Georgetown University received a telephoned death threat against basketball player Patrick Ewing on March 8, Georgetown Coach John Thompson told a press conference here today.
Ewing, a 7-foot freshman center who is principally responsible for Georgetown's advance into Monday night's NCAA national championship game against North Carolina, has been under special security the last three weeks.
Ewing was not told the threat was against him specifically, until today, when informed by Thompson after the press conference. Thompson instead chose to tell his players that the entire team had been threatened. Thompson said that Georgetown Athletic Director Frank Rienzo gave him permission to discuss the threat. The coach said he wanted to tell the media about the incident because it was a perfect forum to let the nation know.
Asked later why he picked the eve of the most important game in Georgetown's basketball history to divulge the threat against Ewing, Thompson said: "Because tomorrow (Monday) is the last game and we're going to get out of here."
Thompson refused to elaborate and could not be reached for further comment tonight. Rienzo said late tonight he had nothing more to add to Thompson's statements. Ewing also could not be reached for comment.
Thompson was in the middle of a discussion about the pressures put upon Ewing this season when he said, "I'll give you a perfect example. When we got back from Hartford (where the Big East Conference tournament was played), there was a death threat on Patrick's life."
A gasp rose from the more than 300 reporters in the room as Thompson continued: "It scared the hell out of me. You can say it's pretty common. But it was (also) pretty common last year when the president of the United States was shot (the day of the championship game), wasn't it?"
After a university operator informed the athletic department of the threatening call, Georgetown officials consulted with Charles Lamb, the school's director of security. Ewing and seven other players spent that Monday night in the Marriott Key Bridge Hotel, Thompson said.
"We considered the call to be a real threat," Rienzo said. "So we decided to take whatever steps would be necessary to protect Patrick. We felt it was a potential danger."
The Associated Press reported that Thompson said that the campus security force had notified the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
The Georgetown team left for Utah on Tuesday, a day earlier than scheduled, for the beginning of the NCAA West Regional. Lamb wanted to accompany the team to Utah, but Thompson said it wouldn't be necessary.
Rienzo said that Joe Randall, a former Georgetown football player who has been working for the athletic department, was assigned to travel with the team as an extra security precaution.
It remains unclear why Rienzo, after saying he considered the threat "a potential danger," then allowed Thompson to refuse the offer of having the university security director travel with the team to Utah.
It is also unclear why Thompson revealed the nature of the death threat to the media before disclosing it to Ewing.
The team is staying in Biloxi, Miss., 97 miles east of here. Since the team arrived at the Superdome on Wednesday, at least a half-dozen school administrators have been guarding access to the Georgetown locker room, closely checking reporters' credentials.
"I don't even know who half of you are," Thompson told the reporters attending the annual press conference of coaches and players in the championship game. "Some don't even have the proper credentials."
In 1978, Duke's Gene Banks received two death threats in St. Louis, just before the NCAA semifinals and final. But the NCAA didn't reveal that until after the championship game, which Duke lost.