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At peace in his father’s shadow

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Patrick Ewing Jr. sits in the lounge of the Georgetown basketball office, a mural-sized picture of his father looming just behind him, and smiles good-naturedly at the awkwardly worded question.

The picture is the quintessential Pat Sr. shot: back to the camera, sweat-saturated, arms outstretched, palms up.

It's an image of a player unparalleled in his sport. It's an image of a player Patrick Jr. can never be.

But is that something the younger Ewing realizes?

"Of course," he said, immediately dismissing the notion he ever carried with him the burden of his father's brilliance. "I was pretty young when I figured out I probably wouldn't be a three-time All-American and a perennial NBA All-Star. There aren't a lot of those walking around."

If No. 22 Georgetown (16-5, 6-2 Big East) starts slowly tonight at Louisville (16-7, 6-3) -- and the team's recent first-half play says that's a pretty safe bet -- coach John Thompson III may turn to the 6-foot-8 Ewing for a spark off the bench.

Ewing might lack his father's freakish combination of size and athleticism, but nobody can question his heart.

"Pat is plugged in, man, like pure energy," said junior Jeff Green, Ewing's teammate and best friend. "When he's on the floor, it seems like he tips every pass, contests every shot and gets every loose ball."

Ewing claims his most valuable trait was nurtured by an Indiana teammate in an otherwise desolate two-year haul in Bloomington.

"When I was a freshman at IU, A.J. [Moye] told me, 'You have a gift there, and don't ever let that passion drop, because every team needs an energy guy,' " Ewing said. "Intense energy is a factor that a lot of players don't bring. I want to leave no doubt for anybody watching or playing about who is working hardest on that floor. Your teammates see and feel that, and it raises their level of intensity."

A coveted prep recruit, Ewing and former Indiana coach Mike Davis never quite meshed. After averaging 4.0 points and 3.8 rebounds for the Hoosiers as a sophomore and occasional starter in 2004-05, Ewing decided to transfer.

"It's not that I didn't like Coach Davis. He's a great person, but he wasn't the coach for me," Ewing said. "Different players play better for different guys. I'm pretty sure Bobby Knight wouldn't be my ideal coach either, but his record speaks for itself. I just really needed a change."

Thompson was the first coach to contact Ewing. And after brief consultations with his mother and father, Ewing headed to the Hilltop.

Last season was torture for Ewing, who had to sit out under NCAA rules while his teammates made a run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national champion Florida 57-53. Even though he never dressed for game, Thompson routinely praised Ewing's impact as a practice player, even crediting him with "winning a couple of games for us with his presence."

"Going into every practice I told all our guys, 'Get ready, I'm gonna foul you harder today than you're ever going to be fouled during the season. That way, when somebody hacks you during a game, you'll power through it for an and-one and say: That's weak. Patrick hits me 10 times harder than that in practice,' " Ewing said of last season's role as a practice player. "It was pretty hard just watching at times, particularly when we lost. The Florida game was tough because we were so close against them you can't help thinking a little hustle play here or there might have made the difference. You just want to stand with your boys."

Ewing has gotten the chance to do that this season. After former sixth man Marc Egerson left school a month ago, Ewing's minutes have nearly doubled (from 8.1 to 14.4) since the start of league play. Ewing has averaged 4.5 points in those eight Big East games while shooting 58.3 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point range.

Ewing showed offensive potential at Pittsburgh last month, scoring a season-high 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting (2-for-2 3-pointers) and adding two assists against the Big East's top team.

"That creeps in everyone's head every once in a while, particularly when people on the outside say stuff to you about it," Ewing said of his potential. "But that's what I like so much about this team: Everyone is a team player, from Jeff and Roy and Jon [Wallace], who are our best players, all the way down to Kenny Izzo, who is a walk-on. That unselfishness, combined with the fact that we win, is what makes it so great to play for Coach Thompson. We believe in our coach, his system and each other, and that's what makes it easier to accept your role, whatever that is."

Perhaps nobody was better suited to a supporting role than Ewing, who has spent his whole life living -- quite comfortably he might add -- in his father's mammoth shadow.

"I've always been my own person instead of trying to follow in his footsteps," Ewing said.

And that's just fine with Ewing Sr., who knows all too well that unparalleled players are only permanent in pictures.

"He's got some skills. He's a better shooter and passer than I was in college, and he can fly," Ewing Sr. said. "We're both having fun with it. But as a father, I've always been far less concerned about his basketball than his academics and his development as a man. That part of watching him progress at Georgetown makes me very proud."