“I just think it’s a great moment for our university, and I’m really looking forward to the contributions Patrick will make as our head men’s basketball coach,” DeGioia said in a telephone interview. “We’ve known the man for 35 years, the qualities that are associated with the very identity of Patrick Ewing: his prodigious work ethic, his burning competitive intensity. He has earned everything that he has achieved.”
Ewing emerged as the top choice for the position, according to people familiar with the search process, soon after Georgetown parted ways with John Thompson III. The eldest son of Thompson Jr. was dismissed less than two weeks ago in an uncomfortable separation from a family that has become synonymous with the school’s athletics program. Since Thompson Jr. took over the basketball program in the 1972-73 season, the school’s only coach other than a Thompson had been Craig Esherick, a former assistant under Thompson Jr. whom Thompson III replaced in 2004.
Terms of Ewing’s deal were not disclosed. Thompson III was paid more than $3.6 million by the university in 2014, according to tax documents.
Ewing’s hire underscores Georgetown’s relationship with the Thompson family and in particular Thompson Jr., who has a longstanding friendship with DeGioia. Ewing was Thompson Jr.’s first major recruit, and they won the 1984 national championship and made three Final Four appearances in four seasons.
“My four years at Georgetown were the best of my life,” Ewing said in a statement. “Georgetown is my home, and it is a great honor for me to return to my alma mater and serve as the next head coach.”
The move also is emblematic of the sway Thompson Jr. continues to hold at the university, which last year opened the 144,000-square-foot John Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center at a cost of roughly $62 million. Substantial donations from former players, including $1 million from Ewing, helped fund the building where Thompson Jr., 75, still has an office.
Ewing graduated from Georgetown in 1985 after being named consensus first-team all-American for three straight years, beginning when he was a sophomore. He is second at Georgetown in career points and first in career rebounds, blocks and games played. Ewing is one of four players in school history with 2,000 career points.
The New York Knicks selected Ewing with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft. He went on to win NBA rookie of the year and was an 11-time All-Star during a career spanning 17 seasons. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Ewing has no previous head coaching experience but did serve lengthy stints as an assistant with the Houston Rockets under former coach Jeff Van Gundy and the Orlando Magic under coach Stan Van Gundy. Ewing joined Hornets Coach Steve Clifford’s staff in 2013.
The Ewing connection to Georgetown also includes his son, Patrick Ewing Jr., who played for Thompson III and served as the Hoyas’ director of basketball operations for the past two seasons.
“While embracing the past, Patrick has his own vision for where this program can go and has a definitive plan on how to get there,” said Reed, who headed the search along with Paul Tagliabue, vice chair of Georgetown’s board of directors. “That was amazing to hear from him. I value process because it’s through process you learn what you need to learn about people. By the end, it was a home run.”
At the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz., college basketball insiders lauded Ewing’s basketball acumen and strong ties to Georgetown. They also, however, stressed his success would hinge on making adjustments to off-court demands of the college game as well as hiring an experienced staff to help navigate unfamiliar territory, such as recruiting and NCAA compliance.
It’s unclear what system Ewing plans to install at Georgetown, but his NBA background suggests perhaps a style vastly different than that of his predecessor, who ran a motion-based offense with principles from his previous head coaching stop at Princeton.
That offense stagnated in recent iterations, in part contributing to the Hoyas finishing with a losing record for a second straight season and missing the NCAA tournament for a third time in four years. The downturn led to calls from students, alumni and others within the fan base for Thompson III’s removal.
“They hired a legend,” longtime ESPN men’s college basketball analyst Dick Vitale said. “He’ll be able to really open eyes of recruits who want to be part of Georgetown’s basketball tradition. The transition from the NBA to college is major, in terms of dealing with the alumni, the recruiting, all the rules and regulations.”
Ewing becomes the second former Big East player of the year to coach at his alma mater. In 2015, St. John’s hired Chris Mullin as its coach to rebuild a program that once competed regularly with Georgetown for supremacy in the Big East during the conference’s formative years.
Ewing was in the District on Monday initially with the Hornets, who are scheduled to play the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night at Verizon Center. It’s unclear if Ewing will be on the bench for that game or begin his new duties immediately with the college recruiting process set to open Thursday.
“Patrick finished up [at Georgetown] 32 years ago,” DeGioia said. “He’s his own man. The game of basketball has gone through an extraordinary transformation. The game he played is not the game he’s coaching. The way the NBA is now played has required that he evolve as a coach. He’ll bring to us a level of preparation as a head coach that will be very, very important.”
Adam Kilgore contributed from Phoenix.