Patrick Ewing vows to rebuild Georgetown: 'I'm not a quitter'

Patrick Ewing vows to rebuild Georgetown: ‘I’m not a quitter’

By John Fanta
FOX Sports College Basketball Writer

Patrick Ewing swung open the door to his program’s practice facility, walked past a wooden chair with a towel hanging over it, and continued across the court toward his seat for an interview on a spring afternoon.

He wore a black shirt with We Are Georgetown he it, a phrase that fits him more than anyone. That phrase and his stature as he strutted across the hardwood carried a limitless amount of college basketball nostalgia.

The 7-footer was also wearing a large blue cast on his left arm, the result of a wrist surgery that needed to occur after years of NBA wear-and-tear. The Hall of Famer couldn’t wait to get that cast off in a few weeks. Even after his playing days, there’s still a level of frustration with recovery.

The facilities? The John R. Thompson Center. The chair with the towel? It stays in its position right by the entry point of the gym. Just like the bronze statue placed at the front of the building, you can’t miss these objects honoring the Hall of Fame coach who built Georgetown into a powerhouse program in the 1980s and 90s.

The Hoyas were more than just winners. They impacted culture around the Washington, DC area and beyond. It was cool to root for Georgetown basketball, and Ewing was the greatest example of all of this, leading the program to the national title in 1984 before being selected by the New York Knicks with the No. 1 pick in the 1985 draft.

Patrick Ewing: Well. 28 on Nick Wright’s Top 50 NBA Players of the Last 50 Years

Patrick Ewing: Well.  28 on Nick Wright's Top 50 NBA Players of the Last 50 Years

One of the finest shooting centers to ever play, Patrick Ewing left the game as the New York Knicks’ all-time leader in nearly every significant category while ranking as the game’s 13th-ranked all-time scorer (24,815 points) upon his exit.

In 2022, things are quite different at Georgetown. It’s been nearly two years since Thompson died, and the Hoyas lost the man who represented everything the basketball program and university are about.

Ewing, convinced by Thompson to follow in his footsteps and take over at his alma mater, enters his sixth season at the helm. He’s coming off the toughest season of his basketball life, a 6-25 campaign that included an 0-19 mark in Big East play and 21 consecutive losses to end the season.

“We were at a place that I never thought we would be,” Ewing said. “Last year was difficult. It was frustrating. Even though I never won a championship in the NBA, I never lost that much in my life.”

At any moment, the concept of Georgetown basketball finishing last in the Big East Conference would be eye-opening. At this time last year, that thought was nonexistent. That’s because there was real buzz around the Hoyas after their improbable Big East Tournament run in 2020 — winning four games in four days at Madison Square Garden — earned them a conference-record eighth championship and booked a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

The whole vision that Thompson and company had of bringing Ewing back to lead his alma mater was on display for a two-week period, only to come falling down in the ensuing season.

With the disappointing year winding down, and the inevitable rumors of a change in leadership at Georgetown swirling around, Ewing made a statement.

Hoyas athletic director Lee Reed published the following:

“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.”

Sat, there it is. The Hoyas put speculation to rest with the vote of confidence for their head coach, but also made it clear that some changes could be coming.

Let’s face it: Ewing is Georgetown Basketball, and if you thought that he might step away or a change would be made, think again. That’s not who Ewing is as a person. It’s what makes him one of the greatest players in basketball history.

“Quit? I’m not a quitter. I’m not a quitter,” said Ewing. “We’re at the bottom. There’s only one way to go, and that’s up. Anybody that knows me, knows that I’m not the type of person that’s going to stop grinding, that’s going to stop working and saying ‘woe is me.’ It’s all about putting on my hard hat, my steel-toed boots and beating the bushes to try to rebuild my program.”

There shouldn’t be a question of effort with Ewing. He’s willing to put in the long hours that it takes to run a college program. This case is not like Chris Mullin at St. John’s, a tenure that ended in 2019 with effort and question.

The reasons for a lack of success for Ewing aren’t a matter of putting in hard work and being able to scheme. He wants to do right by his coach, Thompson, whom he calls a second father. He wants to show those who doubted him that he can be a head coach. It’s a matter of not just bringing in talented players — Ewing’s been able to do that — but to retain those players and not see them transfer out. Managing college kids and having that key recruiter who can hone in on relationships was a key need to fill this offseason.

The key piece to the rebuild has been Ewing’s addition of Kevin Nickelberry to his staff. Just 116 days after the former LSU assistant and Howard head coach was named an assistant at Georgetown, it was announced Monday that Ewing was elevating Nickelberry to associate head coach.

Ewing made no qualms about it when discussing the offseason priorities.

“You can’t do without talent,” he said. “Nothing against the guys that we had here, they tried their hardest. We just didn’t have enough (last year) to get over the hump.

“I told (Kevin) when he got here, ‘we need better talent. You got to get your butt out there and recruit. We have to get better talent.'”

Nickelberry wasted no time, and for a program coming off a winless conference season, you wouldn’t know it when looking at the recruiting momentum the Hoyas possess.

Georgetown is fourth in national recruiting site’s transfer rankings, as the Hoyas have seven newcomers from the portal coming into the program.

Nickelberry, formerly of since-fired Will Wade’s staff at LSU, has brought two Tigers with him in 6-5 guard Brandon Murray as well as 6-8 forward Bradley Ezewiro. Murray was highly sought after by schools after he was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team last season, averaging 10.0 points per game as a freshman while shooting 43% from the field.

Of the other headliner moves, the Hoyas bring in UConn transfer Akok Akok, a versatile 6-9 forward who has battled injuries but is an intriguing talent and an intra-conference acquisition.

Perhaps the most influential addition for Georgetown is actually the return of center Qudus Wahab to the program. The 6-11 big man made the very puzzling move in the 2021 offseason to head from Georgetown, where he just won a Big East title and was being taught by Ewing, to Maryland.

Between Mark Turgeon stepping down mid-year and the fact that Wahab regressed in College Park, averaging just 7.7 points and 5.6 boards per game, he entered the portal. The Hoyas, who were in great need of a big man as the portal season wore on, could not really ask for a better situation in being able to address the need with someone who is familiar with the program.

One of the other priority areas for Ewing was to get additional guard play. Nickelberry has addressed that need with Jay Heath (10.6 PPG) from Arizona State, Primo Spears (12.7 PPG) from Duquesne and Bryson Mozone (15.8 PPG) from USC Upstate.

As for incoming freshman, the Hoyas welcome in a 6-2 four-star combo guard in Denver Anglin and a 6-7 three-star forward in D’Ante Bass. Ewing is high on Anglin, who’s out of Gill St. Bernard’s in New Jersey and picked the Hoyas over Providence, Stanford and Northwestern.

“Denver is an elite shooter, and I expect him to come in and help us from the jump,” said Ewing.

So, it’s been an active offseason for Georgetown, one that was absolutely necessary. With nine new faces, it leaves Ewing and company with the task of making it all gel together, but the hiring of Nickelberry and an influx of more talent is a positive.

Ewing doesn’t shy away from the uphill climb in a challenging Big East, which the Hoyas will likely be picked in the bottom three when the preseason poll is released.

It’s not a realistic expectation to think the Hoyas will be one of the conference’s top five teams, but it should be a goal for the program to fight more towards the middle of the league, than to be in the basement. There have to be signs in 2022-23 that this new rebuild contains promise.

It’s why Ewing’s We Are Georgetown shirt was so fitting. Just as he is mainly responsible for powering the program to a national championship and golden era as a player, it’s his responsibility to make up for the struggles thus far in his coaching tenure and get the program back on the map.

“This offseason has been about rebuilding what Georgetown basketball is all about,” he said. “It’s my goal to get it back to the level that Coach Thompson had when I was here as a player.

“With the way that things happened last year, it can never happen again on my watch.”

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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