KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Patrick Ewing rekindles the memories of his four years at Georgetown, there’s a contented smile on his face.
“I felt like I came into college a boy and left a man,” said Ewing, the headliner in the 2012 National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame induction class. “Coach (John) Thompson and all the people at Georgetown did an outstanding job of helping me, not only as a basketball player but also as a human being.”
Ewing’s stellar college career came during an era of celebrated centers. From 1983 through 1985, the No. 1 overall picks in the NBA draft were centers Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ewing. Sampson and Olajuwon didn’t come away with NCAA titles, but Ewing did in 1984 when Georgetown defeated Houston 84-75 in the championship game. It was the highlight of a four-year span in which the 7-foot Ewing led his team to three NCAA championship games and a 121-23 record.
“I was fortunate to be able to go to three of them and blessed to have won one,” Ewing said. “I treasure every victory that we had.”
The Sunday induction ceremony also honored players Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Phil Ford, Clyde Lovellette, Kenny Sailors and Willis Reed; coaches Joe B. Hall and Dave Robbins and contributors Jim Host and Joe Dean Sr.
Ewing went on to a 15-year pro career with the New York Knicks, but Georgetown and Thompson have always remained close to his heart.
“The main reason I chose to go to Georgetown was coach Thompson,” Ewing said. “He played the center position. And also, he was a man that I could aspire to be like.”
Ewing was a dominating defender in college and his shot-blocking and intimidation often overshadowed his offense. As he matured in the pros, he became one of the great jump-shooting centers of all time.
“I’ve always been able to shoot,” Ewing said. “I worked on my shooting tirelessly as a young player. But it was just that coach Thompson told me ‘son, get the ball inside and work from the inside out.’”
Monroe also became a Knick, but traveled a much different path from Ewing to get there. With his trademark spin move, Monroe averaged 41.5 points per game as a senior for Division II Winston-Salem.
Monroe hopes his induction can serve as an inspiration for small college players who are far removed from the Division I spotlight.
“There are lots of fine basketball players who aren’t in Division I,” Monroe said. “There’s only room for five guys on the court. There are some really fine players in Division II, Division III, NAIA. Maybe that point will be reinforced with me being here, representing a small school.”
Reed, who wasn’t able to attend Sunday’s ceremony, had an outstanding college career at Grambling before gaining fame with the Knicks. He led Grambling to three conference titles and three national championship tournaments, including a national title in 1961.
Lovellette was part of the tradition-rich Kansas program, playing for Hall of Fame coach Phog Allen. In 1952, he led the nation with a 28.6 point average while Kansas earned a national title. He remains the only Division I player to have accomplished that dual feat.
Sailors, 91, was credited with revolutionizing the modern day jump shot. He led Wyoming to the 1943 NCAA title.
“I’ve been asked by quite a few people if I’m happy to be here. When you’re (going on) 92 years of age, you’re happy to be anywhere,” Sailors said, drawing a round of laughter.
Ford, a three-time All-American point guard who ran coach Dean Smith’s Four Corners offense at North Carolina, was unable to attend the induction ceremony. As a senior, Ford won the Wooden Award and was the consensus national Player of the Year.
Hall embraced the pressure associated with following the legendary Adolph Rupp as head coach at Kentucky. He guided the Wildcats for 13 years, captured eight Southeastern Conference titles and and won a national championship in 1978 when forward Jack Givens exploded for 42 points in the finale against Duke.
Hall recalls the Blue Devils playing a zone in which the guards came way out to contest outside shooters while the big men stayed back near the baseline. That left a gap in which Givens flashed to the free-throw line area for a series of uncontested short jumpers.
“As soon as we saw how they were playing their zone, we didn’t do anything except feed Jack Givens,” Hall said. “He was a great mid-range shooter.”
Robbins went 713-194 in 30 years at Virginia Union and won three Division II national titles. He sent fierce rebounders Charles Oakley and Ben Wallace to the NBA. Host was honored for his work in the marketing of college basketball while Dean helped popularize college basketball largely as a television analyst. He was known for referring to a sweet shot that swished through as “string music.”