With Pat Ewing, Georgetown University's basketball team will win games in the NCAA tournment, which can pay a school over $300,000 for making the final four. The Hoyas with Pat Ewing will be on national television a couple times a year, taking in maybe another $100,000. Pat Ewing will play one or two games a year at the Capital Centre, which seats about 16,000 more people than tiny McDonough Memorial Gymnasium.Before Pat Ewing graduates, we may hear the sound of dedicatory shovels turning earth for Georgetown's very own 20,000-seat arena.
Did someone mention Pat Ewing?
As far as John Thompson can say, Pat Ewing does not exist.
Is Ewing really 3-foot-6 instead of 7-foot tall?
Is it true that Pat Ewing would rather play football?
Does Pat Ewing believe in Santa Claus?
If you went to McDonough yesterday, all you saw were smiling faces. Out of hypercaution, nobody was talking about the greatest recruiting coup in the school's history.
Bill Stein, Thompson's assistant coach, walked downstairs to the arena floor. Someone asked, "How are you feeling today?"
"I'm all right," Stein called back.
Then he giggled out loud.
The sports information director, JimMarchiony, said his office took 94 telephone calls Monday afternoon. Of those, 58 came in the hour after 4 p.m. -- the time Ewing had set to announce his college choice.
"My left ear," Marchiony said, tugging at the lobe, "you can still see the telephone marks on my left ear."
Did Marchiony know this big young fellow, Pat Ewing?
"We can't mention his name," Marchiony said.
Frank Rienzo, the athletic director, spent much of the morning on the telephone to the NCAA offices in Shawnee Mission, Kan. There is an NCAA regulation that can be interpreted as prohibiting a school from talking about a prospect until the player actually enrolls in classes. The rule also has been interpreted as saying the school can talk about the player as soon as he signs a piece of paper accepting that school's scholarship.
"Georgetown University announces that Pat Ewing did sign a Big East Conference letter of intent," Rienzo said shortly after noon yesterday.
Then Rienzo said he couldn't say anything else right now. He said David Berst, NCAA enforcement director, told Georgetown it could not comment on Ewing in any way until the player enrolls in school.
Rienzo just smiled until his face broke.
Thompson, meanwhile, was nowhere in sight. Having recruited the 7-footer of his dreams -- searching for comparisons, people have violated logic by invoking the names of Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a too, too heavy burden of expectation for any 18-year-old -- chances are Thompson spent the next day talking to Anthony Jones, another all-American high school player, a 6-6 forward at Dunbar High supposedly heading for Georgetown.
No one needed Thompson to know what the signing of Pat Ewing means to Georgetown. It means, in the eyes of many people, instant credibility.
Now, to those unseeing people, Georgetown is big time.
In Washington, basketball fans know Georgetown.
BeBe and Big Sky were high school hotshots and we knew it -- but it took America four years to learn that John Duren and Craig Shelton were gifted athletes, at their best when it meant the most.
We knew John Thompson was a bright, demanding, patient coach of honor and principle -- but it took America a long time to see the beauty of Thompson teams so well drilled, so disciplined, so talented that they could beat you running with the ball or playing slowdown.
Happily for those of us who like to see the honest guys make it big, Pat Ewing and his parents and coach recognized in Thompson and in Georgetown's teams the distinction that is what college basketball ought to be all about. When America's best high school player chooses Georgetown over UCLA and North Carolina, it is sign certain that John Thompson's patient creation of a first-class program is on schedule.
The year before Thompson took over, Georgetown had a 3-23 won-lost record. Look at the growth 12-14, then 13-13, 18-10, 21-7 (and the Hoyas' first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament), 19-9 (and a National Invitation Tournament bid), 23-8, 24-5 (NIT again) and, last season, 26-6 (making it to the last eight of the NCAA).
All this was done with good players, to be sure, but none was as widely hailed as Pat Ewing.
"We didn't get any calls," Rienzo said, "when we signed Duren and Shelton."
Ewing is not Thompson's first big man, not even his first 7-footer. He won with Tom Scates at center, though Scates had minimal basketball skills. Georgetown nearly made it to the final four a year ago when Thompson alternated three men in the pivot, each limited in a different way and yet effective under Thompson's inspired use.
Now comes the 7-foot blue-chipper to Georgetown, and we wait anxiously to see what wonders Thompson can work with Ewing. Unlike Ralph Sampson and Sam Bowie, to name the most recent giant prodigies, Ewing seems content to play as a big man. Sampson and Bowie shoot often from outside. It is exciting to see a 7-footer throwing in 15-foot jumpers, but the most effective use of a big man is to get him the ball in close. Brief film clips of Ewing show him doing a breathtaking repetoire of dunks. A guarantee: with Thompson, a big old center, drawing up the Xs and Os, Pat Ewing will live six feet from the hoop.
Around McDonough hang 27 banners representing Georgetown's basketball success. It is an impressive display. More meaningful are the little rectangles painted on the blue border of the playing floor. These rectangles are basketball courts maybe two feet long.
"John had them painted on, so in case he wanted to draw up a play he wouldn't have to look for paper or just scrawl on the floor," Stein said.
The big old center thinks of everything.