College basketball: Three decades after helping put the Big East on top, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin are back trying to rebuild their alma maters. Both projects might take some time.
By Jamal Murphy, PSN College Basketball Analyst
In 1984 and 1985, Georgetown and St. John’s were on top of the world, or at least college basketball. Georgetown won a national championship in 1984 and was runner-up in ’85. St. John’s reached the Final Four in 1985.
Each school’s current coach was on top back then also, as Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin shared Big East Player of the Year honors both seasons. Ewing went on to become the NBA’s No.1 overall draft pick in 1985; Mullin was picked seventh.
How times have changed. Tuesday night, Ewing and Mullin reunited for the first time as opposing coaches in Madison Square Garden, where both made names for themselves on their way to Hall of Fame careers.
“One hundred percent never in my wildest dreams would I ever think that I’d be here in 2018 coaching St. John’s against Patrick Ewing coaching Georgetown,” Mullin would say after the game.
The teams they brought into the Garden, however, are far from the success their coaches brought their respective schools in the 1980s.
Georgetown is at a true rebuilding stage, with only two legitimate Big East performers surrounded by Big East wannabes. Ewing must rebuild through recruiting to put Georgetown in a position to compete nationally.
Even so, Ewing looks the part early. After the Hoyas upended St. John’s 69-66 in a half-packed Garden, Georgetown is 12-4 and a respectable 2-3 in Big East play. The Hoyas are more active defensively, play at a faster offensive pace and their two best holdover players – Marcus Derrickson and Jessie Govan – are more aggressive and productive than they’ve ever been at the college level.
Govan, known as “Finesse Jess” in some circles, may be in the process of earning a new nickname.
“[Ewing’s] just been telling me to be more aggressive,” said Govan, still getting accustomed to Ewing’s in-your-face coaching style. “Anything he’s telling me, I just try to be a sponge to it and listen to everything he’s saying. Not really listen to how he’s saying it, but the message he’s giving, because he’s succeeded at every level, so I’m really just trying to take everything in.”
Govan, a highly recruited high school player out of Queens, N.Y., averaged 4.1 rebounds as a freshman and 5.0 last season as a sophomore. This season, Govan is grabbing 11.8 per contest, good for third in the country. He is also averaging 18.1 points per game, including the winning 3-pointer Tuesday.
“Just going hard, trying to go hard every play,” Govan said about his increased production.
As for St. John’s, the season hasn’t gone as hoped.
Mullin’s third season as coach was supposed to be a year of improvement and perhaps even an NCAA Tournament bid. And it began promisingly with a 10-2 start in the early, non-conference portion of the schedule. They entered the new year with a top-30 RPI.
But after falling to Georgetown, St. John’s is now a shocking 0-5 in the Big East – dead last. In a conference as tough as the Big East, the thought of them regrouping and making a run is almost unfathomable, even with the possible return of Marcus LoVett, sidelined since early December with a knee injury.
Mullin attempted to stay optimistic after the game.
“Of those five [losses], we had those two duds at home,” he said. “The other games, I think if we can put together that type of effort on the defensive end and match it with some offensive execution we’re going to be OK.”
As for the much-anticipated reunion at MSG, Ewing seemed pleased.
“It feels good,” Ewing said afterward. “As you know, I’ve had a lot of great memories here. I’ve had ups and downs, had a lot of good and bad memories against that guy [Mullin], but it was good to be back.
“And the game was like the old times – it was a knock-down, drag-out fight. It was one of those ugly games, but I was just happy that we got the win.”
Govan likely summed up Ewing’s emotions best. “He looked relieved,” Govan said.
In the end, it was just one game, the first of hopefully many more between Ewing and Mullin in the new Big East. For now, Ewing has a 1-0 series lead and his Hoyas look to be moving in the right direction. Mullin and St. John’s are staring at a long road ahead.