Georgetown men’s basketball coach Patrick Ewing got a nice letter of support from his boss, athletic director Lee Reed, Wednesday afternoon. “We are committed to Coach Ewing,” says the note, clearing up a matter you for sure want to be discussing with two games left in your conference schedule. “Coach Ewing’s dedication as well as his success at last year’s Big East tournament is a testament to his leadership.” Buoyed by this public vote of confidence, Ewing then led his young Hoyas to a gut-wrenching 73–68 loss at Seton Hall, Georgetown’s 19th consecutive loss and a new low-point in what has been the worst season for the program in half a century.
I stand before you today with a simple question: What the fuck has happened to Hoyas basketball? With one game left in this absolutely nightmarish season, the Hoyas sit dead last in the Big East with an unfathomable 0–18 conference record. Their last win came on December 15, against local MEAC also-ran Howard University. The closest they’ve come to a victory in two-and-a-half months was a three-point home loss to DePaul, the second- or third-worst team in the Big East. Along the way they lost by 18 to Marquette, by 19 to St. John’s, by 19 to Providence, and by 23 to Connecticut. They have the 331st ranked defense in the country. They are the 354th best team in the land at making two-point shots. These Hoyas aren’t just the worst Georgetown team of my lifetime. They’re in a completely different category altogether from all other Hoyas teams in the history of the Big East conference.
There was a time, and not all that long ago, when you would’ve used the word “storied” to describe the Georgetown men’s basketball program, and without anyone laughing in your face! Even just in the time since the youngest Defector staff people were born, Georgetown has been to a few Sweet Sixteens and a Final Four. They haven’t returned to the powerhouse form of John Thompson’s heyday—or really anywhere close—but they survived the dismal Craig Eshrick era and hired Thompson’s son and competed well and consistently for a period of 10 years, starting in 2004. And they had some cool teams in there! The 2007 team, featuring Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, did lots of fun Princeton Offense stuff and crisp high-low shit in the paint and won 30 games and made the Final Four. The Greg Monroe era was mostly a big disappointment, but Monroe was a cool college player. And the 2013 team featuring Otto Porter … well that was also a big disappointment, but they earned a third seed in the NCAA Tournament!
Georgetown fired John Thompson III in 2017, after consecutive losing seasons, and replaced him with Ewing, who’d been working as an assistant coach for various NBA teams for 15 years but who had zero head coaching experience. Ewing’s Hoyas have never won more conference games than they’ve lost; they’ve made one NCAA Tournament, but only after an improbable run through the Big East tournament, and they were summarily flattened in a 23-point loss to Colorado. It was hoped that Ewing’s prestige as an NBA hall-of-famer, his connection to the glory days of Georgetown hoops (he won the national title under Thompson in 1984), and his years as an assistant coach at the sport’s highest level would give him at least a recruiting edge, if not a tactical or administrative one. That has not worked out, as explained by Gene Wang of the Washington Post:
Attracting top-level talent has proved to be a major hurdle, with freshman guard Aminu Mohammed’s arrival this season among the few high-profile additions under Ewing. Other notable players such as Mac McClung, James Akinjo and Qudus Wahab transferred.Washington Post
Reed’s letter Wednesday registers as a bit of a shock, given the terrible condition of Georgetown’s men’s basketball program. It was reported last month that the university rewarded Ewing with a contract extension following the team’s surprise NCAA Tournament berth in 2021; that’s the kind of thing that might simply make it too expensive to consider reversing course and firing him now, even after all this. I have no idea whether Ewing’s coaching or recruiting is the reason that Georgetown basketball now stinks, but I can say for sure that having the program’s greatest all-time player and the face of its greatest achievement now guiding it through its most embarrassing chapter in 50 years is a huge, huge bummer. Patrick Ewing returning to Georgetown and leading it to glory would’ve been extremely cool; Patrick Ewing returning to Georgetown and immediately steering them into a whirlpool of sewage simply blights all memories of the glory days that built Ewing’s legend in the first place.
I went looking for Georgetown highlights this morning, hoping that I could find something that would make me feel optimistic about some facet of the team, and this is what I encountered:
I’m old enough to remember a time when Georgetown basketball was both good and cool at the same time. My prized article of clothing for most of my adolescence was a grey t-shirt with the word “GEORGETOWN” across the front in Pantone 282. I wore it weekly for a period of at least a decade, long past the point when repeated washings had weathered the fabric to the point that strips of it had shredded away to nothing between the letters, so that I had to wear a second t-shirt beneath it in order to avoid showing nipple. It was a supervisor at a cafe that I worked at in my early 20s who finally told me that the shirt was no longer work appropriate, not even if it was covered by a clean apron. I think today if you wore a Georgetown t-shirt in public anywhere outside of the actual neighborhood of Georgetown, few people would even associate it with basketball, and those who did would heckle you. Heckle you! For supporting Georgetown basketball!
I’m old enough, too, to remember when Ewing had become a hard-luck coaching story, when he was an ex-player with a pristine résumé stuck at the assistant level year after year, waiting for someone to give him a well-earned chance. The Georgetown job seemed like an opportunity for Ewing to finally sit in the big chair, to build a team according to his own vision, to prove that he’d been wrongly overlooked all these years, and to put 40-plus years of accumulated basketball wisdom to good use. And now his boss is eating a mountain of shit for saying that Ewing will not be fired at the end of his fifth season on the job, despite guiding the Georgetown program into unprecedented levels of shittiness. It sucks! This whole thing sucks shit.
The Hoyas wrap this miserable season on Saturday at Xavier, giving Ewing one last shot to avoid the ignominy of a winless conference season. I don’t even know what to root for anymore. A return to glory seems all but impossible. At this point, cutting Ewing loose and freeing him from the long and grueling work of rebuilding from the bottom would seem more like a mercy.