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College Basketball : This Is Ewing's Season and the End of His Era

March 02, 1985|Mark Heisler

In praise of Patrick Ewing:

He has been somewhat cheated of his due. His choice of universities, Georgetown, may have helped him become a better person, and it certainly made him a better player, but it was less than a public relations coup.

Taking nothing away from Chris Mullin, but Mullin got his huge preseason buildup this season because he was a good white player from New York, who'd gone to a New York school, someone New Yorkers had been waiting all their lives for. And Ewing was not going to be available to be interviewed.

For anyone but Ewing to be remembered as the pre-eminent player of his class would be a farce. His Georgetown teams have been a power since the day he walked onto the campus, an NCAA finalist in 1982, champions in '84, favorites in '85.

The truly marvelous thing about Ewing is how hard he works. Only three other big men of his ability have ever worked like that: Bill Russell, Bill Walton and Dave Cowens. Of the three, only Walton had Ewing's size. Russell and Cowens were small centers who would have been nothing if they hadn't had that kind of zeal.

Also, Ewing is combative to the point of being dangerous. In Wednesday's night's blowout of St. John's in Madison Square Garden, he knocked Mullin to the floor. The New York Times reported that Mullin left Thursday's practice early to have his jaw and shoulder examined after he "ran into Ewing's right shoulder."

From last season's team, the Hoyas have lost their one real power forward, Michael Graham, their best backcourt defender, Gene Smith, and Fred Brown, who had a reputation as their dirtiest player. Coach John Thompson has been suggesting that he now fields a finesse team. Any team that has Patrick Ewing isn't all that soft.

Prediction: St. John's to bow out of the NCAA tournament early.

I think they were more of a team on a roll than they were a great team.

Thompson showed the nation's coaches how to play them, a box-and-one, with the one defender following Mullin everywhere. The Redmen like to put the ball in Mullin's hands whenever possible. Against a box-and-one, he'll still figure out a way to get his points, but he won't be making all his teammates better than they are.

In defense of Bob Knight: No defense is possible. He says his team doesn't listen? The officials stink? The other Big Ten teams cheat? Mike Giomi cuts classes?

Hold it a second. Just when is anything going to be the great man's own fault?

Well, let's take this season.

Several years ago, after winning his second NCAA championship, Knight adjusted his own recruiting to take players who were better students and higher quality people. He told Sports Illustrated's Frank Deford that.

Knight, of course, thinks he can coach anyone into anything. Last summer in Paris, I watched him give a clinic on man-to-man defense, a very impressive one.

When he was done, he took one of the French teen-agers he'd been using as a model--the one he'd been giving the most static to--and told the audience: "This one I'm going to take back home with me. And we'll beat the pants off all those jump shooters."

Not even Knight can consistently beat good players with players who aren't as good. Knight's quality people are now being consistently jumped over, beaten up, outrebounded.

All Knight is doing is losing patience with the players he's been around longest and turning to his latest crop of freshmen. Last season, he started two of them, Steve Alford and Marty Simmons, a Mr. Illinois. This season, Simmons is said to have come in 25 pounds heavy and has been benched. People who've seen him don't think he looks 25 pounds heavy.

Even Alford hit the pine. In this season's first game, a loss to Louisville in Bloomington, Knight went down the stretch with three of his new freshmen on the floor.

I don't care if Knight is proud, intelligent, principled. He is a bully out of control.

Prediction: Knight, who had mixed feelings about remaining a college coach, will come back next season, now that he's created himself something he needed, a real challenge.

Then he'll have a good season. Then he'll quit.

Notes David Letterman, talking about his vacation in Indiana, said he'd done nothing much, just shagged chairs for Bob Knight. . . . Loyola of Chicago has a 14-game winning streak and a 22-5 record. Leading scorer Alfredrick Hughes says all the Ramblers have to do now is play hard "and keep our mouths shut." This was a joking reminder for Coach Gene Sullivan, who lambasted the NCAA selection committee that passed them up for the last two seasons in which the Ramblers had 19-10 and 20-9 records.

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