- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

Patrick Ewing sauntered into MCI Center yesterday in a grey suit not looking that far removed from his playing days, which ended just four months and 20 days ago with the Orlando Magic's first-round playoff loss to the Hornets.

During the news conference to officially introduce him as a Washington Wizards assistant, he said he is "still torn" about the decision to retire and he hasn't become comfortable with it yet. In looking at the Wizards' roster, the only area without depth with last season's starting center, Jahidi White, recovering from knee surgery is in the frontcourt.

So, at 40, would Ewing reconsider and trade his coaches' whistle and clipboard for a pair of hightops at some point this season?

"I'm here to coach," Ewing said. "I'm not here to compete. My job is as an assistant to try to help the team."

But if coach Doug Collins or the Wizards came to him if, say, injuries made signing Ewing to a player contract a possibility, would he come back?

"If [Wizards owner Abe] Pollin came to me and said, 'Here's a 10-day [contract]' I'm not going to turn that down," Ewing said.

Collins didn't completely rule out Ewing playing this season, either, if injuries whittled the Wizards' depth. "I don't want to start looking ahead, because now all of a sudden we start saying 'Is he a player or is he a coach?' And I want his focus to be on coaching," Collins said. But, "one thing you always have to do in this business is be flexible. One thing I've realized too, is there's no 'nevers.'"

For now, the longtime New York Knick and future Hall-of-Famer is the Wizards' fourth full-time assistant, and both he and Collins are looking forward to having Ewing impart his wisdom from years of experience on the team.

He can teach by example, too. Ewing said he wouldn't hesitate to jump out on the court to demonstrate a drill or even participate in an intrasquad scrimmage if Collins wanted him to. "It's also a good way for me to stay in shape," Ewing said jokingly.

Collins emphasized that Ewing would not solely work with the team's post players, but obviously it's his area of expertise. Second-year big men Kwame Brown, Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas, whom Collins said were very excited when they learned of Ewing's addition, should become willing pupils and soak up as much knowledge as they can from the 11-time All-Star.

Collins was more excited about Ewing's history of playing on some strong-defending Knicks teams under coaches Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy and the impact he could have in improving the defense of the Wizards, who finished 11th out of 29 teams last season in fewest points allowed at 94.2 per game. Collins also wants Ewing to help drill the Wizards on the tendencies of other players in the league so they can go in with a blueprint for individual defensive success that they sometimes didn't have last season.

"We have to be a better defensive team this year and Patrick always played on great defensive teams," Collins said. "If we're going to be a playoff team, that's going to be a major jump for us."

As recently as last year, Ewing said he wouldn't have broached the thought of becoming a coach, but Orlando assistant Johnny Davis "planted the bug" in his ear last season when he asked Ewing what he planned to do when he finished playing. Ewing said he was considering going into broadcasting or the front office of an NBA team, but Davis asked, "With all the knowledge you've accumulated over 17 years, why would you want to put it on the shelf?" And so Ewing jumped at the opportunity to coach with the Wizards.

Ewing said he approached the Knicks about taking a front-office position, but with nothing available there on short notice or on their bench, he sought other options.

"Even at the press conference [Tuesday] it took me forever to say that I'm retiring from playing," Ewing said. "I've been playing basketball for so long. I still enjoy doing it. But it's time to move on and start a new chapter of my life. Hopefully I'll enjoy it.

" I'm happy to be here in Washington. It's a place I lived here for many years, went to school here. I had a home here until last year I guess I shouldn't have sold it."

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