Georgetown men’s basketball Coach Patrick Ewing walks by the bronze statue of John Thompson Jr. near the main entrance of the athletic center that bears Big John’s name almost every day. When his own son was fired in March after his 13th season at Georgetown, Thompson called Ewing and encouraged his former star center, who helped lead the Hoyas to the 1984 national title, to apply for the job. While Ewing considers Thompson the biggest influence in his life outside of his parents, he wants to make it clear that Thompson’s influence over Ewing’s team in his first year as coach on the Hilltop will be minimal.
“When I got this job, one of the things that they asked me is, ‘Is Coach Thompson going to be coaching this team?'” Ewing said on the latest episode of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” “I took offense to that. I am 55 years old and I am my own man.”
Gumbel countered that it can be hard to “say no to someone who you love so much, and who has such strong opinions.”
“If he calls me and tells me you should do something, I owe him to listen to what he has to say, but at the end of the day, this is my team now,” Ewing said.
Thompson, who turned Georgetown into a college basketball powerhouse during his 26 full seasons at the helm, also is bothered by the notion that his continued influence over the school is the reason Ewing was hired.
“Somebody wrote, ‘After firing his son, the specter of further alienating John Thompson proved scary to Georgetown. So they went with a guy of whom they knew he’d enthusiastically approve,'” Gumbel told Thompson, referencing a story by Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel.
“I would say that that’s an insult to my intelligence,” Thompson said. “This university’s too smart and too powerful to let me scare them into hiring somebody.”
Ewing spent 15 seasons as an NBA assistant coach after his Hall of Fame playing career, and Georgetown is his first head coaching gig. Thompson suggested that the stereotype of guards being thinkers and centers being big oafs is one of the reasons the 7-foot Ewing was passed over for previous head coaching opportunities. “Real Sports” reported that of the 258 coaches hired in NBA history, only six — George Mikan, Bill Russell, Willis Reed, Bill Cartwright, Kevin McHale and Marc Iavaroni — were 6-10 or taller.
Ewing, who joined Twitter on Tuesday, is confident that the Georgetown basketball brand he helped build with Thompson will return to prominence.
“It has diminished in some aspect, but like everything, it’ll come back,” he said. “We’re the phoenix. We’re rising. We’re rising out of the ashes.”
Thompson expects Ewing to succeed at Georgetown, but acknowledged that the pressure is on to turn things around with the Hoyas coming off back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1972.
“Patrick will get fired if he doesn’t win,” Thompson said. “I would have gotten fired if I hadn’t won. Oh, they talk about my graduation rate and Big John, [communicating] with the kids and all that kind of stuff they say. But it wouldn’t have meant a damn thing if I hadn’t have won, here at Georgetown or any other place.”
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