“Home Sw33t Home”
The phrase has become synonymous with Georgetown men’s basketball this year. You can spot the phrase in many places, whether it’s a hashtag on Twitter or the new slogan featured on this year’s “We Are Georgetown” T-shirts.
New men’s basketball Head Coach Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85) is returning home, leaving the NBA behind to coach his alma mater, a once-proud basketball program that has fallen on tough times.
Ewing, who was a member of Georgetown’s lone national championship team in 1984, has been called upon to bring the program back to heights not reached since Ewing himself donned a Georgetown jersey over 30 years ago. For a team that was picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the conference in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll, Ewing faces a daunting task.
The word “home” indicates a certain level of familiarity. However, the home that Ewing returns to is anything but the home he knew when he played at Georgetown from 1981 to 1985 as one of the most physically imposing and dominant centers to ever play the game of basketball.
Times have changed since then. The patriarch of Georgetown basketball, John Thompson Jr., still remains, but most other things have changed, from the recruiting methods to the style of play in college basketball to the Hoyas’ home arena.
Ewing is stepping into an unfamiliar world, one where the X’s and O’s of basketball are not all that matter.
Ewing’s former mentor and Knicks Head Coach Jeff Van Gundy thinks Ewing has what it takes to make the adjustment, but also warned of challenges ahead.
“I don’t underestimate the size of the rebuild that’s ahead of him,” Van Gundy said in an interview with The New York Post. “Georgetown’s not going to cheat, and that in and of itself makes it a challenge in college sports. Everybody does it different in college, and it’s always not a level playing field.”
Indeed, college basketball has found itself embroiled in controversy before the 2017-18 season has even begun. In late September, the FBI’s ongoing investigation into college basketball uncovered mass corruption, bribery and wire fraud involving several top college basketball programs, with more charges sure to come in the following weeks.
Ewing not only has to guide his team on the court, but he also has to manage what is quickly becoming a treacherous recruiting landscape that could prove to be a difficult challenge to overcome for an NBA lifer who has never coached or recruited at the college level before.
It has been seven months since Ewing was hired as Georgetown’s new head coach to replace John Thompson III. Already there are signs of Ewing’s effort to change the culture of the men’s basketball program; an attempt to make Georgetown the powerhouse program it once was.
One of the main talking points regarding the team so far in the preseason is the expected switch in offensive systems. Under Thompson III, Georgetown ran an offense predicated on principles associated with the Princeton offense. The outdated system clogged up the team’s offensive pace and failed to correctly utilize the athletic abilities of players such as former Georgetown guards L.J. Peak and Rodney Pryor.
Ewing’s coaching experience only comes from the NBA, with his most recent stop in Charlotte. He spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach with the Hornets under Head Coach Steve Clifford, one of the brightest minds in the NBA today. Ewing has professed his desire to switch to a more modern style of play associated with the NBA, with a focus on dribble-drive penetration, pick-and-rolls and a faster pace.
“I have my own style I want to play. It’s an up-tempo style. It’s an NBA style,” Ewing said at Georgetown’s Media Day. “Coming from the NBA, that’s basically what my background is, what my knowledge is.”
His players have already noticed a change under their new head coach.
“He’s a different type of coach than we had before,” junior center Jessie Govan said.
“We watched a little film on how he used to play,” junior forward Marcus Derrickson said. “It’s real up-tempo, just like how we’re working towards now. That’s what we work on every day.”
For Ewing’s new offense to work, he will need to find talented players to go out and execute his schemes, which ties into Ewing’s biggest challenge: recruiting.
“People say how tough it is,” Ewing said in an interview with The Washington Post. “But I don’t really see it being that tough. It’s all about being able to communicate with people, and I think I can communicate.”
Georgetown secured commitments over the summer from four-star forward Jamarko Pickett, three-star Canadian guard Jahvon Blair and three-star, 7-feet-3 center Chris Sodom. The early returns are encouraging for Ewing and his coaching staff and indicate that his message is starting to gain traction in recruiting circles. Pickett’s commitment, in particular, raised eyebrows. Pickett chose the Hoyas over the Maryland Terrapins, an established program that is one of Georgetown’s main competitors in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
This fall, Ewing has continued to impress, garnering commitments from three more players from the Class of 2018: three-star forward Grayson Carter, three-star guard Mac McClung and four-star forward Josh LeBlanc.
“I’m looking for great players,” Ewing said. “I want hard-working, great skill, can play multiple positions, big, athletic, can shoot.”
A trend is already emerging in the type of players Ewing is recruiting. Pickett and Walker are two long, versatile freshmen who should be able to guard multiple positions. LeBlanc and Carter also fit that profile, indicating Ewing wants to build a team with big, athletic players with more versatile skill sets that will allow for greater flexibility, both offensively and defensively.
If Ewing’s strategy goes according to plan — if he continues to succeed on the recruiting trail and gets his current players to buy in to what he is trying to do — home will indeed be “Sw33t,” for Ewing and Georgetown fans alike.
There is a shift underway on the Hilltop. There is a new man in charge of the men’s basketball program, and whether Patrick Ewing can change the culture on campus and get this program back to its winning ways will shape his legacy at Georgetown.
Ewing understands this better than anyone.
“Success is winning,” Ewing said. “If I don’t win, people could call me the greatest Hoya ever, but as you know, if I don’t win, there will be another coach here sooner or later.”
(Photo: Georgetown University)