Sports

Hoyas Once Ruled College Hoops

by David Elfin
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John Thompson and Patrick Ewing during the glory days of Georgetown basketball. (credit: Georgetown University Athletic Department)

John Thompson and Patrick Ewing during the glory days of Georgetown basketball. (credit: Georgetown University Athletic Department)

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Given Georgetown’s lone NCAA victory during the last six tournaments, it can be hard to imagine how powerful and feared the Hoyas once were.

In 1982, Georgetown lost the national championship in the final minute to North Carolina when freshman Michael Jordan swished a jumper from the left corner and Hoyas guard Fred Brown threw the ball right to the Tar Heels’ James Worthy on the subsequent possession.

Two years later, All-American guard Sleepy Floyd, small forward Eric Smith and bruising big men Mike Hancock and Ed Spriggs were gone, but coach John Thompson had replaced them with sophomore scorers David Wingate and Michael Jackson and skinny freshman forward Reggie Williams as well as menacing big man Michael Graham.

Brown, defensive stopper Gene Smith and forward Bill Martin were all back, but of course the key to Georgetown’s success was 7-foot center Patrick Ewing. The nation’s best player, Ewing combined intensity and talent for averages of 16.4 points, 10 often ferocious rebounds and 3.5 blocks although he influenced countless other missed shots.

Ewing’s ever-scowling demeanor added to his aura and that of the Hoyas, who played basketball like the other team was an enemy, not just an opponent. Georgetown’s games against its Big East rivals were physical contests more akin to the NFL or NHL than college hoops.

Thompson, who had grown up in the segregated Washington of the 1950s, instilled some of his anger from those experiences into his players and was not above using his massive 6-foot-10 frame and intimidating manner to influence the officials and prompt outrage from fans of other schools and from the media. Often wearing dark T-shirts and seemingly playing with clenched fists, the 1983-84 Hoyas were depicted as college basketball’s version of the storm troopers from the Star Wars movies with Thompson in command as Darth Vader.

Their only defeats came at DePaul by a basket and at home to Villanova by the same margin and to St. John’s by four points. The Hoyas won by 13 in Philadelphia against Villanova and at Syracuse, another NCAA qualifier, and by 12 at St. John’s, which also made the tournament.

Georgetown should have fallen victim to an incredible performance in the Big East final by Syracuse freshman playmaker Dwayne “Pearl” Washington. However, the zebras overruled their ejection of Graham for throwing a punch at Orange center Andre Hawkins and the Hoyas rallied to win in overtime.

SMU nearly upset Georgetown in the NCAA opener before losing 37-36. UNLV and Dayton didn’t put up as much resistance as the Hoyas advanced to the Final Four in Seattle. They whipped Kentucky by 13 in the semifinals to set up a showdown 30 years ago tonight with Houston which was playing in its second straight title game.

Led by Akeem Olajuwon, Ewing’s rival as the nation’s top big man, the Cougars had become better known as Phi Slama Jama while reaching three straight Final Fours for coach Guy Lewis.

“This morning when we practiced … Patrick asked me how I was feeling,” Thompson said. “Usually I tell him it’s none of his business. Today I told him, ‘I feel terrible.’ He told me not to feel terrible because we were going to be national champions tonight. When the big fella said that, I figured I’d just let him take care of the rest.”

That’s what happened, at least after Houston jumped out to a 14-6 advantage. Thompson responded by junking his 2-3 zone and assigning his players to guard the Cougars man-to-man. Over the next nine minutes, the Hoyas went on a 26-8 run – with Ewing scoring three baskets and feeding Graham for another while also winning his battle down low with Olajuwon — to take a 10-point lead which they maintained at halftime. Houston never got closer than five points in the second half as Georgetown claimed the title, 84-75.

Georgetown won without Smith, who had injured his right foot in the triumph over Kentucky. However, Williams more than doubled his 9.1 points per game with 19 while adding seven rebounds.

“Coach has always told me that if I take good shots, he doesn’t mind me missing,” Williams said. “I just kept taking the shots tonight, because I had good ones.”

Of course, the precocious Williams had plenty of help. Wingate scored 16 points. Graham, in the last game of his only season with the Hoyas, had 14 and five rebounds. Jackson had 11 points and six assists. Ewing had 10 points and nine boards.

“They do everything a great team should do,” said Olajuwon, who had 15 points and nine rebounds despite playing most of the second half with four fouls. “They don’t care who scores, who takes the shots. … They aren’t a selfish team. The unselfish team won tonight.”

Georgetown, which would be stunned by Villanova in the 1985 national title game and hasn’t been that far since, had won the first NCAA championship for an Eastern school in 30 years and the first for a school from Washington, one of the nation’s hoops hotbeds.

“At times I’ve been obsessed by the national championship,” said Thompson, after becoming the first black coach to win the title. “Now I have one. I don’t want 10 like [UCLA legend] John Wooden, I just wanted to get one.”

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.

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