has shown either incredible stubbornness or loyalty in keeping the exact same staff in place all five seasons with - before this season - relatively mediocre results on the court and a lack of local recruiting success. Perhaps he thought the buck ultimately stopped with him, but it takes more than even the program’s all-time best player to run a successful high-major program.
Of course, we cannot take away from a few awesome stretches that Georgetown has had, especially in the face of adversity. December 2019, after the Great Defections, had some good basketball led by Jagan Mosely and Terrell Allen. Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair stayed four years and were rewarded with hoisting a BIG EAST Tournament banner, with freshman Dante Harris taking home Most Outstanding Player hardware. Omer Yurtseven has developed into a solid NBA player, with Pickett hopefully progressing towards a full NBA contract. Both Yurtseven and Pickett have sung Ewing’s praises, echoing that Pat is a key reason for their development and ease of working in NBA systems.
Perhaps there are a couple future NBA players on this current Georgetown roster, and perhaps Ewing could be the one to develop them over four years, but we haven’t seen enough of Ewing getting the best out of his entire roster to entertain this point. A 15-year NBA assistant should be able to help super talented NBA-bodies get to the League. He should be able to teach pro-level rebound techniques and post moves.
It’s the fundamentals and discipline that fans have not seen on the court consistently. It’s the strange lineup combinations and poor use of timeouts. It’s the poor shot selection followed by a frustration foul. It’s the consistent disappearance of top scorers without a set run for them or even a touch on several possessions. It’s hearing the coach yell “Rebound!” and seeing the center hedging a screen near half court. Georgetown Basketball is broken. It’s time for a change.
A month ago, Patrick Ewing said “Big John is rolling over in his grave for the performance we showed tonight. This is not what I’m about. This is not what my team’s about. So everybody is on notice.” With Ewing’s comments, he clearly abandoned his “patience is a virtue” motto from earlier this year. Invoking John Thompson did not help the program avoid attention or motivate anyone on that bench. Criticizing the college players and not taking responsibility himself for the program’s shortcomings is an embarrassing look. Georgetown’s players are not primadonna professionals, they are student-athletes.
In fact, these comments opened the floodgates for the Hoya faithful. On Twitter, Facebook groups, the comment sections, the message boards, and more, fan criticism has poured in about everything from the coaches to the players to the validity of last year’s championship and more. And the connection to John Thompson has been wielded as both a sword and a shield. Ewing’s ties to Thompson were being blamed for a lack of success–while other fans called for a return to Thompson-era principles. Will recruiting DC ever be the same as the 80s and 90s where Big John could walk in a gym and walk out with a commitment? Can Georgetown maintain the ties to Big John’s legacy on social justice, education, discipline and reject certain basketball notions that may appear to be stubborn, dogmatic, autocratic, and outdated?
One might argue he was never placed in a position with the best support now or even five years ago. Was Ewing’s staff—which appears to be led by Ronny Thompson and hand-picked by John Thompson, Jr.—ever going to be able to turn this program around? Maybe. Was Patrick Ewing set up for success with a great coaching staff and the right resources around him? Probably not. Did a BIG EAST Tournament victory reinforce stubborn thinking and strict adherence to whatever plan the staff may have had? Probably. Can this beloved University and historic basketball program afford to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results? Absolutely not.
Ewing coaching on the Hilltop might be a big part of Thompson’s legacy, but so is the success of Georgetown in the future. Thompson’s name will always be on the practice facility and tied to the achievements of Georgetown athletics. Ewing’s departure will certainly have ramifications as to the current roster and perhaps immediate term recruiting efforts. However, this tough pill fans will have to swallow is necessary to move forward. Ewing needs to realize it’s the best thing for the program to step down.
Should Ewing not step down and force the University to initiate his departure, a dismissal could get ugly. Clearly it is in no one’s interest to alienate Georgetown’s favorite son. In an ideal world, Ewing will still appear at Georgetown events and receive the ovations that he deserves just as he did in the past.
Ultimately, the next step is up to Patrick Ewing. He will forever be loved by Georgetown fans - that will never change. If he wants to see the Georgetown brand that he helped create find success in the future, he must step down and let Georgetown Basketball begin the rebuild to the status it deserves.