Freshman center Patrick Ewing, in his first interview since enrolling at Georgetown this fall, said yesterday it is not his intention to play overly aggressive basketball, but, rather, he is protecting himself while trying to help his team win.
"I don't think I play dirty at all," Ewing said, referring to the several times he has been involved in physical exchanges with opponents. "In the incidents that have occurred so far, I've only been trying to protect myself around the basket. I certainly don't want to hurt anybody, and I'm not trying to play dirty."
Ewing's remarks came during a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Post on the flight back from Rochester, N.Y., after his most impressive college performance helped Georgetown win the Rochester Classic Wednesday night. The Hoyas' ninth consecutive victory ran their record to 10-2.
Ewing was kept from talking to the press until now by Coach John Thompson's long-standing rule that his freshmen not conduct interviews until January. Yesterday, he touched on several topics, including:
* His determination to get an education at Georgetown and to play in the final four of the NCAA tournament.
* His disdain for the stereotypes that have been cast of him by the media and some fans.
* His early impressions of the Georgetown University community.
* The possibility of leaving Georgetown early to play in the National Basketball Association.
Ewing had been involved in incidents in games against Cibona of Yugoslavia and George Washington, and he was threatened by a Western Kentucky player who was in turn hit by Georgetown's Fred Brown. But the harshest criticism of Ewing came after Georgetown's victory over Columbia Tuesday night. Ewing, 7 feet, 230 pounds, and Columbia's 6-6 center Tom Brecht got into an elbowing and shoving match.
Both Rochester newspapers criticized Ewing for his "elbow-swinging" and one accused him of being a dirty player, despite Brecht saying that it was he, Brecht, who forced the rough play.
"He's so much more talented than I am, that I had to do something to try and take his mind off the game," Brecht said. "He's not a dirty player at all. If I were him, I'd be very, very upset at the way people treated that skirmish. He plays a physical brand of basketball, but he doesn't deserve this kind of criticism."
Ewing, who is averaging 14 points and eight rebounds a game and shooting 70 percent, was upset by the criticism, but said, "The extra attention is something I feel I have to live with. And I guess this is a part of it.
"But, really, I'm too consumed with classes and studying and basketball to pay much attention to all the outside stuff. I haven't decided on my major yet. I'm still feeling things out in the school of arts and sciences. I'm determined to get my education and prepare myself for another career if basketball doesn't work out for some reason."
Ewing also is determined to play on a Georgetown team that goes at least to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament -- "It would be a disappointment for the whole team if we can't get there" -- but there was more emphasis in his voice when he talked about doing well academically, and thereby erasing the stereotypes he already has encountered.
There was much furor last year over the recruiting of Ewing and a letter distributed by "the Ewing Committee"--which consisted primarily of his high school coach, assistant coach and parents--to schools outlining what his family wanted for him academically and what special assistance was needed. Georgetown officials say they agreed to no guidelines in admitting Ewing.
"I don't understand why people who have never met me, or don't know anything about me, say I am dumb," Ewing said. "I am not dumb. If I was, I would have gone to one of the other schools that offered me all kinds of things. If I was dumb, I would have gone to a school only because of basketball."
Speaking of the press conference last year in Boston, attended by hundreds of people, in which he chose Georgetown and had difficulty expressing himself, Ewing explained that he was nervous because of the cameras and reporters. "I wasn't used to it," he said.
"I chose Georgetown because of the opportunity it will give me to get an education and play basketball. I guess people can believe whatever they want about a person. I'm not going to worry about them. I'm just going to try to make the best of my years at Georgetown.
"If the opportunity is there, I could leave school and go hardship (the NCAA's rule that allows underclassmen to make themselves eligible for the pro draft). But I could turn it down if I prefer to stay. It's something I'd consider, depending on the circumstances."
Presently, Ewing is more concerned with the usual freshman problems than with professional basketball. He is homesick. The third youngest child of seven, he misses his family. "They miss me a lot, too," he said, "but I do most of the calling home. Being homesick is natural for a freshman, isn't it? I'm sure I'll get over it in a month or so."
Ewing said the adjustment has gone rather smoothly, but admitted he wasn't sure of what to expect the week or so before classes started. "I had a case of the jitters," he said.
"I was really worried that I wouldn't do what I was supposed to do as a freshman. It took a few days, but during the orientation, I made a lot of friends around campus and the people were very receptive," he said. "Then I began to relax. So far, I've been treated like any other student on campus. At first, I didn't know if that would happen. I just want to be treated like any other student. Really, that's all I want."
He did not want to be specific regarding his classes and academic progress.
The better Ewing plays, the more difficult it will be for him to be considered just another student. He was genuinely embarrassed when he was announced as the most valuable player in the Rochester Classic.
"I was really surprised," he said. "I thought Sleepy (Eric Floyd, Georgetown's all-America guard) should have gotten it. His outside shooting allowed me to score and rebound inside, and he's the best defensive player on our team."
Thompson is confident Ewing will blossom, on and off the court, as he matures. "It's hard to think of a guy that size who wasn't docile and shy when he was young," Thompson said, remembering himself at that age.
"There are a lot of things on the court I need to work on," Ewing said, "like developing court sense and using my body better on offense, and getting better position and learning not to try and block every shot on defense.
"It seems like it will become more of a business. But right now, it's all fun to me. I like the traveling. I like college and the campus life. I don't want other people's expectations of me to get in the way of getting my education and becoming the best basketball player I can be. I want college to be fun."