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WHAT’S NEXT? Options After Georgetown’s Show of Support for Ewing

If Patrick Ewing is back, what changes? What might make fans feel better about the direction?

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 29 Georgetown at Butler Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The fans of the Georgetown Hoyas have had plenty of time to think about and react to the statement by the Director of Georgetown Athletics in support of Patrick Ewing continuing as the head coach of the men’s basketball program. Prior to issuance of the statement, Casual Hoya conducted a poll. It sure seems like the fans have their minds made up for the direction of the program. However, this is admittedly a delicate situation.

On Kente Korner, we tried to unpack “the statement” about what this might mean for the future. The question boils down to, if Ewing does return, what “necessary changes” might make fans feel better about the direction? How does Georgetown regain the support of, e.g., the 78% who voted for a new head coach?

For reference, the statement says:

A Statement from Georgetown Director of Athletics Lee Reed

As a university with high standards and expectations for both academic and athletic excellence, we all share the disappointment of a difficult season.

In this ever evolving landscape of college athletics we are committed to Coach Ewing, and we are working with him to evaluate every aspect of the men’s basketball program and to make the necessary changes for him to put us back on the path to success for next year.

Coach Ewing’s dedication as well as his success in last year’s BIG EAST Tournament is a testament to his leadership. This gives us confidence that he can strengthen our program going forward. I wish to thank all of our supporters and season ticket holders for their ongoing commitment and express my appreciation to the members of our team for their hard work.

On the face of things, the statement does not appear well written or well thought out. Fans are not just disappointed in one single difficult season, it’s been five years of retention issues, gaps in discipline, and horrible perimeter defense. Pointing to the BIG EAST Championship as evidence of future success, in comparison to 4+ years of struggles, is borderline insulting to the fans and supporters. Platitudes like “make the necessary changes” mean very little in light of a program too stubbornly attached to tradition to adapt along with the “ever evolving landscape.”

But what does this really mean? Well it looks like there are a handful of scenarios, where all or some of which might happen:

1. Maybe the Athletic Department and University reverse course?

Does this vote of confidence mean anything? Maybe. Some fans and commenters have referred to Georgetown’s public statement of support as a proverbial “kiss of death,” indicating that Georgetown might fire Patrick Ewing weeks later. Bobby Bancroft noted that Craig Esherick received a similar press release and was let go 11 days later. quickly unearthed the archived statements, saying:

Georgetown’s last two public votes for a coach are not confidence builders.

On March 3, 2017, a statement from Reed said the following:

“We remain confident in Coach Thompson’s ability to lead a team comprised of student athletes who achieve academically, are prepared for a future beyond Georgetown and will be competitive on a national level. Our history of success in men’s basketball at Georgetown has created high expectations that we continue to embrace. We appreciate the passion of our fans and their tremendous support.”

Thompson was fired by Jack DeGioia 21 days later.

On March 4, 2004, a statement from University president Jack DeGioia read as follows:

“As someone who has a 29-year affiliation with Georgetown University and its athletic department, I take special pride in our tradition of athletic and academic excellence. I am very committed to continuing our tradition, especially in men’s basketball, by fielding competitive teams, ensuring that our students get the very best educations, and setting a standard for integrity. I believe that this season’s men’s basketball team, and our new class of recruits, hold a great deal of promise. I have confidence that Craig Esherick - who helped to build our tradition of excellence in men’s basketball - is the right person to strengthen and lead our program.”

Esherick was fired by DeGioia 12 days later.

As Bobby said on Kente Korner, this could very well be a statement made in response to multiple media requests and mean nothing more than support in this very moment. Whether Georgetown would do that to the legend Patrick Ewing seems doubtful, but who knows.

Do I think this means a letter-writing campaign needs to be renewed? No, I’m pretty confident that any basketball related emails in the president's mailbox are caught by a spam filter. Maybe a final decision in a few weeks comes down to input from the Board or some mysterious major donors, but maybe everything is how it seems and Patrick Ewing gets to coach at Georgetown for as long as he would like.

2. Maybe Patrick Ewing steps down?

Casual Hoya did release a post a few weeks ago reiterating the uncomfortable truth that it’s time for Patrick Ewing to step down to save Georgetown Basketball. He could save some time and probably some dignity for himself and the program by exiting gracefully. After the statement, he might even be able to step down on his own terms while saying he has the support of the University.

As we’ve said a few times around here, Patrick Ewing is not known for giving up and stepping aside. This was somewhat demonstrated by his extending his NBA career past New York to Seattle and Orlando. Maybe, like Tubby Smith, Ewing decides that family time and low-stress healthy lifestyle choices are more valuable. But probably not.

3. Patrick Ewing could completely reboot the defense

If Ewing is indeed still around in April, starting a new defensive scheme is an absolute necessity. Outside of about 20 games in February and March 2021, there have been 125+ games ranging defensively from of poor to very mediocre for Georgetown under Patrick Ewing. From 2017-2018 until this season, Kenpom has rated Georgetown’s Adjusted Defense as numbers 119, 133, 125, 49, and 225 in the nation, respectively. Perimeter defense has been consistently miserable with Kenpom’s opponent three-point percentage rankings during those years being 161, 146, 313, 179, and 309 in the nation, respectively. The statistics those rankings are based on are generally not anything that tournament teams would care to be associated with. If progress is to be made, defensive rankings cannot be in triple digits, let alone in the 300s.

Merely tinkering with the D is not going to work. Any chance of stumbling into the modicum of success from pairing Pickett with Bile like last February/March has evaporated. There must be wholesale changes, and an entirely new outlook, on that end of the floor. There’s too much switching. There’s too much over-helping. There’s not enough communication or accountability. And the piss-poor numbers reflect it. And it’s the staff’s fault—five years of solely “poor execution” just doesn’t happen.

If there is one more make-or-break year and Ewing needs to reach some benchmark of wins or NET ranking to continue, a huge shift in defensive strategy needs to happen. If I see a hard hedge next November, I may lose control. Maybe they bring in a “defensive coordinator.”

4. Do they make changes to the staff?

If Patrick Ewing returns, it seems safe to say that some other changes must happen. The AD’s statement specifically noted they were going to “evaluate every aspect of the men’s basketball program and [] make the necessary changes for him to put us back on the path to success for next year.” Is this some acknowledgment that maybe the coaches placed around Ewing have not been the best way for the University to support Ewing these past five years?

These guys are not making the millions of bucks, so it’s really hard to single out who needs to go from the staff. Ewing seems loyal, despite some members of the staff actually being holdovers from the JTIII years. It sounds like Ronny Thompson is expected to return in his “chief of staff” role. Maybe the roles get shuffled and some new blood is infused, but is that enough? Likewise, what assistant coaches could be lured for a potential one-year deal?

Where can a staffing change make an immediate impact? Well, bringing in a defensive specialist may work. The rumors of hiring a Stan Van Gundy or another NBA-focused Ewing-loyalist would fit the role of a one-year rental, but whether they know the college game well enough to help find a defensive identity seems like a gamble. Is there a basketball mind out there who might be able to reboot the Hoya defense? We’ll have to see. Would hiring Kevin Broadus get people to renew season tickets? If anyone is aware of a non-head-coaching staff change that made a significant difference with the X’s and O’s, I’m all ears. Even so, will Ewing be open to major schematic changes?

Bringing in better recruiters is always a goal, however, recruiting for 2023 and beyond may just be too late. A band new assistant could make an immediate impact recruiting from the transfer portal. But again, is that a big enough difference maker? I don’t think Ewing would trade an assistant spot in return for wooing a big-time potential transfer like Patrick Baldwin, Jr., but who knows.

5. How does Ewing find and attract players?

If, as many are expecting, Ewing has a win-now ultimatum, he will likely have some roster holes to fill with high-level talent. As said above, the staff cannot prioritize future recruiting over current execution. Visiting a high school gym is probably not going to help get wins in 2022-23. Relationships need to be maintained and business needs to proceed, but visiting a high school gym more than an hour away seems about as useful as putting an ashtray on a motorbike.

Unfortunately, after a losing season, there will be some transfers out. Retention is an issue and re-recruiting players who can definitely help next season has to be a priority. That said, whether Ewing stays or goes, no student athlete can be blamed for wanting to hit college free agency and finding a fresh start. Fans likely have to get over their disappointment in seeing some form of another exodus—without lamenting the long list of defectors each and every time. The question is how Ewing adds talent to this roster.

There are two routes to fill those spots, and if he is urgent, looking to the transfer portal needs to be the priority over adding a couple more 17-year-olds who may have little impact immediately. Adding talent is likely not enough to compete in the BIG EAST—they need experience, too.

As a Hall of Fame center and top-75 player, Patrick Ewing should be able to lure a one-year graduate-level power forward or center. Up until this year, Georgetown’s offense under Ewing was actually pretty solid mostly because of Jessie Govan, Omer Yurtseven, and Qudus Wahab bolstering the two-point field goal percentage. This year, without a consistent offensive center, two-pointers have been harder to come by. Their two-point field goal percentage this year is 43.5%, good for 347th in the nation. Hoyas need help in the low post immediately. With three 7-footers already on the roster, adding another big may seem ludicrous, but it appears to be a necessity. Even if Ryan Mutombo matures the way fans see him growing, a small-ball center and power forward is probably a must-add. Ewing has to go find a Marcus Derrickson and/or Omer Yurtseven in the portal.

Guard-wise, the potential additions will be based on who stays, but Ewing should also look to add a transfer wing or two. Missing Jamorko Pickett’s length and versatility is quite apparent. Of course, every program is looking to add a 6’7”+ forward who can shoot and defend, so recruiting from the portal won’t be easy. Ewing can offer a high paced, NBA-style offense that has helped guys like Pickett and Yurtseven easily adjust to the next level. That’s something.

Perhaps Ewing will be able to point to more concrete NIL opportunities for potential recruits. In this “ever evolving landscape of college athletics,” perhaps the intent is to build an NIL machine and pillage the transfer portal for its top talent. With the current state of fan and alumni support, it’s hard to tell if anyone will be eager to step up with sponsorships and advertisements, but maybe there are plans in the works already.

6. Give up high major basketball and move to the Ivy League

Just kidding. But not really.

What it all comes down to, in the aftermath of “The Statement,” is whether there can be enough moves in, e.g., April to June, to give anyone confidence that this program is on the cusp of success—or even headed in the right direction. I keep coming back to defense because (a) it’s mediocrity is the most consistent hallmark of the Ewing era and (b) it is so unlike defense by Big John, JTIII, or even Craig Esherick. Any acceptance of culpability by Ewing for defensive tribulations at this point would go a long way.

Maybe Georgetown does not feel like they need to re-attract many of the fans who may feel alienated, but there needs to be some major changes. We shall see if and when these “necessary changes” come.