As Georgetown’s basketball season wrapped up, calls to fire men’s basketball head coach Patrick Ewing rained down on social media. The calls are emotional and wouldn’t solve the Hoyas’ problems. The uproar, however, is an indicator that the team’s brief return to relevance last season might be ceding to an era of woe—but my fandom will never die.
On the afternoon of March 2, Georgetown’s athletic director Lee Reed released a statement offering a show of support for Ewing. Reed’s statement acknowledged the difficult season but stood by the coach and former Georgetown basketball superstar.
“In this ever evolving landscape of college athletics we are committed to Coach Ewing, and we are working with him to evaluate every aspect of the men’s basketball program and to make the necessary changes for him to put us back on the path to success for next year,” the press release read.
Despite this public vote of confidence, Ewing and the Hoyas suffered a heartbreaking 73-68 loss at Seton Hall, setting a school record with the 19th consecutive loss. As if 19 wasn’t enough, the team extended its losing streak to 21 games to close out the season, recording a 22-point loss in their last regular season game to Xavier to seal the ignominy of a winless conference season before getting knocked out in the opening round of the Big East Tournament against Seton Hall. The Hoyas finished 6-25 overall and 0-19 in the Big East—one of the worst seasons in the program’s history. But it wasn’t all that long ago that Georgetown was one of the best stories in all of college basketball.
In March 2021, after playing a shortened regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgetown basketball looked like it was returning to form. Up to that point, the Hoyas’ most memorable moment of the 2010s—besides falling to 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast, better known as “Dunk City” as a No. 2 seed in 2013—was the hiring of Patrick Ewing as the new head coach in 2017. Ewing went viral his first season during a 2018 DePaul game when he asked junior forward Marcus Derrickson, “What kind of shot is that?”
Headed into the 2021 Big East Tournament, the 2020-21 Hoyas’ season seemed like another lost year under Ewing. They were 9-12 with a 7-9 Big East conference record—the Hoyas’ third losing record in conference play in four seasons. To make matters worse, Big John Thompson, Georgetown’s iconic former basketball coach, passed away before the start of the season.
In spite of everything seemingly working against them, the Hoyas reached the Big East Tournament and got hot. Seeded at No. 8, they dominated Marquette in their first round matchup, holding the Golden Eagles to only 14 first-half points. It was Georgetown’s first Big East Tournament win since Ewing took over the program, but then they had to face top-seeded (and ranked No. 14 nationally) Villanova in the quarterfinal game. Freshman guard Dante Harris guided the Hoyas to an upset victory with two clutch free throws in the final seconds to clinch a 72-71 win, and somehow the 11-12 Hoyas were in the Big East semifinal against Seton Hall. After jumping out to a 32-21 lead, Seton Hall came back with a 13-4 run to end the half that cut the Hoyas’ lead to 36-34. The teams traded buckets down to the wire, and graduate forward Chudier Bile broke a 57-57 tie on an and-one to give Georgetown a 60-57 lead with 1:36 left to play. Bile and sophomore center Qudus Wahab combined to block a driving layup by Shavar Reynolds Jr., and Dante Harris was fouled on a three-point attempt and sank all three free throws to give the Hoyas a 64-58 lead with under 30 seconds to get the Hoyas into the Big East final.
Finally, we reached March 13, 2021. All day, the only thing on my mind was whether Georgetown could finish the job and win the Big East Tournament and secure a bid to the NCAA tournament. They were on fire, but they were playing a talented Creighton team that was the No. 2 seed in the Big East and ranked in the Top 20 nationally. The teams had split their two regular season meetings, but the Bluejays were 8.5-point favorites for the final in Madison Square Garden. Even in an empty arena, the tension was palpable. In their black jerseys, the Hoyas looked like they were going to a funeral. It would either be Creighton’s or theirs.
Sitting on my couch at home with my parents, I donned my Georgetown hoodie and hoped we could pull off one last miracle. It looked like Georgetown would come out flat as they missed 12 of their first 14 shots, while Creighton’s first bucket came on an alley-oop before jumping out to an early seven-point lead. But then shots started falling. Dante Harris hit the Bluejays with a crossover move and nailed a free-throw line jumper. The lefty Jahvon Blair buried a three-pointer. Timmy Ighoefe tied the game at 13 with a put-back dunk. A Chudier Bile layup. Donald Carey buried a three from the Jeep logo. Another Blair three. And then, the cherry on top, the senior guard banked in yet another three from deep outside three-point range.
At that point in the game, all of my Georgetown group chats were alight. The Hoyas finished the half on a 23-2 run to build a 36-18 halftime lead, then began the second half with a 16-3 run that made the score 52-21 with just under 15 minutes to play. I, like so many other Georgetown students, alumni, and fans across the country, was giddy. A thunderous dunk by Bile off an in-bounds pass from senior forward Jamorko Pickett got me out of my seat, high-fiving family with such vigor and enthusiasm that I could’ve been on the bench or in the arena instead of my couch. The game was already over, but Georgetown kept their foot on the gas, eventually winning 73-48. Gus Johnson’s call as the final buzzer sounded and the Hoyas stormed the court still rings in my ears: “Coach Thompson, I know you love it big fella! Your boys did it, your boy did it!”
Fast forward 12 months later, and Georgetown finished winless in the Big East. Following a loss to UConn in the Hoyas’ final home game of the season, Ewing responded to a question about his future.
“Of course, I want to be back here,” he said. “I’m hoping that I’ll be back and doing something that I love at a place that I love and getting us back to being the king of the hill.”
Ewing knows from experience about what it means to be the king of the hill in college basketball. Together, he and Thompson built a juggernaut in the ’80s that made the Hoyas one of the most recognizable teams in the country. He was the center, both figuratively and literally, for many of Georgetown’s greatest moments and heartbreaks—capturing the 1984 Big East final against Syracuse in overtime, losing to North Carolina on Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot in the 1982 National Championship game, losing the David vs. Goliath matchup to Villanova in the 1985 National Championship, and winning Georgetown’s lone National Championship against the “Phi Slama Jama” Houston Cougars in 1984. Four years, three National Championship games, three Big East championships, and one National Championship victory.
Those moments built a legend, and a Hall of Fame career for my hometown New York Knicks grew Ewing’s legend even more. He knows exactly who he is, epitomized when he was stopped by security during the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, where he played the majority of his NBA career. “Everybody in this building should know who the hell I am, and I’m getting stopped—I can’t move around this building,” Ewing said at the time. “I was like, ‘What the hell? Is this Madison Square Garden?’ I’m going to have to call Mr. Dolan and say, ‘Jeez, is my number in the rafters or what?’”
College basketball is a fickle game. More than any other major college sport, the stars on the roster change year-to-year, a fact Georgetown knows all too well. Since Ewing took over on the Hilltop, 11 players have been lost to the transfer portal—including high-profile recruits like Mac McClung and James Akinjo. McClung transferred to a Texas Tech team fresh off a trip to the National Championship before declaring for the 2021 NBA Draft, and Akinjo is the starting point guard for the defending champion Baylor Bears, who are also a No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. And the best players in the country usually only spend eight months at a university before they are headed off to the NBA Draft, anyway. The last non-freshman to go first overall in the draft was Andrew Bogut back in 2005, who spent two years as a member of the University of Utah’s basketball program before being picked by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Since then, it’s been a flurry of so-called “one-and-done” stars. Gone are the days of players like Patrick Ewing, stars who stay for three or four years. Coaches can find themselves the talk of the town one year and on the hot seat the next. Ewing, for example, went from winning the Big East Tournament and receiving a massive extension to going winless in the Big East and being asked about his future at every press conference. The attitude of “what have you done for me lately?” only exacerbates the problem when people stop thinking about the players in terms of their classmates and instead focus on them in terms of products on the court.
But there’s more to sports than just the results. It’s the memories, the excitement, the cheers. It’s the excitement you get from seeing your school’s basketball coach amble through the Thompson Athletic Center, this larger-than-life figure who literally seems larger-than-life at 7 feet tall. It’s the moments after wins, where the buses back to campus are alive with chatter about the victory—or if you sneak onto the band bus, you can hear the pep band sing the fight song. Sure, the results matter, but they also don’t.
If the results were solely what brought fans to the stadiums, we all would’ve placed our fandom in Gonzaga or—gulp—Villanova. I wouldn’t be a New York Giants fan after the debacle that was the 2021 NFL season. I would’ve become apathetic, skipping Georgetown’s opening round game of the 2022 Big East Tournament. But I didn’t, and I got to enjoy a great game with a raucous crowd as the Hoyas battled against Seton Hall up until the very end.
The call to fire Patrick Ewing isn’t a smart move to reset the program, and it wouldn’t affect my rooting interest anyways. I root for this Hoya team because these players, these classmates of mine, represent my university. Many in this group of kids—and their coach, who is the greatest player in our school’s history—gave our school its best basketball moment in a decade. Their connection to this university, like every student, will last forever. Whether they win the Big East Tournament, beat Syracuse in front of a packed Capital One Arena, or lose a heartbreaker to DePaul after three attempts from behind the three-point arc, they are the representatives of our university.
I will keep cheering for them and pulling for their success. Win or lose, they help make this university what it is.
That’s why I still love Georgetown basketball.
Nicholas, we ALL love Georgetown basketball, but love and winning are not mutually exclusive. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to win and realizing that maintaining this head coach will not lead us there.