By Mike Wise
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Sharon Campbell was hesitant when her son told her he wanted to transfer to Georgetown three years ago. "Just for the mere fact of what his father did, what it would mean to follow his legacy," she said. "I wasn't sure it was the right thing for him."
Patrick Ewing Jr.'s mother wasn't alone. Many wondered what kind of kid in search of his own identity would have the gumption to wear the same No. 33 his father wore in college. Or run layup lines on the same McDonough floor Patrick Ewing lorded over in the early 1980s.
It's one thing to walk in your famous father's footsteps, but to dunk in them?
"It wasn't something I wanted to do either at first," the Hoyas senior said last week. "But then I realized the pressure was going to be there no matter where I went. Coach Thompson is going through the same thing as I am, probably in a bigger spotlight. His father is Coach Thompson -- the Coach Thompson."
Said Patrick Sr., "Let's face it: He's been Patrick Ewing from the day he was born."
What kind of kid did it take? A realist, who understood he was never going to play like his father -- the greatest player Georgetown has known. A selfless teammate, who sacrificed his own numbers for the good of the group. And most important, a mature young man with a strong sense of himself -- someone intellectual enough to understand it was okay to find his own path and leave the comparisons behind.
Patrick Ewing Jr. is that kind of kid. And as his name is called by the public-address announcer during today's Big East tournament -- on his dad's old Madison Square Garden stamping grounds -- he should be commended for it.
"I was worried about him going to Georgetown at the time, but now I'm glad he did," Campbell said Saturday during Senior Day at Verizon Center. Her son's team had just beaten Louisville for the Big East regular season title -- the Hoyas' second in a row. In the only home Georgetown game she was able to attend in Patrick's two years, she watched from courtside as he embraced his teammates and wept openly on the court.
He was born the month after Georgetown's last national championship in 1984. His diapers were changed in John Thompson Jr.'s office. He and his father didn't just share the number 33 on the Hilltop; they shared anthropology professors and, in two months, a degree from the same university. "It's come full circle," Patrick Sr. said. "I was here. I had my day. Unfortunately, my mom wasn't able to be there for Senior Day. It was a proud moment, but I'll be even more proud on his graduation day."
Dorothy Ewing died in 1983 at the age of 55, a day John Thompson Jr. remembers as one of the hardest of his career. He had to summon his star player to his office and tell him his mother was gone.
She left Jamaica in 1971 for Cambridge, Mass., and brought her family over one by one. In 1975, at age 12, Patrick Ewing joined his mother and four of his siblings who had immigrated before him. Dorothy had worked at her job in the hospital kitchen up until two days before her death. She never saw her grandson.
Sharon Campbell and Patrick Sr. ended their relationship soon after Patrick Jr. was born, but they have remained friends and ensured their son got the proper education and parenting. When told Patrick Sr. was happy that his son would have both his parents there on Senior Day, Campbell said: "I loved that woman [Dorothy Ewing] so much. He said that? I'm about to cry."
On the surface, their son is the emotional sparkplug off the Hoyas' bench, a self-proclaimed "goof" whose athleticism makes up for shooting deficiencies. But he's also been playing possum for a while.
"Patrick Ewing is the smartest person in this building," said John Thompson III, his coach. "If you were to do an IQ test, you'd find out how smart he was."
He carried a 3.0 grade-point average last semester and will graduate with a bachelor of arts in English in the spring.
"I've been told I don't let people know how smart I really am," he said. "It's interesting to see how people perceive me and what they think. And in my head, I'm like: 'This idiot. I probably read more books than you have.' I just have fun with it."
He added: "There's a special pride just graduating from college. It's a great achievement for my dad and myself."
One of his father's challenges was overcoming racially charged abuse in Big East arenas of the early 1980s. "Ewing Can't Read This," said a placard at the Spectrum in Philadelphia during a Villanova game in 1985.
"There's a lot of small-minded people in this world," Patrick Ewing Sr. said. "We can't worry about what others think and the way others perceive us -- as long as we did what we're supposed to do."
He said of his son: "He's naturally a very good athlete, but there's a lot more to him. He's smart. He thinks the game. He's a remarkable young man."
If Patrick Ewing Jr. never worried about living up to his father as a player, it's certainly not a concern today. Asked if his son could finally beat him regularly in a game of one-on-one, Ewing Sr. said: "I'm older now. I don't even play. Father Time has caught up to me."
Hearing the conversation, Patrick Ewing Jr. added, "That means yes."