Georgetown’s return to glory has been an unmitigated disaster, with the program trying to recover from a slew of recent scandals and losing players for NCAA violations. The self-destructive behavior is too much for Georgetown fans who have seen their team go from national powerhouses under Patrick Ewing in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s all the way back down to being left on top at large schools like Duke or UNC.
Georgetown University’s return to glory has failed to launch under Patrick Ewing. Georgetown, which had a strong basketball program for decades, has fallen on hard times since the arrival of the new coach in 2007.
ON JAN. 7, Patrick Ewing walked to the dais at Capital One Arena in Washington for a postgame media conference. Georgetown had just lost its Big East opener at home to Marquette, and he was not happy with the 28-point defeat.
“I am upset in my team’s performance as a player who helped develop this program,” Ewing said after the 92-64 loss, adding, “everyone is on notice.”
“This isn’t the point of Georgetown basketball.”
Ewing’s scathing remarks to his club came from a disgruntled coach. “Big John is rolling over in his grave for the performance that we displayed tonight,” he said, implying that both he and the dormant program he oversees had reached a boiling point.
When Georgetown hired Ewing five years ago to carry on the legacy of John “Big John” Thompson Jr., it had the potential to be the finest story in college basketball.
In his four years at the school, Ewing was a four-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year and a three-time consensus first-team All-American. In 1984, he and Thompson won the national title, propelling the program to national prominence.
At a White House celebration honoring the championship team, President Ronald Reagan addressed Ewing, “You had a fantastic season, Pat.” “You and your teammates will remember this for the rest of your life,” says the coach.
Thompson, the first Black coach to win a national championship, and his mostly Black squad were the trendiest team in basketball, and Ewing was a big part of it.
Today, though, Ewing’s Hoyas are plain frigid.
His words after the defeat to Marquette encapsulate a dissatisfaction that has characterized Ewing’s tenure as head coach. His record at Georgetown is 68-69 overall and 26-49 in the Big East after five consecutive defeats in conference play this season, including losses to Butler and St. John’s. He’s on pace to have a losing season for the third time in a row.
Georgetown is at a fork in the road that will determine its fate. While winning the Big East tournament last year gave the program a jolt of confidence, it did not alleviate the program’s problems. Thompson’s choice, Ewing, has yet to demonstrate that he can lead the Hoyas into a new era. With Georgetown a huge underdog against longstanding Big East foe UConn on Tuesday, it seems like Ewing is running out of time to repair the team he helped construct.
Thompson’s high school classmate and friend, Father Raymond Kemp, who has been connected with the program and its players for more than 50 years, says the former Georgetown star understands his dilemma.
“I believe he views it as a work in progress and a process,” said Kemp, who officiated at Thompson’s burial Mass last year. “And he’s fully aware that there’s a lot of pressure on him to win.”
IN OCTOBER 2017, Patrick Ewing walked into Madison Square Garden, where he’d been a star with the New York Knicks in the 1990s. Many in the building stopped to watch as the 11-time NBA All-Star and Hall of Famer strolled onto the court for his first Big East media day as the new head coach for Georgetown.
Ewing was the star of the show in a league that included Jay Wright, who had just won his first national title a year before.
He remarked regarding his new squad that day, “I’m still getting to know them, and they’re still getting to know me.” “And I’ve been telling them, as well as the people in D.C., that it’s a construction project. We’re setting the groundwork for the future.”
The 7-footer stretched out in the stands after his formal responsibilities were completed and discussed the position he had taken at his alma university.
He responded, “I have to hop on a plane and go recruiting right now.”
He didn’t appear really enthused.
Patrick Ewing was expected to utilize his fame, NBA accomplishments, and connections to help Georgetown recruit quality players and restore the Hoyas’ program to its previous grandeur. Adam Nadel/AP Photo/File
Ewing had been working as an assistant coach with the Charlotte Hornets, the franchise owned by his buddy and old Dream Team member Michael Jordan, for many months. Despite his professional success as a player, as well as his name and contacts, Ewing has failed to get a head-coaching post in the NBA. Big John, a one-man search committee, phoned at that point. After missing the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons, his son, John Thompson III, had recently been dismissed by Georgetown. He wanted Ewing to think about the possibility.
“His blood, sweat, and tears, as well as the folks who came before me, some of the men on this wall, created the foundation for Georgetown to be where it was, and where we’re on our way back to,” Ewing told ESPN last month. “When I was in the NBA, [Thompson] contacted me and told me I needed to apply for this position or attempt to get an interview for this job because ‘one of us has to be the coach here,’ he added. And I’m a part of his heritage, which is inscribed in stone.”
Ewing acknowledges that he wasn’t first convinced by the concept.
“He had to persuade me,” he explained.
When Ewing was hired, the buzz in basketball circles was about his willingness to take on tasks that NBA coaches don’t have to, such as academics, recruiting, donor meetings, and other administrative responsibilities.
A famous university’s basketball coach is effectively a Fortune 500 CEO promoting his product 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And a school looking to connect with a new generation of athletes reasoned that its finest player would strike a chord with recruits and their parents in the affluent D.C. metro region.
The Hoyas didn’t believe they were far from another thrilling chapter.
Thompson III led the program to the Final Four in 2007, but Ewing came a decade later. In his 13 seasons, Big John’s son had made it to the NCAA tournament eight times. The hope around Ewing’s hiring was that his notoriety would help the Hoyas get big-name recruits and return to the NCAA tournament.
After a 10-1 start, he ended 15-15 in his debut season.
Ewing got top-100 prospects James Akinjo and Mac McClung before his second season. Jessie Govan, a 6-foot-10 center who shot 41% from beyond the arc, was also a member of the Hoyas. Ewing, like any rookie coach, was getting used to the job, but entering his second year, he had enhanced the talent pool. That squad improved, going 19-14 (9-9 Big East) before falling in the first round of the 2019 NIT to Harvard.
Former NBA All-Stars will serve as head coaches in Division I in the 2021-22 season.
|Name||Appearances by All-Stars||Record for the years 2021-22 (conf)|
|Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing||11||6 – 10 (0-5 Big East)|
|Memphis’ Penny Hardaway||4||10 to 8 (4-4 American)|
|Maryland’s Danny Manning (interim)||2||5–6 (2-6 Big Ten)|
|Vanderbilt’s Jerry Stackhouse||2||10 to 8 (2-4 SEC)|
|Bethune-Reggie Cookman’s Theus||2||5 to 14 (3-4 SWAC)|
|Michigan’s Juwan Howard||1||9 a.m. to 7 p. (3-3 Big Ten)|
|Alabama State’s Mo Williams||1||5 to 15 (3-4 SWAC)|
The third season of his career proved crucial. The 2019-20 preseason buzz surrounding Georgetown was tremendous, with Akinjo and McClung in the backcourt and NC State transfer Omer Yurtseven (who shot 55 percent from inside the arc that season) in the post.
The Hoyas were not going to live up to the expectations. Another tough Big East stretch — the Hoyas finished the regular season with six straight defeats and were subsequently defeated in the first round of the Big East tournament by St. John’s — capped a 15-17 season, Ewing’s worst with the Hoyas.
Big John died on Aug. 30, 2020, which was considerably more painful than a dismal season. The city as a whole grieved the legend’s passing and pondered how it would go ahead. The Hoyas, too, were in a state of flux. Akinjo and McClung had left earlier in the year, and Ewing’s presence had not been as successful as many had hoped.
The Hoyas entered the Big East tournament in 2021 with a 9-12 record and little hope of making a deep run. But Ewing delivered, guiding his club to four victories and an unlikely Big East tournament title at Madison Square Garden, where he used to play. Georgetown won the conference championship and an automatic ticket to the NCAA tournament on March 13, 2021, precisely 49 years after hiring Thompson and ushering in a new era in college basketball with a 73-48 triumph against Creighton. It was also the program’s first Big East championship in 14 years, and standout player Qudus Wahab was named to the all-tournament team.
Despite the previous instability and a resounding 96-73 defeat to Colorado in the NCAA tournament opening round, Ewing and others felt their playoff revival signaled a shift for the better.
“It was odd that we won the title on the same day Coach [Thompson] was hired all those years ago,” Ewing recalled. “You’re not thinking about it while you’re going through it. [I was] considering how to make these folks ready and in the correct place. However, winning it was a fantastic experience.”
LAST MONTH, EWING sat at a table outside his office at the newly christened John R. Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center and held an iPhone that wouldn’t stop ringing. It was 11 a.m., but he already seemed tired, taking a deep breath after the start of a long day, and another long season.
He said, glancing at his phone, “Give me a minute.”
He put the phone back on the table after sending a few messages.
“Recruiting never ends,” he remarked.
Throughout the first half of the 2021-22 season, there was a palpable sense of unease about the program as Ewing attempted to avoid the turbulence of prior seasons. He used to contact Thompson, whose mark can be seen all over campus, in situations like these, he adds.
Near the entrance to the team’s practice facility is a life-sized statue of the previous head coach, which he could view from his living room across the Potomac River. Big John’s chair, covered in his distinctive white towel, is still on the sideline at the practice facility. It is not permissible for anybody to sit in it.
Ewing sometimes forgets Big John is gone because his presence is so powerful.
When John Thompson Jr. and Patrick Ewing won Georgetown’s first NCAA national championship in 1984, they started a tradition that continues to this day. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press
“I’ll be sitting in my chair, going through practice, and I’ll hear the back door over here open, and it’ll typically be him trudging over,” he said. “So for the whole year, whenever I heard the door tinkle open, I’d look, look, look, expecting it to be him.”
Thompson’s fraternity inside the school has so far shielded Ewing from the degree of criticism that another coach in his position could face.
Georgetown is very protective of its clan. If you ask around, you’ll hear the term “Hoya paranoia” a lot: the belief that the brand and program are protected from outsiders. It’s part of Thompson’s legacy, which also includes private procedures that were never open to the public. “Tape covered gaps in the entrances from the foyer of the sports building to the gym,” USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz, who covered Thompson’s Georgetown teams, reported. Thompson was concerned that someone would get a peek of his squad as it prepared for its next game.
When contacted by phone to discuss Ewing, one renowned former player indicated he would not give any interviews and hung up. What individuals are prepared to say on the record regarding Ewing’s tenure is, predictably, optimistic.
Alonzo Mourning, a former Hoyas player and NBA Hall of Famer, said of Ewing, “He understands what to do.” “We’ve figured it out. Coach Thompson sowed the seeds of success in us. They’ve infiltrated our ranks.”
However, the Hoyas have already lost to Saint Joseph’s and Dartmouth. It’s also proven challenging to maintain consistency inside the program.
Ewing has shown his ability to attract elite players as a result of his recruiting efforts and the long-lasting impact of the Georgetown brand he symbolizes. His biggest challenge has been persuading them to remain.
During Ewing’s tenure, 11 players have transferred between now and June 2021. In April 2021, Wahab moved to Maryland. Jamari Sibley (UTEP) and T.J. Berger (San Diego), both of whom played less than 10 minutes per game previous season, quickly followed suit.
In terms of recruitment, Georgetown athletic director Lee Reed remarked, “I believe it’s a problem, but you have to embrace it.” “You must take a step forward. That’s exactly what we’re aiming for. You can’t gripe and whine about how things are. You have to embrace everything that goes into recruiting and maintaining a great program today: transfers, name, image, and likeness. You’ll fall behind if you don’t lean in.”
According to ESPN, Aminu Mohammed, the star of the No. 14 recruiting class in 2021, is now a possible foundation stone for the program. The five-star recruit, who came from Nigeria to D.C. as a high school freshman, is averaging 13.6 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game, and 1.5 steals per game for the Hoyas.
Aminu Mohammed shatters the offensive glass to snag the basket and inflict Georgetown’s first loss.
“For me, it’s just about showing up and carrying on that heritage,” Mohammed added. “Every day, [Ewing] talks about how they helped establish this program and how we can do the same. Best we have to do now is go out there and give it our all in order to become one of the greats.”
For years, the Prince George’s County region has been a gold mine for recruiters. Adrian Dantley, a 1970s Notre Dame great, was born there. Then, a decade later, arrived Maryland’s Len Bias. Kevin Durant (Texas) and Michael Beasley (Kansas State) spearheaded the next wave of talent from the local pipeline 20 years after Bias. Luka Garza, a former Iowa standout who won the Wooden Award in both 2020 and 2021, and Kris Jenkins, who scored the game-winning shot in Villanova’s 2016 national championship game triumph against North Carolina, are two recent players from the region.
Seven players from D.C. or Maryland played on Georgetown’s national championship squad in 1984. Local basketball experts feel the school’s path to another successful chapter will begin at home. However, in recent years, Georgetown has had difficulty attracting elite talent. Since Chris Wright in 2007, the school hasn’t signed a D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year selection.
“I believe Georgetown can regain those graces by doing a better job in our neighborhood,” said Angelo Hernandez, a high school and grassroots coach in the area. “I’m not sure how they [top recruits] get out of here sometimes.”
IN THE FIRST half of Georgetown’s 88-69 road loss to St. John’s on Jan. 16, Mohammed stumbled up the floor, lost his dribble and committed a turnover that the Red Storm converted to a bucket on the other end.
In what would turn out to be another lopsided setback for the Hoyas, Mohammed seemed aimless.
Unfortunately, the team’s on-court struggles have now been joined by the program’s off-court difficulties as it prepares for UConn. Multiple important players have lost time due to injuries or COVID-19 procedures, with the program being suspended from December 18 to January 7, adding rust to a club that is battling to find its rhythm. Ewing’s current troubles have been exacerbated by his absence from two conference games owing to health and safety rules.
Some of the difficulties on the court are self-evident. The Hoyas’ approach clashes with the contemporary form of positionless basketball, making it difficult for them to turn the curve.
With three 7-footers on the roster, including 7-2 Ryan Mutombo (son of NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, another Georgetown standout), the Hoyas struggle to rotate on defense, leaving them susceptible. They’re too frequently beaten up on pick-and-rolls and crushed on quick breakaway.
Aminu Mohammed, a five-star recruit who had a promising first season with the Hoyas, might help revitalize Georgetown basketball. Tommy Gilligan is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
The Golden Eagles scored 56 points in the paint and 23 points on fast breaks in their rout of Marquette. According to Synergy Sports statistics, opponents have made 52.1 percent of their shots in transition, giving Georgetown’s fast-break defense a “bad” grade.
On offense, the Hoyas have hit over 37% of their 3-point tries, which helps them to extend the floor and create extra space inside the arc. However, the Hoyas have only hit 45.1 percent of their 3-point shots within the 3-point arc.
Mohammed, the team’s offensive leader, is a gifted youngster with shortcomings typical of his age. According to hoop-math.com, he takes 65.7 percent of his shots towards the rim, indicating an aggressive style, yet he only makes slightly under half of those efforts.
These are the figures.
You don’t need them to perceive the cloud of uncertainty that has descended over the squad. When the Hoyas face adversity, they seem disoriented and hesitant. When they fall behind, they glance about, expecting that someone would come to their rescue.
You can tell that they’re in the thick of a problem that they don’t know how to solve.
Last month, Ewing said of what he encourages his teammates, “Just become better.” “You can no longer hear my voice. Because I’m always yelling and screaming at them, trying to get them to do the things I know we need to do in order to be decent. We’re gifted. It’s not about ability. It’s about us committing to completing the tasks we set out to do.”
According to reports, Ewing is in the fifth year of a six-year deal with Georgetown. Will he return to his alma institution if he can’t turn this season around? Tommy Gilligan is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
Many prominent Georgetown individuals will not openly challenge Ewing’s future. He’s still surrounded by folks who seem to believe in his abilities. It’s considered blasphemy on campus to disparage a former athlete with his current standing.
However, it’s reasonable to speculate on how long Ewing will remain at Georgetown. Because it is a private institution, the school is not required to provide details concerning his contract. Ewing, on the other hand, is said to have inked a six-year contract for roughly $19 million in 2017. He’s in the fifth year of his contract.
If Georgetown’s season doesn’t improve dramatically in the next weeks, the school’s next actions will be called into doubt, as will the future of perhaps the greatest player in school history. Even with a coach who has strong links to Big John, John Thompson III was dismissed for less, indicating that a willingness to suffer is conditional.
You can tell Ewing is trying when you sit across from him. He’s attempting to figure out what’s going on. He’s attempting to inspire his team. He wants to win games. Above all, he’s attempting to please Big John. It’s a strain that only he truly comprehends.
“With Thompson’s weight on him, it’s a ‘Let’s see how this all works out’ [situation],” Kemp remarked. “I believe he is conscious that he does not have an infinite amount of time to watch how things turn out. But I believe he’s giving it his all, and I believe [he and school administrators] have a wonderful working relationship. I also believe he is well-versed in the financial aspect of collegiate sports. ‘If it’s going well, we’ll keep it going.’ If we can’t get it going, then it’s time for me to consider other options.’”
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