By Lenn Robbins
This almost never works. It’s failed so many times you wonder why guys keep trying to pull it off. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great storyline: The Prodigal Son returns to coach his alma mater.
The expectations are outrageous and the risk/reward daunting: If the hometown boy makes good, well, that’s what was assumed. If he flops, his legacy is tainted, if not shredded.
Yet they keep coming.
Clyde Drexler tried it at Houston.
Eddie Jordan gave it a go at Rutgers.
Chris Mullin was last seen getting bought out at St. John’s.
The same fate seemed to be befalling Patrick Ewing at Georgetown. The greatest player in Hoya history entered his fourth season with a 19-35 record as a coach in Big East games.
When they opened 0-4 in league play this season, even the horrible excuse known as COVID was not necessarily going to save Ewing from being the latest Prodigal Flop. The website CoachesDatabase.com didn’t have Ewing on the hot seat but it was looking for chair as recently as March 8.
“I’m here where a lot of people didn’t think that I had the ability to do,” Ewing said Saturday night in The Garden where he now is so universally known he doesn’t have to show his credentials. “And I’m proving everyone wrong.”
Ewing had just led the 8th-seeded Hoyas to a 73-48, pulverizing of No.2 seed Creighton in the Big East Tournament Championship game. The win sends the Hoyas to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015 and gives them their eighth Big East title, breaking a tie with UConn at seven.
Georgetown (13-12) got a No. 12 seed and will face No. 5-seed Tennessee (18-8). The 5-12 game has become the favorite upset line of the tournament.
‘Once you get to the NCAA Tournament, anything is possible,” said Ewing.
Georgetown’s title was surprising if not shocking. The Hoyas (13-12) were picked dead last in the league’s preseason coach’s poll. Georgetown played better in the second half of the season but they gave up 98 points in a 16-point loss to UConn as recently as March 6.
Creighton (20-8), the No. 17 team in the nation averaging 77 points per game, was held to 18 in the first half as Georgetown took an 18-point lead.
“They had us ranked last,” said Ewing. “I kept talking about that Drake song. Drake, he’s probably going to get some more money now because I’ve been saying it so much: We started from the bottom; now we’re here. We started at the bottom; now we’re number one.”
Now Ewing is writing a new narrative, one a live-streaming service might like to acquire the rights. No one has ever led a Big East program to championships as a player and a coach.
Now the question isn’t if Ewing is on the hot seat, rather why did it take Ewing so long to get a head-coaching job? He’d been an NBA assistant coach since 2003, taking a few years off to spend with family. NBA jobs opened and closed and for one of the only times in his life, the 7-foot Ewing was overlooked.
He might have taken just about any head coaching job – college or pro – but Georgetown was the perfectly imperfect scenario. So the son came home.
“I worked at this craft 15 years in the NBA, given the opportunity here at Georgetown,” Ewing said. “And we’ve been through some trials and tribulations, kids leaving, guys stepping up and playing to exhaustion last year. This year started off slow with all the new faces. But everyone has done their part to get us to this point.”
There’s no way of predicting what the next week will hold for the Hoyas. March Madness has a unique way of doing strange things to teams. And this Madness will be confined to a bubble which can pop at any moment.
It doesn’t really matter. Coach Patrick Ewing is taking his team to the Big Dance. He has succeeded where others have failed. One can see him establishing his own coaching legacy at Georgetown, following in the footsteps of his mentor, John Thompson Jr.
“We started with him day one,” said Georgetown guard Ahvon Blair. “Just to see how happy he is just makes me happy. Everyone’s happy.”
It’s exactly how one hopes these stories turn out.