Georgetown's rivals have waited four years for Patrick Ewing to leave and give them a chance to get even for all those humbling losses. Maybe a few will get even, but not many. Maybe, not any.
"Some people may think that just because we lost Patrick we'll be putting five invalids out there on the floor this year," Coach John Thompson said. "We love for people to think that. We hope everybody we play comes in feeling sorry for us."
As the 1985-86 college basketball season begins this week, it would be foolish to feel sorry for a team that has three bona fide all-America candidates, a rugged 6-foot-11, fifth-year senior who has been around for three trips to the Final Four, talent that is 10 players deep, and a coach who won 75 percent of his games the four years before Ewing arrived.
The irony of the situation is that Thompson coached his first nine years without Ewing and was hailed as a great coach who managed a bunch of overachievers. When Ewing came to Georgetown, the skeptics said, "Now, let's see if he can win with a great talent." After three trips to the Final Four with Ewing, the voices now wonder, "Let's see what Thompson'll do now that he doesn't have a great player."
"I could run around moaning and groaning about how I'm going to have to rebuild the team, and talk about 'What's poor ol' Georgetown gonna do without Patrick Ewing?' But we have talent," said Thompson, whose team opens Saturday night at Hawaii-Loa. "We're not feeling sorry for ourselves. Losing Patrick and Billy (Martin) is not a tragedy.
"That's the entire challenge of college athletics -- reconstructing a group. You know it's not professional athletics, so they're not going to be with you forever. We'll make adjustments. I enjoy the challenge of this. I'm really looking forward to this year."
It's much easier for Thompson to look forward to the first season without Ewing with three players who are probably among the top five in the nation at their positions. Reggie Williams at small forward, David Wingate at off-guard and Michael Jackson at point guard give Georgetown one of the best perimeter trios in the nation, if not the best. Thompson, who characteristically is guarded with his praise, said, "We have perimeter people who are as good as anybody around."
Opposing coaches say, without hesitation, that Jackson is one of the best floor leaders in the country, and that Wingate and Williams, who both averaged 12 points per game last year, will increase that by 50 percent now that Ewing is gone.
However, as good as Williams, Wingate and Jackson have been, there are questions as to whether they played well because of Ewing. Wingate shot 48 percent last year, Jackson 43. Will those numbers go down, instead of up, now that opposing defenses -- free of sagging around Ewing -- can venture out and take away open shots around the perimeter?
Pittsburgh Coach Roy Chipman is one of those who thinks Williams, Wingate and Jackson, with or without Ewing, are big-time players. "David Wingate is one of the best players in the United States," he said. "Reggie, David and Michael Jackson are great players. I don't think people know just how good they are."
Thompson knew his perimeter game would be good with the return of that trio plus versatile senior guard Horace Broadnax and sophomore guard/forward Perry McDonald.
What appeared uncertain for a time was Georgetown's inside game. But with graduate school student Ralph Dalton excercising his option to play a fifth year (a knee injury forced him to sit out his freshman season), Thompson also has a veteran low-post pivot man who had a tougher practice opponent (Ewing) in the past than he will see in a game this season.
Dalton's return allows 6-10 sophomore Grady Mateen to play center and forward without the pressure of being "the successor to Patrick Ewing." Dalton is too old and too wise to get caught up in the notion that he is filling Ewing's shoes.
"I'm not replacing Patrick Ewing," Dalton said. "I don't know that my role will change much more than it's been, and that's being there when needed."
The questions about Dalton usually address the serious knee injury he suffered as a freshman. There lingers the notion that Dalton, despite surviving daily practice battles with Ewing, is not sturdy enough to play 20 to 30 minutes per game (or more) in the pivot.
"I get that from people all the time: 'Is Ralph gonna hold up? Is Ralph hurt?' " Thompson said. "Hell, Ralph's fine."
Dalton may not have to carry as much of the inside load as some would think. Thompson has a very talented freshman class, the pearl of which seems to be a 6-9, 245-pound bruiser named Johnathan Edwards, who scores, blocks shots and blocks people who try to go inside.
Even with Dalton and Edwards, Georgetown has to prove it can hold its own inside. "The outside people have established themselves, but we've now got to establish ourselves inside," Thompson said.
What also probably will help Georgetown carry on without Ewing is the fact that Thompson never changed his tactical philosophies for Ewing. Thompson was criticized a lot in Ewing's first and second years because Ewing wasn't scoring 20 points per game. Now, Thompson's team-concept approach should work in Georgetown's favor.
The Hoyas are ranked No. 8 in the nation by the Associated Press. Thompson said he will be disappointed if the Hoyas finish that low.
"I find it very hard to set my sails for being a top 20 team. I expect that," he said. "We're not a bad team. I just don't know how good we are."
Thompson isn't trying to devise a post-Ewing formula to shape this new team. "I don't do it that way, anyway. I'm like the lady who makes the cake from experience, rather than from a recipe," he said. "I can't cook from the book. I build my team the same way."
Thompson doesn't want any of his players to say they won't miss Ewing. He knows they will.
"I just know I have a nice feeling in my heart every time I watch Patrick Ewing playing for the New York Knickerbockers and not Georgetown," Pitt's Chipman said.
But as soon as Chipman finished that he added: "John Thompson was a great coach before Patrick came there, and he'll be a great coach long after Patrick is a great NBA star. Georgetown is a traditional basketball power now."
When the sporting public expected Virginia to flop after the departure of Ralph Sampson, the Cavaliers responded by making a trip to the Final Four. Virginia Coach Terry Holland recalled how difficult that was.
"One thing that is a definite factor is that people say you have fewer expectations, so there is less pressure," Holland said. "Actually, the opposite is true. Everyone here, and I'm sure everyone there, is saying the same thing: 'Hey, we know we're good, and we have to prove it.' So there is actually more pressure to prove it.
"Then you obviously have the added pressure of trying to do without a seven-foot center."