Five days after a memorable one-point loss to North Carolina in the NCAA championship game, members of the Georgetown basketball team already are making plans for next season. This includes center Patrick Ewing, who says he has no plans to turn professional now and is looking forward to returning for his sophomore season.
"I'm coming back for sure," Ewing said. "We worked hard and achieved a lot this year and I think we can do the same next year. This season meant a lot to me although we didn't win that last game. I wanted to win it real bad."
The Hoyas lost to North Carolina, 63-62, Monday night in a game some are calling the best championship final in college basketball history. Ewing scored 23 points, had 11 rebounds and clearly showed he will be a force--on offense as well as defense--for years to come.
Although Ewing is a freshman, many in the National Basketball Association believe the 7-foot center could play in the league right away.
"He could go one or two (in the draft)," said Bernie Bickerstaff, the Bullets' assistant coach. "He's a franchise. He has all the ingredients. He is a shooter, he can run the court, he can dominate a game. Against North Carolina, he was involved in every play at both ends of the court."
Ewing confirmed his intentions to remain at Georgetown in an oncampus interview shortly after the team's return to a tumultuous reception Thursday afternoon. He declined comment about a death threat he received just after the Hoyas won the Big East Tournament in Hartford, Conn., the first week in March, preferring instead to talk about his first year of collegiate basketball and the outlook for the Hoyas.
"I think I had a good year," he said. "I worked hard and wanted to win for the team. There are some things I can still improve on. We lose a lot of good people but we have some good players returning."
"Depending on what happens--getting some good freshmen, working together--I think we'll have another very good season next year. Players set examples for me to follow and next year I'll do the same. I'm really not a leader, but I'm not a follower, either. We're just a team."
Coach John Thompson and several of his players were asked to reflect on the most successful Georgetown basketball season ever. Georgetown finished 30-7 and won the West Regional championship.
"Memorable, that's the best word I can think of," said senior Ed Spriggs. "We worked three years to get this far and, although we didn't win the national title, no one can take the feeling of that game away from us. Everything broke perfectly for us, except the final 15 seconds of the Carolina game. My basketball career will probably just consist of a little recreation ball from now on, but I will always remember this as being a dream season."
"We fell a little short of our season goal--the national title--but it was a fantastic season," said Thompson, selected coach of the year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association despite a season when he was widely criticized for shielding his players from the press. "Our kids aren't losers and they have nothing to feel bad about. They worked very hard all year and that's all a coach can ask of his players."
The Hoyas were ranked No. 1 in one preseason poll, and finished the season ranked sixth. The final poll came out before the NCAA tournament.
Recovering from two losses in their first three games, Georgetown won 13 consecutive games. The Hoyas lost three straight in midseason, mostly because of a shooting slump, then won nine of their next 10 games to finish second in the Big East Conference.
"We had our ups and downs and got a little frustrated," said senior Mike Hancock. "But we got things together at the tournament." In the three-day Big East Tournament, the Hoyas shot well and played outstanding defense, easily defeating Villanova in the championship game, 72-54, for the automatic bid to the NCAA.
Seeded first in the West Region, Georgetown beat Wyoming, Fresno State and Oregon State in Utah by a total of 50 points to earn the trip to New Orleans for the final four. It was the Hoyas' first berth in the final four since they lost to Wyoming in the final in 1943.
They advanced to the final against North Carolina with a 50-46 victory over Louisville, then lost the championship after a dramatic turnover by Fred Brown with nine seconds remaining prevented them from getting off a potential game-winning shot.
Still, most of the Hoyas interviewed preferred not to dwell on that frantic final play. They chose instead to look to the future.
"A year ago I was a senior at McKinley watching North Carolina play Indiana for the championship," said freshman Bill Martin of Washington. "Five days ago, I'm on the court with the same guys I saw play against Indiana. You dream about playing in a game like that. I have to admit, last summer I couldn't envision us or me playing in a national title game this quick.
"It's been a very meaningful experience for me. I learned a lot about the college game. I think I grew psychologically, socially and physically. Next year, I know what to expect. I would like to start but if I don't, I'll accept whatever role Coach Thompson sees for me."
The Hoyas' other outstanding freshman, Anthony Jones, agreed.
"I think the team and I accomplished a lot more than was expected of us," said Jones, a former high school all-America from Dunbar. "Over the year, we improved and worked hard to get this far. We can be just as good or even better than we were next year if we work as hard as we did this year.
"I got a chance to play a lot and learn, so next year I'll be ready to handle any pressure."
Replacing team leaders Eric Floyd and Eric Smith will probably be the Hoyas' largest problem, although Michael Jackson, an all-Met guard from Reston, announced yesterday he would be attending Georgetown, and several more promising recruits are leaning toward the Hilltop. They include David Wingate of Baltimore's Dunbar High School, a 6-5 swing man, and Wayman Tisdale of Tulsa, a 6-foot-9 center.
The Hoyas also will benefit from the return of 6-9 Ralph Dalton, who missed his freshman season after undergoing knee surgery in the fall.
Floyd, the leading scorer in the school's history, should be selected in the first round of the NBA draft. Floyd declined an invitation to play in the Pizza Hut All-Star Classic in Las Vegas today. Both he and Brown were not available to comment on the season.
Smith also was unavailable. He played in the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational all-star game last night, and is expected to be a middle-round pick. The 6-5 Smith, an outstanding football player at Churchill High School in Potomac, has received at least one offer from an NFL club to try out as a punter/defensive back.
"Eric (Smith) was the glue to our team, a very underrated, flexible player," Thompson said. "Any (NBA) team with common sense can use a player like him."
The returning player who has already designated himself team leader is guard Gene Smith. The talkative, enthusiastic sophomore reserve point guard already is looking forward to what he believes will be another outstanding year for the Hoyas.
"We're losing a lot of leadership, including an assistant coach (Bill Stein will become athletic director at St. Peter's College) and that will be hard to replace," Smith said. "I'm assuming the role as a leader next year because we're losing six players and we'll have a young team. I don't know who's coming here in the fall, but I want to see to it that they fit in. Next year, we can go as far as we did again."