Hoyas legacy brings Ewing home

Tasked with bal­anc­ing tra­di­tion, mov­ing Ge­orge­town for­ward

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

Pa­trick Ewing held Lorry Michel’s hand as she walked slowly and the cam­eras pur­sued Ge­orge­town’s new men’s bas­ket­ball coach. Legacy, tra­di­tion, a feeling of home all brought Ewing back to the Hill­top to take over the Hoyas’ wob­bling bas­ket­ball pro­gram. At that moment in the hall of the still-pris­tine John R. Thomp­son Jr. In­ter­col­le­giate Ath­letic Cen­ter, Ewing could not have been more en­veloped by the weighty legacy he just pur­posely walked into.

Michel be­came Ge­orge­town’s head ath­letic trainer for men’s bas­ket­ball in 1981, the year Ewing ar­rived as the most-cov­eted re­cruit in the coun­try. She stood un­steady next to the tow­er­ing Ewing on Wed­nes­day while they both trailed Thomp­son, the only heavy­weight in­flu­encer at the day’s in­tro­duc­tory press con­fer­ence not in for­mal linens. In­stead, he wore a match­ing gray warmup suit. Con­for­mity was never his thing.

The trio headed to­ward the statue of Thomp­son housed in the fa­cil­ity named for him. On a flat screen, of­f­color high­lights of Ewing’s play­ing days at Ge­orge­town ran. A plaque that said “Ge­orge­town ath­let­ics” had the words “Hoyas for­ever” un­der it. In that hall­way, the roots and fu­ture of the school’s bas­ket­ball pro­gram were merged. It’s now on Ewing to bal­ance legacy with a re­launch, to res­ur­rect the gruff­ness of the pro­gram while play­ing an up-tempo style new recruits will em­brace. His job re­quires the most del­i­cate touch from a 7-foot man for­ever known for me­nace and power, the cen­tral fig­ure in Hoya Para­noia.

“It’s a new era now,” Ewing said.

Up the hall his son, Pa­trick Ewing Jr., held on as one of his kids tum­bled along his legs. He’s out of a job now be­cause of the univer­sity’s ne­po­tism clause which does not al­low a fam­ily mem­ber on the coach­ing staff. It’s an odd twist for the in­tro­verted pro­gram that has been un­der Thomp­son’s watch since 1972. The three coaches since he re­tired have been a long­time friend, Craig Esh­er­ick, his son, John Thomp­son III, and now Ewing, con­sid­ered a son by ex­ten­sion.

Ewing Jr. was not sur­prised his fa­ther left his po­si­tion as as­so­ciate head coach for the Char­lotte Hor­nets for this spe­cific job. He would have been sur­prised if he chose a col­lege other than Ge­orge­town, the school where his sis­ter, Corey, is a se­nior, a place that the Ewing name is sec­ond only to the Thomp­son moniker.

“I love coach Thomp­son III,” Ewing Jr. said. “He was the per­son who helped mold me into the per­son I am right now. I was very up­set when he got let go. I was bor­der­line de­pressed. But, when my dad de­cided he wanted to pur­sue the job, I couldn’t have been hap­pier. To see him fi­nally get a crack at be­ing a head coach and be­ing the head man in charge, there’s no bet­ter feeling for me.”

Hap­pen­stance brought Ewing’s former em­ployer, the Char­lotte Hor­nets, to Washington on Tues­day night. Ewing spent four sea­sons with Char­lotte, which lost to the Washington Wizards in Ver­i­zon Cen­ter on Tues­day. Ewing asked Char­lotte coach Steve Clif­ford, a man just a year older, but one who had re­ceived the coach­ing po­si­tion that had long eluded Ewing, would he do it? Would he leave the NBA and re­turn to col­lege? Ewing has never coached in col­lege. Clif­ford spent sev­eral years work­ing his way up pro­gram to pro­gram as an as­sis­tant.

“I told him hon­estly I would go back to coach col­lege, but I would go back to like Div. II or III,” Clif­ford said. “Where the re­cruit­ing is still time con­sum­ing, but, to me, doable in a way that you can ac­tu­ally have some sense of a life. I re­cruited Con­fer­ence USA one year. Re­cruit­ing is 24/7, 12 months a year and if you don’t do it like that you have no shot be­cause that’s what the top-20 coaches are do­ing. Those guys are great coaches, but they are great re­cruiters. They all re­cruit non-stop. He knows that. He doesn’t have his head in the sand.”

Ewing pur­sued the po­si­tion. He called univer­sity pres­i­dent John DeGioia to ex­press his in­ter­est, then had an un­easy feeling when the in­ter­views ended. Ewing didn’t think he was go­ing to get the job, yet an­other chance to be in charge lost, and called Thomp­son Jr. to tell him as much. When ath­let­ics di­rec­tor Lee Reed called the next day, Ewing found out he was in.

Cur­rent play­ers lis­tened to Ewing ex­plain Wed­nes­day how he was hired, that the pro­gram was down, and his de­sire to move it for­ward. He pub­licly ac­knowl­edged some may leave. Trey Mourn­ing is ru­mored to be among the de­par­tures. Ewing said he will meet in­di­vid­u­ally with play­ers Thurs­day. He had spo­ken to the team Tues­day.

“Last year’s over,” he told them.

No mat­ter who leaves, Ewing will have to wade into the cesspool that col­lege re­cruit­ing can be­come. Em­pow­ered AAU coaches, manic par­ents, ubiq­ui­tous and usu­ally un­founded NBA am­bi­tions among play­ers. Ewing con­tends that re­cruit­ing has not changed much since he left Bos­ton for Ge­orge­town. He said he plans to learn from a staff that is yet to be re­vealed, and will rely on that group, too. Pres­ence and his­tory are al­ways in­flu­ences in ini­tial ne­go­ti­a­tions. Ewing pos­sesses both. But, those things also dis­si­pate with time.

“He has the traits that make [play­ers] ap­pre­ci­ate him,” Clif­ford said. “That Hall of Fame thing? That’s a week. You’re not a good coach, then you’re not go­ing to make it any­where. He’s way past that. That’s not go­ing to be an is­sue.”

Ewing Jr. points to his four sib­lings as ev­i­dence that Ewing, 54, is aware of so­cial me­dia and the mod­ern world. He also thinks con­cern about Ewing’s abil­ity to re­cruit, de­spite never do­ing it be­fore, is an in­stant nar­ra­tive with­out merit.

“Ev­ery­one is new to it at some point,” Ewing Jr. said. “That por­tion is be­ing blown up like... re­cruit­ing isn’t hard. It’s not the eas­i­est thing in the world, but it’s not hard. You go out there and you try to get the kids to buy into your ideas. I don’t think it’s go­ing to be as hard as peo­ple make it seem.”

A group of mid­dle school stu­dents shuf­fled into the cen­ter af­ter the event. They all looked up at the statue of Thomp­son, which in­cludes his square glasses and towel over a shoul­der, as they en­tered. One girl cocked her head. She was un­sure of who this man was in front of her, part of a gen­er­a­tion that can’t fathom what 1984 was like, when Thomp­son and Ewing won the na­tional ti­tle. What will she know when Ewing’s done?

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Former Ge­orge­town cen­ter Pa­trick Ewing pro­claimed “it’s a new era, now” dur­ing his in­tro­duc­tory press con­fer­ence on Wed­nes­day as the new Hoyas coach.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Former Ge­orge­town coach John Thomp­son lis­tens as his former player and NBA all-star Pa­trick Ewing is an­nounced as the Hoyas’ new coach on Wed­nes­day.

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