When Patrick Ewing (COL ’85) took the reins as the new head coach of the Georgetown men’s basketball team, he inherited a program in flux. The roster had lost four players to graduation, two of whom went to the NBA and one to injury. More importantly, the program was moving on from the Thompson caste that had led the program for 40 of the past 45 seasons.
The early sentiment of the Ewing era is best described as measured optimism. He has bolstered the depleted roster with four freshmen and two transfer additions. The incoming class is impressive, especially considering Ewing’s late arrival, as many of the top transfers and recruits had already committed to other schools when he was hired.
The late commitment of freshman forward Jamarko Pickett, widely regarded as a Top 100 prospect in the Class of 2017, is particularly promising. Pickett, who de-committed from Ole Miss late in the recruiting cycle, chose Georgetown over Maryland, an important recruiting coup for the neophyte college coach. A long and athletic 6-foot-7 forward, Pickett is expected to play a significant role for the Hoyas immediately in his career. Georgetown is also rumored to be in the running for several top prospects, particularly big men, in the classes of 2018 and 2019.
However, there are some early concerns. Georgetown has yet to release its schedule for the upcoming season, but early indications are that it will be weak, According to the Casual Hoya, three of the four announced games are slated to be against teams with under .500 records last season. The Hoyas withdrew from the prestigious Phil Knight Invitational tournament, which will include top programs such as North Carolina, Michigan State, Duke and Ohio State. In addition, Ewing has expressed a lack of interest in continuing the recent series against local rival Maryland.
For all of John Thompson III’s flaws, he consistently built tough nonconference schedules in order to ensure that the Hoyas would be battle-tested entering their Big East schedule. Last year’s nonconference slate included games against Maryland, Oregon, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Syracuse and UConn, all strong programs.
So far, Ewing seems to be taking an approach closer to that of his mentor, John Thompson Jr., who consistently scheduled weak early-season opponents in order to rack up easy wins for the Hoyas. While it is understandable for Georgetown to somewhat soften the schedule in Ewing’s first season, this is not a trend that should continue in the long run.
In addition to the experience and competition, marquee nonconference games provide exposure for a program that has largely faded from the national consciousness in recent years — especially since Big East games are now televised on Fox Sports 1 rather than on ESPN. Nonconference strength of schedule has also taken on an increased importance in recent NCAA tournament selection committees and seeding decisions.
Ewing also has not made much of an effort to modernize the program. Social media, which has become an important fan engagement tool for teams in recent years, has been a weak point for the Georgetown program, and Ewing has shown no interest in changing that. Additionally, Ewing has indicated that he will continue Georgetown’s archaic policy of preventing freshmen from speaking to the media during their first semester. The policy is particularly outdated in the modern basketball landscape, where top players are consistently interviewed for years before entering college.
It is worth noting, though, that Ewing has made positive steps in engaging the team’s fan base. He has made several appearances around campus to meet students and fans, an action that Thompson III rarely took. In addition, in the aftermath of his hiring, Ewing gave several personable and entertaining interviews, shedding light on his plan for the program and his coaching philosophy.
Despite my concerns regarding scheduling and fan engagement, the most important factor in evaluating Ewing’s success is results on the court. While this season is not expected to be awe-inspiring, it will be important to watch the team’s style of play. Thompson III’s downfall was largely rooted in his inability to adjust. His recent teams racked up fouls and failed to defend the perimeter under the NCAA’s more stringent freedom of movement rules, and his expressed desire to play a faster and more motion-based offense last season did not come to fruition, as the team reverted back to his Princeton offense.
Ewing wants to take a different approach and play an NBA-style offense designed to prepare players for the professional circuit. If players like Pickett, junior center Jessie Govan, and junior forward Marcus Derrickson show strong development, and the team showcases a more exciting and professional style of offense, Ewing’s first season would be considered a success. So far, he has said the right things and has made a strong effort in recruiting.
All there is left to do now is prove it on the hardwood.
Tyler Park is a senior in the College.