WASHINGTON (AP) — Patrick Ewing put Georgetown basketball on the map, turning the Hoyas into a national power as the menacing force in the middle in the 1980s.
Three decades later, Ewing is the Big Man on Campus again.
Georgetown hired Ewing on Monday, bringing the Hoyas legend back to take over a program that had fallen on hard times over the past two seasons and helping the former All-American center finally realize his long-held dream of becoming a head coach.
“My four years at Georgetown were the best of my life,” Ewing said in a statement issued by the school.
“Georgetown is my home and it is a great honor for me to return to my alma mater and serve as the next head coach. I have been preparing to be a head coach for many years and can’t wait to return to the Hilltop.”
In announcing the hire, Georgetown called Ewing “the greatest men’s basketball player to ever don the Blue (and) Gray.”
He led the Hoyas to the school’s only national championship in 1984 and now he takes over for the son of the man who coached him at Georgetown in what is surely an emotional transfer of power.
John Thompson III, the son of Big John Thompson, was fired last month after consecutive losing seasons.
It was a decision that pained many at the school given the legacy of the Thompson name, but they filled the vacancy with perhaps the only name bigger in school annals.
Ewing was a three-time All-American at Georgetown, a fearsome presence in the paint who led the Hoyas to three national title games.
His dominance and Big John’s tenacity gave the program an intimidating image that captivated fans locally and nationally while paving the way for a long line of great centers including Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.
After Georgetown, Ewing was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 draft by the New York Knicks, was selected to 11 All-Star teams and remains Georgetown’s career leader in blocked shots and rebounds.
While many big-name players find the path from playing to coaching relatively seamless, Ewing has had to work for this chance. He is leaving his position as associate head coach with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets to take the job, finally put an end to a 15-year pursuit.
He also served as an assistant for Washington, Houston and Orlando and spent every July coaching the Hornets’ summer league team, never acting entitled despite his Hall of Fame credentials.
“Of all the players that 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,” said Miami Heat president Pat Riley, who coached Ewing with the Knicks.
“I am absolutely delighted for him and I think he’ll do a great job at Georgetown. Patrick Ewing was the first. He has come home.”
Hornets owner Michael Jordan said he was “overjoyed” for Ewing.
“I know that going home to Georgetown makes this very special for him,” Jordan said. “He’s been really patient and I’m glad his time has come.”
Many in the coaching community have long believed that there is a stigma against big men, and the wait that Ewing, an Olympian and one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, had to endure provides plenty of evidence.
Minnesota Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau, who was an assistant with the Knicks while Ewing was a player there, said he was disappointed Ewing had to wait this long and added that “he’s a guy who deserved one a long time ago and should’ve gotten one a long time ago.”
“The way he paid his dues, oftentimes you don’t see a player of that stature do what he did,” Thibodeau said. “I think he’s very deserving. I think he’ll do an unbelievable job. I’m thrilled for him.”
Thompson III coached Georgetown for 13 seasons, including a run to the Final Four in 2007 with future NBA players Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert.
He went 278-151 with eight appearances in the NCAA tournament, but was just 29-36 over the past two years, prompting the school’s proud and vocal fan and alumni base to advocate for his dismissal.
Despite his father continuing to hold considerable clout within the university, Thompson III was fired. But the replacement no doubt will bring a smile to Big John’s face.
An extended search took place before school officials ultimately decided to hire Ewing, who will have to quickly acclimate himself to the complex web of recruiting and academic eligibility requirements that are not a part of the NBA coach’s concerns.
Those will be new things for Ewing to learn. But he will do it on a campus where he sure knows his way around.
“To hire a head coach with this depth of coaching experience and personal achievements is tremendous,” athletic director Lee Reed said.
“It is a thrill to have him come back to his alma mater and continue the legacy of tradition and success he had as a student-athlete on the Hilltop.”
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.