Nearly four decades later, Georgetown fans have a reason to forgive Michael Jordan.
Without the legend who beat them in the 1982 national championship game, Patrick Ewing might not be coaching their beloved Hoyas.
At the end of his Hall of Fame playing career, Ewing didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. Coaching was the last thing on his mind. It didn’t appeal to him. Jordan, his fierce rival and friend, convinced him to give it a shot.
“Why don’t you come work for me here with the Wizards,” the Knicks legend recalled Jordan, then Washington’s vice president of basketball operations, saying. “I’ll start you off here as a coach. If you like that, we’ll let you be a coach. If not, I’ll move you to the front office.”
He caught the itch that 2002-03 season with the Wizards. Nearly two decades later, Ewing is preparing to coach in his first NCAA Tournament after leading Georgetown to a stunning run to the Big East Tournament title last week at the Garden.
It hasn’t necessarily been a smooth ride. Georgetown failed to finish above .500 in Big East play each of Ewing’s first three seasons on the Hilltop. A number of key players transferred last year. There were plenty of doubters, labeling Ewing as just another NBA guy who couldn’t hack it in college. This team was predicted to finish last in the Big East and started the season headed in that direction.
The Hoyas (13-12) were 3-8 when they went into a COVID-19 pause following their fifth straight loss on Jan. 9. They emerged from it a different team, winning 10 of their final 14 games. Senior Jamorko Pickett credited Ewing with the turnaround.
While the team was quarantining, Ewing spoke to every player over the phone. He wanted their feedback about what was going wrong. He also wanted to know what they felt they needed to do better. And he held them to it.
“Coach really got on us,” Pickett said. He added: “It’s exactly what we needed. As you can see, ever since then we’ve been playing very, very well.”
Georgetown won back-to-back games over Providence and Creighton coming out of the pause, infusing much-needed confidence into its locker room. It also beat Seton Hall and Xavier, hurting those teams’ tournament hopes. It had a chance to finish fifth in the Big East, but was walloped in the regular-season finale by Connecticut. That only seemed to motivate the Hoyas. They crushed Marquette in their Big East Tournament opener, edged Villanova and Seton Hall before hammering Creighton in the stunning title game.
Now Ewing’s program is back in the tournament for the first time in six years, as unlikely a participant as any of the 68 teams. The 12th seed in the East Region, it will meet No. 5 Colorado at 121:15 p.m. Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“It’s great to be back,” Ewing said. “I feel honored to be the person who’s at the helm. It’s great to see everything come full circle.”
That’s not to say he’s satisfied. Ewing, 58, doesn’t want this season to end yet. He’s made sure his players aren’t just happy to be playing in the tournament, either.
“On to the next thing. Basketball isn’t over,” Pickett said. “We can’t take us winning the Big East Tournament as the end of the road.”