On Feb. 2, 1981, a high school center from Cambridge, Massachusetts accepted an offer to attend Georgetown University, and with that decision the course of Hoya basketball forever changed. Patrick Ewing's four years at Georgetown provided college basketball fans with one of the college game's greatest stars, surrounded by teammates equally committed to their best on and off the court.
Ewing's family moved to Cambridge in the years before he enrolled at Rindge & Latin HS. Coached by future GW and St. John's coach Mike Jarvis, R&L was 17-4 in his freshman year, with Ewing averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds a game. By sophomore year he grew to seven feet tall, and the Falcons took off. Averaging 14 points a game as a sophomore, 18 points as a junior, and 23 as a senior, Ewing led Rindge & Latin to a 76-1 record between 1978 and 1981. Invited to the Olympic Trails at 17, word of his prowess moved quickly through the college recruiting world. His coach called him
simply "the next Bill Russell."
Boston schools figured prominently in early recruiting, but before local fans could imagine him in Celtic green, he had to develop first in college. Enter Georgetown. With a 6-10 coach well versed in developing big men, and the increasing visibility of the program in the new Big East conference, Georgetown joined North Carolina, Boston College, UCLA and Boston University among Ewing's short list, and in the end Ewing committed to Georgetown over UNC.
The news was not taken well in his hometown. Ewing had not even enrolled at Georgetown when articles appeared in the Boston Globe suggesting that Ewing would be academically deficient. Jilted Boston University coach Rick Pitino went so far as to say Ewing couldn't even have been accepted at BU, and a shadow was cast on Ewing the moment he arrived at Georgetown.
Thompson shielded Ewing early on from the press, which fueled articles that Georgetown was betraying its academics for a big-time recruit. Georgetown president Timothy Healy, S.J. called such stories rubbish (actually, he used a far less presidential word), and was steadfast in his support of Thompson and of Ewing's progress towards a degree.
Interest in Georgetown basketball soared from the moment Ewing signed. With aging McDonough Gymnasium unable to meet the growing ticket demand, and seizing an opportunity taken by urban schools such as Providence and DePaul, Georgetown announced in August it was moving home games to the spacious but distant Capital Centre in Landover, MD, where the Hoyas had played a handful of non-conference games over the past seven seasons. Though not quite "the house that Ewing built", Capital Centre would serve as the Hoyas' home away from home for the next 16 seasons, with Ewing's arrival
boosting attendance literally overnight. Between 1981 and 1982, average attendance doubled. By 1983, Georgetown had the 14th largest average attendance in the nation.
Ewing didn't start in the season opener in Anchorage, AK against Southwestern Louisiana, scoring seven points in 18 minutes. By game two, he was in the starting lineup and never left it. His 17 point, 14 rebound effort in the second game of the Great Alaskan Shootout sent a message to Hoya fans that the freshman had arrived.
In January, 1982, #14th ranked Georgetown met #9th ranked St. John's in the first major doubleheader at Madison Square Garden since the mid-1960's. Ewing was still somewhat of an unknown commodity to many fans, with national publications comparing him with Wichita State's Greg Dreiling and UCLA's Stuart Gray as one of three young centers in the nation.
The opener featured nationally ranked Wichita State and Iona, but the sellout crowd had come to see St. John's freshman sensation Chris Mullin and Georgetown's Ewing. In his first of his many appearances at the Garden, Ewing and the Hoyas went on a first half run that many St. John's fans will never forget.
At one point in the first half, Georgetown led 41-9, prompting St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca to call four time outs in the first half in an attempt to halt the runaway train. The Hoyas led by 24 at the half at the half and crushed the Redmen 72-42. Few compared to Ewing to Dreiling or Gray any more after that night in the Garden.
Two months later, the Hoyas enjoyed their first national TV game of the year at home vs. Missouri. The game was especially memorable for being the last major game held at McDonough Gymnasium, with a standing room crowd of 4,620 screaming at every turn. Near the end of the game, with the Hoyas on their way to a 61-49 upset of the #4-ranked Tigers, Ewing sped down the court for an alley-oop dunk. While a dunk would have been exciting, what happened was even more so--he missed the dunk off the rim, and the ball flew 30 feet in the air. The NBC broadcast kept showing the play over and over,
marveling at the sight of the power and potential of the young center.
By the time Ewing entered the 1982 NCAA's, he was named All-Big East, a second team All-America selection, the Big East Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, and the odds-on choice for national freshman of the year. His 469 points that season was second all-time by a Georgetown freshman, while his 119 blocks set a Georgetown record nearly twice that of the previous mark.
The 1982 NCAA final was Ewing's shining moment of the season. Ordered by John Thompson to make a statement early in the game, Ewing goaltended each of North Carolina's first five shots, swatting back one after another, wowing the 61,612 in attendance. In one of the great games overall in college basketball history, Ewing turned in an amazing effort for a freshman: 23 points (10-15 from the floor), 11 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks.
Off season interest in Ewing and Georgetown soared. Though there were rumblings that the Boston Celtics would offer Ewing $1 million a year to leave school in 1982, his commitment to a four year education was strong. With it, the rest of the college basketball world knew what was to come.
By his sophomore year, the loss of five seniors would narrow the Hoyas' Final Four chances, but the Hoyas were ranked #2 early that season, and the drumbeat for Ewing's Hoyas to play the #1-ranked Virginia Cavaliers and three time All-America center Ralph Sampson reached a fever pitch in the summer of 1982.
Three networks bid on the game, with prospective arenas from Pauley Pavilion to Madison Square Garden interested in the game. In the end, Georgetown insisted on hosting the game at Capital Centre, while the game became the first major college sporting event shown exclusively on cable TV. Superstation WTBS bid $550,000 to carry the game, and the game became a turning point in televised sports coverage.
A veteran Virginia team prevailed that night, 68-63, but the lasting image of the game came after Sampson had skirted around Ewing for an easy dunk. On the next play, fans could sense Ewing wanted the ball. When he got it, and with the 7-4 Sampson lying in wait, Ewing took the ball and slammed it right over Sampson. A statement had been made, and the nation's sports public knew it.
In 1983, Ewing became the #1 target of every team in the conference. Some of the attacks were on the court, others, off it. St. John's deployed a 6-3 guard named Kevin Williams to simply harass and elbow Ewing at every opportunity until he retaliated, but it didn't stop Ewing from averaging 17 points and 13.5 rebounds in two games against the Redmen that season. Off the court, a number of Big East schools looked the other way as Ewing was the subject of some of the worst race-baiting in a generation. Signs such as "Ewing Can't Read This" and "Think Ewing Think" were paraded
around Big East arenas; at other schools, objects were thrown at him on the court. In one game at the Carrier Dome, an orange nearly hit Ewing while attempting a free throw, whereupon coach Syracuse Jim Boeheim grabbed a microphone told the sold out crowd he'd forfeit the game outright if conduct like that ever happened again.
To his credit, Ewing never acknowledged such abuse, preferring to answer his critics on the court. The juxtaposition of race played to the worst in Big East fans, many of whom were educated at Catholic schools, and served only to further harden the team against such attacks.
Ewing opened Big East play in 1983 with double-doubles in each of his first five games, including a 25 point, 17 rebound effort versus Connecticut. For the season, he posted 19 double figure scoring games and ten games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. Named a first team All-America and All Big East, Ewing averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds for a young team that featured three sophomores,a junior, and two freshmen in key positions all season.
By his junior year, the stage was set for Georgetown's run for Seattle. The arrival of Reggie Williams and Michael Graham allowed Ewing even more room to anchor the interior defense. The Hoyas fell eight points short of an undefeated regular season, with a pair of two point losses to DePaul and Villanova and a four point loss to St. John's behind 33 points from Chris Mullin. But in each of its other 34 games, Patrick Ewing was nothing short of terrific for a team that had all the pieces in place for its most memorable season ever.
For the season, he shot an astounding 66 percent from the field, an average of 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks a game. While he did not get the ball as much as some would have expected (Ewing averaged only 8-10 shots a game), he made them count. He led the team in scoring in 23 games and in 14 of its last 17. He scored 20 or more points 10 times, including 20 versus Pitt, 23 points and 15 rebounds vs. UConn, 23 against Providence, and 25 against Boston College. Ewing averaged 23 points a game during the 1984 Big East tournament, with a 27 point, 16 rebound performance against Syracuse
in an epic title game. Yet had it not been for a forgotten play the next week against Southern Methodist in the first round of the NCAA's, the glory that awaited the Hoyas in Seattle would not have been.
SMU had controlled the first round NCAA game and kept the score low throughout. The Hoyas tied the score in the final minute 34-34, when Gene Smith was fouled with eight seconds left. Smith hit the first free throw but the second shot sailed off the rim, but Ewing's alert play tipped the ball in for a basket. SMU raced down the court and hit a jumper to narrow the count to 37-36 at the final whistle. Had Ewing not tipped the ball in, SMU might have ended the Hoyas' Final Four story before it even started.
But the story did continue--NCAA wins over UNLV and Dayton sent the Hoyas back to the Final Four. A defensive stand against Kentucky still unrivaled in modern college basketball--the Wildcats shot 3 for 33 in the second half---led the Hoyas to the national final, where a true team effort led the Hoyas past Houston, 84-75 and avenged the heartbreaking 1982 loss to North Carolina. Even though Ewing was fifth on the team in scoring that night, with 10 points and nine rebounds, there was no doubt he was the MVP.
In the summer of 1984, Ewing starred as the center of the gold medal winning U.S. Olympic basketball team--the last gold medal team composed solely of college athletes. By his senior season the accolades were pouring in, from consensus All-America (his third consecutive year), to pre-season National Player of the Year, to the cover of Sports Illustrated. Standing alongside Coach Thompson and President Ronald Reagan, Ewing stood alongside the the headline which read, simply, "There They Go Again".
In 1985, as in 1984, the Hoyas were only a few points short of an undefeated season, with narrow losses to St. John's, Syracuse, and Villanova in the national final. Ewing tore through the 1984-85 schedule and left no doubt of his place on the national scene. He scored in double figures in 12 of 16 Big East games, averaging 14.6 points and 9.2 rebounds for the season. As was the case a year earlier, Ewing averaged less than ten shots a game despite his considerable talent.
No one (with the exception of a few vindictive sportswriters which chose to pass on selecting Ewing as the winner of the John Wooden Award) could deny Ewing's place as the preeminent college player of his day. A 62% career shooter in college, he finished his career with marks that will long stand in the Georgetown annals. The Sports Information office summarized his final season as follows: "Consensus All-American, Olympic Gold Medalist, voted Player of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (Eastman Trophy), the Atlanta Tip-Off Club (Naismith Trophy), Washington Metro
Club (Red Auerbach Award), Sporting News, Chevrolet Scholarship Program, Basketball Times, Basketball Weekly, [and the] RT French Eastern Basketball Poll. All time leading rebounder (1316), second leading scorer (2184), all time leading shot blocker (493), 5th on all time steals leaders list (167), highest career field goal percentage (.620), and most games played in career (143)."
The choice of which NBA team would sign Ewing soon gathered national attention. After the Houston Rockets had lost enough games late in the 1984 season to earn a second straight year with the #1 pick, the NBA instituted a draft lottery in the spring of 1985. The so-called "Ewing lottery" was broadcast on national TV to determine the #1 pick and the subsequent announcement of the #1 pick to the New York Knickerbockers was the talk of the sports world.
Ewing played 15 years in the NBA, was an 11 time All-Star, and was named among the 50 greatest players in NBA history. He is one of only four men ever to have scored 20,000 or more points and collected 10,000 or more rebounds. Though he never won the NBA championship, he is universally regarded as one of the greatest players of the professional game.
Ewing stepped down as an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets in 2006 and is often seen at Georgetown games this season, watching his son Patrick Jr. compete for the Blue and Gray. It's been over two decades since Ewing Sr.'s last college game, but the legacy is as strong as it ever was.
So much could be written about Patrick Ewing's impact on Georgetown basketball. The signing of Ewing elevated Georgetown to a national stage in intercollegiate athletics, in a a way that hasn't been seen since. Ewing's dedication and passion for the game carried the Hoyas to four NCAA berths, three Big East titles, three Final Four appearances, and a national title. Prior to Ewing's arrival, the Georgetown program had won only two NCAA tournament games in John Thompson's first nine years. In his four years alone, they won 15.
There are so many great moments from Ewing's college career, even one which occurred far from the basketball court. In May 1985, Patrick A. Ewing received his bachelor's degree from the College of Arts & Sciences--on time, as he had promised to his mother four years earlier. The photo to the right (as seen in the 1985-86 GU media guide) captured this moment in the lives of three seniors: Ralph Dalton, Patrick Ewing, and Bill Martin. Each was a part of the greatest four years in the
school's basketball history, with Patrick leading the way.
His former coach, John Thompson, was once asked in a television interview what he would say if someone came along at Georgetown that was actually better than Patrick Ewing.
His response? "I'd lie and still say Patrick was the best."
No need to worry, Coach. Patrick Ewing stands alone at the top.