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Patrick Ewing has work cut out to bring glory days back to Georgetown

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Patrick Ewing has work cut out to bring glory days back to Georgetown

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The biggest man on campus held a Georgetown pennant over his head on Wednesday and smiled for the cameras.

Patrick Ewing was being asked to recreate the famous image of him from 36 years ago when the skinny Jamaican immigrant via Cambridge, Mass., ended the most celebrated recruiting battle of its day and announced his college intentions.

Ewing recalled being with his late mother that afternoon in a Boston restaurant owned by former NBA player Satch Sanders and nervously telling the crowd “after considering all the facts, I have decided to attend Georgetown University.” And he remembered what happened next.

“Half the people left because they wanted me to go to Boston College,” Ewing said, drawing laughter from the crowd packed inside the John R. Thompson Jr. Athletic Center.

Ewing came home on Wednesday to the school that he led to an NCAA championship 33 years ago. That is a special number of course. Ewing wore it at Georgetown and during his Hall of Fame career with the Knicks.

It was also the number worn by another famous Georgetown center, Paul Tagliabue, the former NFL Commissioner who was on the search committee that recommended Ewing for the job.

“We had a few down years, and they decided to make a change,” Ewing said. “It’s a new era now.”

This was a bittersweet day for Ewing, who said the dismissal of John Thompson III “felt like I got fired. My son was on that staff.” Patrick Ewing Jr., who attended the press conference, cannot be on his dad’s staff because Georgetown has a nepotism clause.

Ewing did confirm that this is the only college job he would have pursued while also praising the old coach in the back of the room who sat quietly throughout the 40-minute press conference.

John Thompson Jr., who served as a coach, mentor and second father to Patrick, remains a larger than life figure at Georgetown. Outside the new building that bears his name, there is a statue of Big John.

Georgetown could have made a clean break from Thompson, which would have caused some heartache. Instead, they hired Ewing to continue the Thompson legacy and recreate their glory days from the ’80s and ’90s.

“The bedrock foundation that this program was built on is John Thompson Jr,” said athletic director Lee Reed. “For us to walk away from a strength, a pillar, of not only this basketball program but this university, to me, would be foolish. At the same time, Patrick is his own man.”

That will be the challenge for Ewing. He has never been a head coach before and hasn’t been associated with the college game since losing the national championship game to Villanova, in a massive upset in 1985.

Patrick Ewing has work cut out to bring glory days back to Georgetown

He’ll have to dive headfirst into recruiting, which means selling yourself and the program, which isn’t one of Ewing’s strengths. John Calipari is the master at it. Ewing, who is more reserved, is a novice.

He’d rather be in the gym with Yao Ming or Dwight Howard, developing their games and building a relationship. That’s still part of the job. But Ewing has to embrace working with college administrators, alums, AAU coaches and 17-year-old millennials.

This is not the NBA, where Ewing spent 17 years as a player and 15 years as an assistant coach.

“All about going out and selling your program,” Ewing said, “and I think that I’m a great salesman.”

Day 1 went off without a hitch. The school handed out T-shirts that read “HOME SW33T HOME.” The band played college fight songs and the mascot shook hands.

Ewing admitted that he reached out to several friends and rivals, including St. John’s coach Chris Mullin, another legend who was hired by his alma mater. He intends to play a more up-tempo offense, similar to what the Charlotte Hornets were running. That makes sense, since there aren’t many Patrick Ewings out there.

“I want it to be like it was before when no one liked us,” he said. “‘Hoya Paranoia.’ Smacking people down.”

To be successful, Ewing will have to get his hands dirty and he knows that. No Top 50 player has put in the amount of time Ewing has as an assistant coach. He wanted desperately to be an NBA head coach and believed he was ready.

But the Georgetown job became available and it seemed right. After his final round of interviews with school officials, Ewing thought the school was prepared to go in a different direction. He called Thompson as well as Patrick Jr., to prepare them for the worst.

“I told him, don’t worry, it’s going to happen,” the younger Ewing said. “I knew this would work out for him.”

It certainly did. Ewing deserved an opportunity sooner, quite frankly. Maybe if he had stuck around for a few more years an NBA job would have opened up for him. But Georgetown basketball is Patrick Ewing and John Thompson Jr. And it will stay that way for a while.

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