Patrick Ewing committed to Georgetown for the second time on Monday, agreeing to become the school’s next head basketball coach. That will be major news, of course. But it will hardly compare with the furor the first time Ewing committed to the school.
The Post’s story advancing Ewing’s decision — in early February 1981 — called the moment both D-Day and Christmas Eve, with staff writer Michael Wilbon writing that “some say [Ewing] is the next Bill Russell.”
He was, Wilbon wrote, “the most coveted schoolboy player in America this year,” someone who “could help transform the Hoyas from their current mediocre status to NCAA Final Four material almost immediately.” (He wasn’t wrong, as it turned out.)
“The best center prospect since Ralph Sampson,” The Post’s Ken Denlinger called him, writing that “already, Thompson is a fine coach. Ewing could make him an instant genius. … The nature of basketball is such that almost every coach is a big man away from the next level of his profession. With Ewing, Thompson could be at the pinnacle, a proud black man with a realistic chance at a national championship. And the money and prestige that brings.”
Thomas Boswell wrote that winter that Ewing was “good enough to make John Thompson, a man of principles, worry about principals.”
“It’s great to hear that Patrick is expected to make a decision this week,” Thompson said in late January, after watching Ewing dominate in a blowout win. “That’s very good news. The longer he waits, the more gray hair I get.”
Thompson also said Ewing had “the most unusual recruiting of any player of this magnitude in history,” explaining that Ewing was recruiting schools instead of the schools recruiting him.
“For once, a player has been recruited without anybody feeling they’ve prostituted themselves,” Thompson said. “In fact, the whole thing has been done at such a high level that it almost frightens me. It’s at the point where you think you must have forgotten something.”
The other major contenders were reportedly North Carolina and Boston College — UCLA, Boston University and Villanova were the less serious finalists — and word of the choice was tightly controlled by his high school coach, Mike Jarvis. At one point, Jarvis said, the Boston Globe was prepared to report that Ewing was off to North Carolina, based on anonymous sources.
“They’ve got sources. I’m his damn coach and I don’t know where he’s going,” said Jarvis, who described Ewing as “part Bill Walton, a bit of Abdul-Jabbar, a whole lot of Bill Russell and even more Patrick Ewing.”
Still, almost everyone assumed it would be Georgetown, and that Ewing would immediately vault the Hoyas into top-10 status.
“I’ve always thought Georgetown would be in the lead,” UCLA Coach Larry Brown said a few months before the decision. “I can’t really say why, except because of my feelings for John (Georgetown Coach John Thompson), Mike and Patrick … I think this (UCLA) is a great place for him. But right from the start, I thought he’d stay close to home.”
The announcement came on a Monday at Satch’s Restaurant, a joint owned by former NBA player Satch Sanders. Ewing, Wilbon reported, “nervously read from a prepared statement” while surrounded by 150 media members and a few dozen fans and onlookers, then left without taking questions. He had been so nervous, Wilbon wrote, that he had to be calmed down by an assistant coach.
Ewing thanked all the interested coaches before announcing his decision — “After considering all the facts, I have decided to attend Georgetown University,” he said — which led to “shrieks of joy” from Georgetown fans in the establishment.
Jarvis later explained that Georgetown was far enough away from Boston but not too far away, that Ewing felt most comfortable with Georgetown’s campus, and that the school’s academic reputation was critical, as was the Big East’s rising prominence.
“Patrick will enter Georgetown in a liberal arts program and hopefully move into business management,” Jarvis said. “He is considering the possibility that some day he will have a lot of money and he wants to manage it himself.”
After he enrolled at Georgetown, Ewing wasn’t permitted to talk with members of the media until January, per school rules. When he finally did, he had a long conversation with Wilbon, during which he looked back on his announcement.
“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,” Wilbon wrote.
“I wasn’t used to it,” Ewing told him. “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.”
His college career, of course, lived up to expectations: three Final Fours, a dominant record, a White House visit, pop-culture ascendancy, being picked first in the 1985 draft. Seems he made the best of his years at Georgetown. Nearly 40 years later, he’ll get to try it again.