by Josh Adams @ncaahoopsdigest
New York, NY- Patrick Ewing strolled casually on the Madison Square Garden floor early Wednesday morning and briefly stopped to give a hug and have a conversation with fellow NBA alumni Jimmy Jackson. It wasn’t your typical Ewing entrance into the arena. The lights didn’t go dim, there was no P.A. announcer and there was no frenzied crowd chanting his name. Instead he took a seat next to everyone else in the crowd at Big East Media Day on Wednesday and listened as Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman gave her “State of the Conference” speech. As he squeezed his 7 foot frame into a folding chair, the banner that has his number on it hung above him touting his achievements with the Knicks. While he’ll never wear the number 33 again, the memories are there for Big East and NBA fans and Ewing’s name adds star power to the conference in the 2017-18 season. Then reality hits. It’s been thirteen years since there’s been a coaching change at Georgetown. Pat Ewing has a job to do and even at age 55, you can sense that there’ s some unfinished business in his career. There’s also a chip on his shoulder, one that he’s carried ever since high school.
The journey of Patrick Ewing from his youth in Jamaica to now the head basketball coach of Georgetown University has been a story in perseverance and laser focus towards a goal. Ewing, an immigrant that settled in Boston in high school was hardly welcomed into this country with open arms. The worst of stereotypes were settled on him. As a young, seven foot dominant player, he had a target on his back with opposing fans. Opposing crowds used to chant, “Ewing can’t read” at him during college games. The soft spoken Ewing could’ve lashed back at them. He didn’t. Instead, he became an American citizen while attending Georgetown. He led the Hoyas to a national championship and won a gold medal in basketball for his adopted country in the 1984 Olympic Games.
The New York Knicks won the NBA Lottery and Ewing was on his way to becoming a Gotham legend. While his Knicks teams never won a championship thanks to Michael Jordan’s Bulls, Ewing was the backbone of the organization for more than a decade. In a tabloid city, Ewing took the weight for almost every Knicks loss while earning the fans respect with his hustle and ability in the paint. After his retirement, he faced a quandary most athletes have after a long career on the hardwood. What’s next? Only after an offer to coach from his fellow 1992 Dream Team teammate and former adversary Jordan did he consider life on the sidelines. He spent 15 years as an assistant with various NBA teams and put out feelers for head coaching positions. He never got the job. When I asked Ewing about not getting a job at the helm in the NBA he said, “I got a few interviews. I never got a head coaching position. Maybe I was pigeon-holed as a big man’s coach. That’s it. It is what it is. I’m a head coach now.”
Georgetown was the only school that offered him a head coaching job. The school and Ewing are putting their hopes in the fact that he can bring the Hoyas back to the days where they were a national powerhouse. In a loaded Big East, this task won’t be easy but Ewing has an edge. An edge that was calloused in his years playing in Georgetown being the target of vicious hate by opposing fans. The edge of playing in the media capitol of the world for 15 years after getting drafted first under an incredible cloud of hype. The edge of being a thankless NBA assistant for 15 years without getting a fair shake in advancing.
It’s all built up to this moment. Soon enough the grind of the college basketball season will kick into gear and we’ll all be enveloped in the day to day scores. The story today though is Patrick Ewing is the head coach for the Georgetown Hoyas fielding questions on the basketball floor at Madison Square Garden. He had the same look this morning as when he played for the Hoyas, the Olympic Team and the Knicks. Not intimidated by any of it at all.