He was the most coveted player in the country, the next Bill Russell, the savior certain to end the Knicks’ interminable 12-year championship drought.
He is Patrick Ewing, so the expectations were unavoidable. Inevitably, they came as a coach, too.
“We have a lot more depth and a lot more talent than we had in my previous two years, but still we have a long way to go,” Georgetown’s third-year head coach said this week. “Having depth and talent doesn’t always equate to wins.”
The prospect just becomes much easier.
Pegged for a potential breakthrough for the first time since Ewing’s return to his alma mater, Georgetown justified its hype Thursday night with an 82-66 upset of No. 22 Texas at Madison Square Garden earning a Friday night date with No. 1 Duke.
As the Hall of Fame center walked off the court he owned for 15 Knicks seasons, he looked to the Hoya-dominated crowd and extended his massive arms, performing his trademark arm wave as if No. 33 were on his chest, rather than in the rafters.
“It was like back in the Knick days,” Ewing said with a smile. “It’s always great to come back to New York. This is still my home. I still have a lot of fans here, still have a lot of family here, still have a lot of supporters here. It was a great night.”
Nostalgia is now reduced to cameos. The novelty of Georgetown’s greatest player sporting a jacket and tie has faded.
In 2017, the sight was surreal as Ewing returned to the Washington campus after 15 years as an NBA assistant and took over a team that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2017 and was coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1972. Ewing, who led the Hoyas to the national final in three of his four seasons as a player, went .500 in his first college season since then. He followed with a 19-14 campaign and an NIT invitation.
“That’s all we think about,” guard Mac McClung, who had a game-high 19 points, said entering the season. “We all want to be on that stage.”
Ewing, 57, has put the pieces in place to restore the former power’s standing. No trace of John Thompson III’s ambling Princeton offense remains. It has been replaced with one of the country’s quickest attacks. No hint of last season’s atrocious defense could be seen when the Hoyas (4-1) paid tribute to Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason, physically manhandled the Longhorns (4-1) into 24 second-half points on 22 percent shooting.
Georgetown’s leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker, Omer Yurtseven, fouled out after 12 minutes. Reigning Big East Freshman of the Year James Akinjo made 2 of 10 shots. And still, Ewing’s balanced lineup kept stretching the lead.
“My expectation and my drive has always been the same,” he said. “Even though our fan base needed to have patience and still do need to have patience, we’re still growing. We’re still working.”
Referendums come with far greater frequency in Year 3. Distress arrives when Georgetown trails Mount St. Mary’s and Georgia State at halftime. Concern emerges following a 15-point home loss to Penn State.
Belief feels concrete when Thursday’s final minutes fall from the clock, when the crowd replaces “Let’s go Hoyas” chants with a “Pat-rick Ew-ing” chorus.
“It’s been a process for him, but I think he’s doing a phenomenal job,” said fellow Georgetown legend Alonzo Mourning, who participated in Guardian Life’s halftime shootout, benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project. “[There’s] a new energy, a new optimism. It does feel like something new and exciting is growing.”