Patrick Ewing has come to Georgetown University as the most publicized freshman basketball player in the school's history. Because of him, the Hoyas will play a dozen games at Capital Centre and are ranked No. 1 in the country in at least one preseason poll.
Publications around the country have besieged the university's sports publicity office with requests for a little of the 7-foot center's time. Most of those requests have been denied because his coach, John Thompson, would like to keep the pressure off and allow Ewing to be just like any other freshman on campus.
"A freshman," Thompson said, "has to adjust to so many things -- me, the campus, classes, basketball, being away from his family -- that need to go uninterrupted for a while. I understand that, as a player, Patrick has a responsibility to the public and the fans. But I want my freshmen to make that intial adjustment as naturally as possible."
Ewing is a liberal arts major carrying a normal course load (five classes). He goes to class in the morning and early afternoon, usually practices from 3 to 6 and goes back to the dormitory for dinner and mandatory study sessions regulated by Mary Fenlon, the team's academic adviser.
With classes and basketball, there is little time for anything else except an occasional weekend party. He lives on campus in a large, coed apartment complex with three roommates.
Several of the residents of that complex, Village A, were reluctant to talk about their new neighbor. "I've read so many negative things about him, that I'd rather not say anything," one student said. "I don't know him well, but he seems like a normal freshman who minds his business."
Thompson said Ewing has spent his first two months at Georgetown "pretty much like any other freshman, except that there was such great anticipation and excitement from the community over his arrival.
"I've seen a mixture of happiness and depression. He's been homesick. I'm sure there are things I don't know about, but I haven't observed anything really different than from any other freshman. What's really pleasant is that he doesn't feel he has to be pampered. All this year's freshmen are that way. He's not spoiled; doesn't ask for things. Over the years, I've had kids who have been the opposite.
"It's too early to form a total opinion. I have noticed that he doesn't market his potential popularity. And that may be important because of the inordinate amount of attention that will surround Patrick."
According to some of his teammates, several professors and students who have had contact with him, Ewing goes to classes regularly, calls home often and still is shy around those he doesn't know.
"Socially, Patrick fits in well and he's easy to get along with," Hoya guard Eric Floyd said. "I remember freshman year being fairly easy for me, and I hope it's the same way for him. We've been treating him the same as any other student and I think he respects that. He just seems like a nice guy."
The basketball public may eventually decide for itself whether Ewing is a nice guy. But for now, Ewing is required to keep his thoughts to himself. Thompson has a firm rule that his freshmen cannot conduct interviews with the media, usually until January.
Ewing's only encounters with the media en masse have been nearly catastrophic. At a press conference to announce his decision to attend Georgetown last February, in a circus-like atmosphere, 150 members of the media stared as Ewing nervously stumbled through a prepared statement. In August, the circus got uglier at the National Sports Festival in Syracuse. Ewing was literally backed into a corner by about 50 members of the media in what Thompson describes as a chaotic and poorly organized press conference.
Thompson is trying to make certain Ewing does not develop fear or distrust of the media. On a recent Saturday, he brought Ewing to The Washington Post for a tour of the building and lunch with an assistant sports editor. "That's a part of his total education," Thompson said.
When Ewing was at Cambridge (Mass.) Rindge & Latin High School, he sent a letter to the final six schools recruiting him asking for tutoring and untimed testing in college. Does he get that at Georgetown?
Thompson will not discuss any specifics of Ewing's academic program or progress, just as he won't discuss the academic affairs of any of his players. "He's an amateur athlete," Thompson said. "We must afford him the privilege of completing the academic process privately. That's not the public's business, that's Patrick's business."
William Stott, an English professor and dean of students, said, "I've found him a very delightful person; thoroughly pleasant. I feel good about the young man. I'm delighted he's here. Patrick's relationship with the faculty is a private thing."
Tutoring is available to Ewing, as it is to any Georgetown student. One of his professors, Dr. Jesse Mann, says Ewing gets no special privileges in his philosophy class.
Still, there are some people who believe that Ewing will not be able to handle the academics at Georgetown, a prestigious Catholic university. On campus, that notion is mostly scoffed at.
"I know him to be a very nice, friendly person," said George Askew, a Georgetown freshman who works on the school paper, The Hoya. "During freshman orientation, I approached him at one session and said, 'Hi, my name is George.' He introduced himself and we talked about all the normal freshman stuff. I asked him where he was from and he asked me where I was from and what my major was.
"He readily accepted me approaching him," Askew said. "I didn't know he was supposed to be that big a deal as a basketball player until this week when I saw his picture on the front page of the sports section. It's difficult to make friends when you're a freshman, whether you're seven feet tall or not. But he seemed eager to make friends.
"The normal freshman, from what I can see, is shy," Askew continued. "Patrick is definitely a normal freshman."
Ewing still has a slight Jamaican accent; his first 13 years were spent in Kingston. He smiles and laughs easily, even at himself. Minutes after the Boston press conference, Ewing laughed and joked when his friends teased him as they all watched the replay on the evening news.
"He's not intimidating or anything," Askew said. "I see him at meals and places and we talk. I've heard some of the negative things about the validity of his being here. But I don't see why people have said those things."
Mann, who also is Georgetown's NCAA faculty representative and has been a professor since 1947, says he has been impressed by Ewing, so far.
"Patrick is a very solid young man; very attentive, relating, engaging and not at all isolated," Mann said. "He seems to get along with the other students and he's an outgoing and pleasant youngster. Very genuine.
"I've read about all that special attention he was supposed to get here (at Georgetown). But there's no special attention given to him in my (65-student, moral development) class. He has the same requirements as anyone else in my class. He's come into my office twice, and we've talked. He's got the personality of any Georgetown freshman. He's just a friendly, overgrown freshman with a big smile."
Ewing has been the focal point of much attention ever since his enormous basketball talents were put on display at Rindge & Latin. He led his high school team to three straight state championships and was considered the best schoolboy player in the nation last season.
Still, there seems to be no resentment among his teammates. And senior Ed Spriggs, the player Ewing most likely will replace as starting center at Georgetown, is helping him make the transition.
"Patrick seems real level-headed," Spriggs said. "I try to look out for him the best I can. Academically, I tell him to go and talk with Mary Fenlon whenever possible. There are so many people here to help with academics, he should feel comfortable about consulting them."
When asked if Ewing's presence has caused him to feel like the forgotten Hoya, Spriggs laughed and said, "It doesn't bother me at all. Every incoming freshman class gets more publicity and attention than the previous freshman group. I got more attention than Tom Scates, and it's natural for Ewing to get more than I did."