Sunday, April 11, 2021

‘I have shut a lot of people up’

Patrick Ewing was upset last week when he asked for identification in the hallway of a building he had called home for 15 years to exclude security staff at Madison Square Garden. They were unaware that apparently, the former Nax stars, whose numbers hanged inside the arena to pay tribute, were coaching the Georgetown men’s basketball team in the Bigg Boss tournament.

As a Hall of Fame player, Ewing was always easy to identify: he was the middle man, a force on both ends of the court that carved out one of the best careers – if not the best – of any Naik.

But the Ewing coach has often been overlooked.

Ewing has had nearly 20 years, spending most of that time on the margins of the game, gaining a modest advantage of praise as a coach – at least from the outside world.

Some of that praise came to an end last week when Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyes completed a surprise surge from under the Big East stand for their conference champion. For the first time since 2015, the program returned to the NCAA men’s tournament, where it would face Colorado on Saturday.

“Learning”? Not yet, ”said Ewing. “We still have a lot of work to do. But I have turned down a lot of people. “

When Ewing triumphantly stepped into the Georgetown locker room after his final win at the Garden last week, he shouted, “Start from the bottom, now here we are,” lyrics to a Drake song with a theme for Eva got changed. The team’s stirring drive to a title. But the words may also reflect Ewing’s 15-year odyssey as an assistant coach in the NBA, a lengthy prologue to Georgetown that finally gave him a chance in 2017, to prove his potential as a head coach.

When he was hired, some fans of the program complained. After all, he had no head coaching experience and no experience on the college bench.

He had noted over 1,200 NBA games, registering almost every imaginative play, mismatch and defensive scheme. And yet no one gave him a chance to be the head coach in the NBA, a slight Ewing sting but never stopped him.

Jeff Van Ganey, Ewing’s coach and boss with the Knicks and the Houston Rockets, said, “His sacrifice for 15 years, a great player as a player, as he never was, was not credited to him. . ” “No great player ever did that, and he didn’t do it, he hugged him. Can anyone imagine Hakeem Olajuwon or David Robinson?”

Van Gundy agrees that Ewing suffered several losses, including Ewing and John Thompson, Ewing’s coaches and Georgetown’s mentor, describing a size bias that favors older men for coaching jobs . Historically, black candidates have also been given significantly less importance in the coaching ranks. But Ewing and his supporters are more apt to discuss the height issue publicly, a bias that applies especially to centers the 7-foot Ewing position played so expertly.

John Thompson’s son and self-described Ronnie Thompson said, “When you return to one of the best players to ever play the game, he’s ready to play the game ever, spending all his time on his craft.” Putting in to do. ” Chief of Staff for Georgetown Coaches. “My father always used to say, ‘People in this world don’t discriminate just because of color, they discriminate because of size.”

This may explain how former guards such as Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Derek Fisher, Mark Jackson, Doc River and Steve Kerr were given the head coaching job – with no previous experience – to name just a few. They could not even speak as an assistant for a day, breaking up the opposing team over the opposition teams producing video games And meeting with fellow staff members, as Ewing did for a decade and a half.

He moved into coaching shortly after retiring as a player, joining the Washington Wizards in 2002 as an assistant coach for Doug Collins. Ewing said he fell in love with the job and began working on the rocket as an assistant to Van Gundy, then Jeff’s brother, Stan Van Gannie, with Orlando Magic, and finally Steve Clifford’s assistant and one of the Charlett Hornets As associate head coach.

Clifford recalled a meeting where the staff spent 45 minutes stating how one of their players adopted a poor attitude. When the meeting ended and Clifford left, Ewing went to the other coaches and insisted that they rejoin immediately, even without reworking.

Ewing told the group that they had ruined the meeting and were not properly prepared for that day’s practice. He said his job was to help Clifford improve each player and team, and that he would now have to get back to work.

“He never told me he did it,” Clifford said. “Other people told me about it, and they still talk about it today.”

Van Gani saw that Ewing was flourishing in Houston in three years, and said it was clear that Ewing was ready to become a head coach. But the offer never came, not even from the Knicks who had a revolving door of coaches during which time Ewing was an assistant.

“You’re going to lock the doors in your face,” Ewing said after the Big East Championship. “I didn’t pout. I just tried to get better, get better at my interviewing skills, get better at the craft, learn from everyone I worked with, and try to be the best coach that I can be.” I can. “

Coaching in the NBA was a dream, but Ewing made an exception for Georgetown because of his history and because John Thompson, who died in August, urged him to do it.

Ewing, 58, accepts the opportunity to be a coach in Thompson’s tradition. Occasionally, he would point to a court chair with a towel draped over it – the same chair where Thompson sat for the practice of slapping his shoulder with his signature towel – and tell his players, ” You think I’m being tough on you? The guy sitting in that chair was twice as harsh on me. It was because he believed in us, and I believe in you guys as well.

Ewing recognizes that his job is more than just winning tournaments. It is also about serving as a patron and guiding light, and speaking out – as he did last week at Madison Square Garden – when he considers it an injustice. This is the lasting legacy that the vocal Thompson left for him.

Ewing was quick to use his megaphone during the social unrest following the assassination of George Floyd, and Georgetown is one of the schools whose uniforms are a word of protest.

Of course, winning helps increase the volume on the megaphone, and Thompson gets an advantage that not Ewing – a player like Ewing. The Hoys left this season, predicting a final place in the Big East after losing three players. He had to rely on a team with eight new faces, including five new players. After a 3-8 start, he took off in January due to coronovirus issues and went three weeks without playing a game.

When they returned, Ewing rejoined the lineup and pushed forward defense and rebounding with the big players. The Hoys won 10 of their last 14 games. Van Gundy, who says he records all of Georgetown’s games and watches them only after knowing the score (he is too nervous to see it live, he said), calls Ewing’s adjustment this “season.” Called one of the “surprising” decisions seen in. , Is critical to the team’s recent success.

Colorado (22-8) presents a challenge, but whatever happens in the NCAA tournament, Georgetown has an intriguing future. Ewing has included an elite class of incoming freshmen, including Eminu Mohammed, a McDonald-All-American forward, and Ryan Mutombo, the former Georgetown’s 6-foot-11 son and NBA Dickembe Mutombo.

In a year when many suspected Georgetown had the talent to compete, Ewing pushed his team from bottom to top, and at the same time, his recognition as a coach grew, even Also at Madison Square Garden.

“It allows people to see what the work has done to those of us who already knew,” Van Gundy said, “that person can do basketball.”

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