The shiny golden trophies that line the room and the collection of navy and gray Nike sneakers displayed on the wall of the fourth-floor conference room at the John R. Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center are meant to show Georgetown basketball at its glitziest. On this October morning, however, Patrick Ewing sits comfortably in a track suit.
After a busy weekend promoting the Georgetown men's basketball program, Ewing had been looking forward to pulling on some sweats. He had been on the job and dressed with a purpose since Friday, first riling up students and recruits on campus at Hoya Madness, the annual event that kicks off the basketball season. For that he donned a white polo with a Georgetown "G," baggy jeans, sneakers and a hoodie — the campus icon from the 1980s looked thoroughly contemporary. But wooing the recruits and their families who had come to visit on Saturday and Sunday demanded something more put together, so it was all blazers and button-downs for the rest of the weekend.
Monday morning offered a rare and welcome break from all the pomp.
"In the NBA, when we have a day off, you have a day off," Ewing said later. "You may have to come into work, but you're at home working. In college, when we have a day off, the kids may have a day off, but I have to get on a plane and go travel. We have to go to not one city, but two, three cities, to go recruiting."
Such are the rhythms of Ewing's life nowadays, seven months after he left behind 32 years in the NBA — 17 as a player and 15 as an assistant coach — to rejoin the college ranks at his alma mater.
Ewing's inaugural season and a new era at Georgetown will begin Sunday when the Hoyas take on Jacksonville at Capital One Arena. With it comes a healthy dollop of skepticism from outsiders over everything from the scale of the rebuilding job that awaits to the weakness of the Hoyas' nonconference schedule to Ewing's independence as a head coach, what with the patriarch of the program, John Thompson Jr., still keeping an office at his namesake facility.
Above all, there's the question of whether Ewing's NBA coaching experience will translate to the college game.
"I just think it's a completely different world," said one major-conference head coach, who asked not to be named so he could speak freely. "That doesn't mean he can't handle it. But bigger than all the rules, I think the thing that would be shocking to me if I had never been in the industry is just the pace of it all and the intensity that comes from the pace.
"It's a nonstop deal, and I think in the NBA there's more of an ebb and flow and you know when you're supposed to work and when you're not supposed to work. Because of the rules — or lack thereof may be a better way to say it — it's just nonstop."
Val Ackerman, the commissioner of the Big East since 2013, has known Ewing since 1992, when he played on the "Dream Team" in the Summer Olympics and she worked for the NBA and USA Basketball.
"There's a lot to learn, particularly in recruiting," Ackerman said of the transition to college. "The player acquisition is different than it is in the NBA. He's going to be best friends with his compliance person. He's going to need people on his staff that understand how all that works. So it's the recruiting, but it's also the understanding that [the players] are not full-time employees. They've got to go to class. There are eligibility requirements in terms of their academic coursework, especially at a school like Georgetown.
"I think on some level, his learning curve, it'll be flat. He's hitting the ground running. On other topics, he'll have things to learn. The good thing is at a school like Georgetown, he'll have all the support he needs."
Making the transition
Ewing, 55, had no college coaching experience before he took the Georgetown job, and the position has required lifestyle adjustments.
His schedule revolves around college students and teenage recruits scattered throughout the country. In his third stint in Washington — he was also an assistant coach with the Wizards from 2002 to 2003 — he has chosen to live in Virginia for the first time instead of the District or Maryland, but he jokes that it doesn't matter because he rarely sees the inside of his house. A once-harsh critic of social media and its inherent distractions, Ewing joined Twitter last month.
Ewing is well aware of the skeptics who doubt that his skills will translate to the college game, and he has a retort for every criticism. To those who say he hasn't dealt with young kids before, he points to the plethora of one-and-dones in the pros. To those who talk about the rule book, he says he's got compliance people. To those who say the pro and amateur games have too wide a gap for one coach to bridge, Ewing points to his assistants, two of whom have decades of experience as head coaches and assistant coaches at the college level.
"The only difference between college and the NBA is the coaching [in college] is 30 percent of it, a small part of it," Ewing said, "and all the other part of it is dealing with the university, dealing with teachers, making sure the kids don't get in any trouble, things of that nature.
"When I first got the job all people talked about was the recruiting, recruiting, recruiting is going to be the hardest thing. Recruiting is recruiting, and it's been fine. Dealing with people is dealing with people — it's coaching."
Ewing acknowledges that so far he has been somewhat untraditional as a college coach.
Ewing calls his coaching style a "big gumbo" of all of the NBA coaches from his past as an assistant, including Doug Collins with the Wizards, Jeff Van Gundy with the Houston Rockets and Steve Clifford with the Charlotte Hornets, where Ewing was an associate head coach before he left for Georgetown.
Ewing has thrown himself into recruiting because he believes he won't be able to implement the up-tempo, pro-style offense and physical defense he wants the Hoyas to be known for unless he has the type of players with the talent to execute his plan — plus he feels his hiring in April set Georgetown behind in the recruiting timeline.
That means things like a team dinner for current members to get to know the new coach haven't happened. Instead, players say bonding happens in practice, where they also describe Ewing as a tough coach. Conditioning drills have increased significantly.
If Ewing's no-nonsense style feels borne of the NBA as opposed to rooted in the college game, players aren't complaining.
"You can tell, or just from knowing he was a top 50 [all-time] player in the league, he knows a lot about the game," said junior forward Marcus Derrickson, the team's second-leading returning scorer (8.3 points per game last year) after junior center Jessie Govan (10.3). "Every time there's something that he tells you to do, it usually works out for the better, so why not do that? He's critiquing our games in a way that can get us to the next level, and he knows exactly what we need to do, what we need to work on, our weaknesses that we have to improve on so we can be great college players and also make it to the next level and be effective there."
Banking on NBA appeal
For as much adjusting as Ewing has had to do since April, he doesn't plan on shying away from his NBA roots.
Ewing believes part of his appeal — what most other college coaches don't have — is his ability to provide an easier path to the pros for those Georgetown players who have the talent. That Ewing knows how to take players to the next level is an important part of his recruiting pitch.
It's part of why Ewing landed four-star forward Jamorko Pickett, a Washington native who chose Georgetown over Maryland, as well as two other major commitments that weekend of Hoya Madness.
He snagged a pair of players from the recruiting class of 2018: four-star forward Josh LeBlanc of Louisiana and Mac McClung, a point guard from Virginia who had originally committed to Rutgers.
Trey Mines, an assistant coach on McClung's AAU squad Team Loaded, said having Ewing at the helm made all the difference to the point guard.
Mines said McClung loved that someone with an NBA coach's mind would be running the team, and that he appreciated the school kept its tradition alive by hiring Ewing.
That tradition is important to Ewing, too. He maintains that Georgetown is the only college coaching job he would have ever taken.
"The best part of it? I got a job," Ewing said. "I've been given an opportunity . . . at my alma mater, the place that I've known, that I was able to roam around for four years and spend four of the best years of my life. I think that's the best part of it."
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