Patrick Ewing, right, embraces Jamorko Pickett after winning the Big East Men's Basketball Tournament Credit: Georgetown Athletics

In the final stretch of his fourth season as head coach at Georgetown, Patrick Ewing has silenced doubters and confirmed that he has the Georgetown men’s basketball team moving in the right direction. Georgetown won the Big East Tournament on Saturday in Madison Square Garden, crushing a top-25 Creighton team in the final, 73-48. Ewing’s team won four games in four days and appears to have completely shifted the narrative around the program.

“This year we started off slow. There’s a lot of people who wrote us off, but we kept on believing, kept on persevering,” Ewing said in a press conference Sunday.

The win sends the Hoyas to their first NCAA Tournament since 2015. They earned a 12th seed in the East Region and will take on 5th seed Colorado in the first round. 

The week got off to an inauspicious start for Ewing, who said he was repeatedly “stopped” and “accosted” by security inside Madison Square Garden, the annual host of the Big East Tournament and, coincidentally, where Ewing starred for the New York Knicks in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Everybody in this building should know who the hell I am,” Ewing told reporters.

Those who may have forgotten Ewing’s legacy as a player at MSG may now remember him for the new legend he just wrote as a head coach. The Big East final win came 49 years to the day after the school first hired John Thompson Jr., the D.C. native and basketball legend who twice recruited Ewing to Georgetown—as a player in 1981, and in 2017 to take the vacant head coaching position for a program that had lost its way.

After the Hoyas’ semifinal win over Creighton, Ewing paid his respects to the late Thompson, who died last August. “It’s been a rough year for everyone all over the world,” he said. “We lost Coach Thompson and Coach [John] Chaney, pioneers of this profession, giving people like myself opportunities, and giving people all over the country opportunities to go to college.”

Ewing’s tenure at Georgetown has had its ups and downs, but appeared to be mostly down over the last two years. A 2019-20 season that opened with a lot of promise quickly turned sour, as losses racked up and three players including point guard James Akinjo departed in December. After the season, another key player, Mac McClung, announced his intention to transfer, with Ewing appearing to be in the dark about this decision. It looked like the program was starting another rebuild going into Ewing’s fourth season, with rising sentiment from the fanbase that he may not be the right man for the job.

“McClung transferring was probably the low point,” Ben Manzione, 28, a Georgetown season ticket holder since he was a student in 2011, tells City Paper. “The talent was gone and Ewing didn’t seem to know his own team. I’m not sure many fans wanted to wait through another multi-year rebuild.”

The redemption didn’t start right at the beginning of this season, either. The 2020-21 campaign for Georgetown started with an early loss to Navy and a COVID-related shutdown that kept them inactive for most of January. After resuming play, the Hoyas went a respectable 6-4, showing significant improvement and only losing to UConn (twice), Villanova, and Creighton, the top three teams in the Big East.

“I loved watching them compete as a team,” Manzione says of their performance at the end of the regular season. “They were closing out games they would have previously lost, and bouncing back quickly when the other team made a run. This team became fun to root for.”

Even with this improvement, nobody expected the 8th-seeded Georgetown to make a run to the Big East Tournament final, let alone win it. On multiple TV interviews, Ewing expressed the extent to which people wrote off his team, citing as examples the predictions from analysts in every round of the Big East Tournament that Georgetown would lose and their last-place preseason poll finish.

“Started from the bottom now we’re here,” Ewing said. The 7-footer who made his reputation as an enforcer in the paint kept a jovial attitude throughout the last week. He repeated that Drake line multiple times and quipped after their semifinal win that the “gumbo was working” and he was on his way to becoming “Top Chef.” In his post-game interview on FS1 he let out an enthusiastic howl that made the rounds on social media.

After their incredible run, the Hoyas traveled straight from New York City to Indianapolis, where the entire NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be held. This is the Hoyas’ 8th Big East Tournament title, their first since 2007, and broke a longstanding tie with UConn for the conference’s all-time lead in tournament championships.

The NCAA Tournament appearance will be a well-earned first for two seniors on the roster, Jahvon Blair and Jamorko Pickett, who powered through four rocky seasons to get to this point.

“They’ve been through the trials and tribulations of college, and right now they’ve come out on the better side,” Ewing said.

The Hoyas also enjoy contributions from some graduate transfers, especially Chudier Bile, who played his way into the starting lineup. But it was a freshman, Dante Harris, a point guard from Washington D.C., who earned Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. Harris is one of five freshmen on the roster.

“We had nine new faces,” Ewing said, on the adjustment period for his team this year, also noting the COVID-related challenges, “so it took some time for us to become a more cohesive unit. Also, the pause helped us, we were able to exhale, refocus and get back on the grind.”

The experience has built a tightly connected team that has plenty of confidence. Ewing credits the players who stayed through last year’s challenges and built something better.

“You don’t have time to say woe is me,” he explained. “Last year we had a lot of exits, a lot of people left, but I think my guys did an outstanding job of stepping up and getting us to the point we got us to.”

As they head into the NCAA Tournament, they have no reason to stop believing in themselves and their potential to make a run in the big dance.

“I believe in these kids. I think they believe in me,” Ewing said. “[Before the season] I told them we had enough talent to win the Big East, make it to the NCAA Tournament, and once you get to the NCAA Tournament anything is possible.”