Earlier this week, the University of North Carolina celebrated winning the men’s basketball national championship. The team had a joyful celebration in the locker room, while back in Chapel Hill, fans took to the streets and went wild as fireworks burst overhead.
Now, I was happy for UNC and its fans, but also bummed. It would be very nice if Boston College would win a national championship while I’m here, and although it’s at least possible, and maybe probable, that one of the hockey teams will, it’s a safe bet that it’ll be a while before men’s basketball is a serious contender. On the bright side, though, BC isn’t the only Catholic school that was once upon a time good enough for the tournament, but is now going through a rough patch. Georgetown University is trying something new that, if it works out, bodes well for BC men’s basketball fans.
Georgetown used to be a national powerhouse. The legendary John Thompson, Jr., took over in 1972-73 and quickly turned a mediocre program at best into one of the country’s strongest teams. The Hoyas only missed out on the NCAA Tournament six times over the course of Thompson’s 25-year career as official head coach. In 1983-84, the Hoyas marched all the way through the regular season and tournament, accumulating a 34-3 record and winning the national championship. Patrick Ewing, future Hall of Famer with the New York Knicks, scored 608 points over the course of the season and averaged a double-double.
Even after Thompson stepped down as head coach, Georgetown continued to excel. (It’s worth noting that Thompson was still heavily involved in all decision-making even after stepping down.) After a rough couple of years with Craig Esherick at the helm, John Thompson III, nicknamed JT3, was named head coach, and Georgetown continued to consistently make the NCAA Tournament, including a run to the Final Four in 2006-07.
But recently, the Hoyas have been in a slump. For the past two seasons, they have posted losing records, including losses to area rival Maryland in consecutive years. And recruits have started to walk back their commitments.
It was clear something needed to change, so Georgetown finally fired JT3. Fans rejoiced, thinking that the school was ready to move on from the Thompsons. Then the rumors started: They’re going to interview Ewing for the job. Sure enough, earlier this week the report broke that Georgetown had officially hired Ewing as the next head coach.
— ESPN 980 (@espn980) April 3, 2017
Now personally, I think this is great news for Georgetown fans. Sure, I understand why some people might be apprehensive about it. Ewing has no head coaching experience, so it’s understandable that fans are nervous about charging this man with righting the ship. Plus, hiring Ewing sends a message that although the Thompsons are no longer officially head coaches, the school can’t really move on from the Thompson legacy. Choosing a member of the powerhouse teams of the 1980s might be a nostalgia move—but it also might be a symptom of something more serious, like the elder Thompson still controlling the program. After all, while no longer an official member of the staff, he’s still involved—he sits courtside at every game and is friends with Georgetown president John DeGioia. You can bet he’s still got sway where it matters.
Yeah, I’ll grant that fans might be concerned, and that their concerns aren’t totally unfounded. But on the whole, I think this is a really good move for Georgetown.
While there’s pressure on any head coach, Ewing has a relatively light load of it. With the way Georgetown has been playing for the past couple of years, there’s not really anywhere to go but up for the Hoyas. And even if his first year is rocky, that’s okay—nobody expects absolute perfection right from the start.
Plus, while it’s true that Ewing has no head coaching experience, it’s flat-out wrong to say he has no experience at all. He has been an assistant coach since 2002, working with four different teams—the Wizards, the Rockets, the Magic, and the Hornets, with whom he earned the title associate head coach. And he’s been very open in the past about his desire to land a head coaching gig. Pat Riley, Ewing’s coach on the Knicks and current president of the Heat, praised Ewing’s drive to become a head coach.
“Of all the players who have gone from superstardom to putting in the time and paying their dues to becoming a head coach, Patrick deserves this probably more than any player ever,” he said to NBA.com.
But one of the biggest reasons why hiring Ewing is a good move for Georgetown is simple: recruiting.
Ewing was a college star who went on to have a Hall of Fame career. He won two Olympic gold medals with the national team and was a member of the 1992 Dream Team. He was a superstar, an incredible figure in basketball for years. He was dazzling.
You can bet that high school athletes will probably know the name Patrick Ewing. Even if the players aren’t as familiar with his career, their parents definitely are. When Ewing comes calling, recruits will want to listen to what he has to say. After all, wouldn’t you? If a man with his resume thinks you’re worth it, it’s an honor. And if he can turn the tides at Georgetown over his first couple of seasons, recruits will want to come even more—now they’ve got a Hall of Famer as a coach at a program that is on the ups.
If the Ewing experiment pays off—and I’m betting it will—I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more schools in tricky positions call on illustrious alumni to come take charge. While BC doesn’t really have a comparable superstar to call up, someone like Jared Dudley might be an interesting option a few years down the road.
After all, Dudley helped guide the Eagles to the Sweet 16 as a player, and has had a legitimately productive career as a pro. Currently he plays for the Phoenix Suns, where he has taken on a leadership position and played an integral role on the team. Throughout his career he has been hailed for his determination and leadership.
What’s more, he already revealed that he wants to be a college head coach.
— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) November 25, 2016
Plus, Dudley has shown that he remains invested in BC Athletics. In addition to showing some love for former Eagles on Twitter, he has speculated that BC will retire his number as soon as he retires from the pros. His consistent focus on BC means he might be pretty interested in joining the men’s basketball coaching staff. Having a BC grad and former NBA player on the coaching staff will only serve to boost recruiting for the Eagles.
I wonder why @BostonCollege waits until your almost 50 before retiring basketball players numbers.It's ok I'll change that after I retire ?
— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) October 22, 2016
Look forward to the Ewing experiment in Georgetown. It’ll bring the Hoyas back to national prominence and it might just spell something to look forward to in future years on the Heights.
Featured Image by Nick Wass / AP Photo