Rookie Pat Ewing: a 7-ft. silver lining in Knicks' cloudy season

I doubt that he would ever admit it, but I don't think this has been a particularly satisfying year on the court for rookie center Patrick Ewing, the New York Knicks' secretary of defense. Ewing, 7 ft. and 240 lbs., is used to winning (a national collegiate title at Georgetown; a 1984 Olympic gold medal in Los Angeles), and the Knicks' production needle these days seldom climbs above mediocre. New York has too many players whose individual styles and personalities do not work well together. Whether he deserves it or not, most of the blame for this situation has been dumped on deposed general manager Dave DeBusschere. But coach Hubie Brown, because his offense has had trouble all year averaging even 100 points per game, has also wound up taking some of the heat.

Ewing? Well, he's been about what the advertisements said he would be -- a good scorer, a strong rebounder, aggressive defenseman, and a significant drawing card around the league. At center, anyway, the Knicks are probably set for the next 10 to 12 years.

In terms of security, Patrick also doesn't have a thing to worry about. His six-year contract with New York, plus an option for four more, is reportedly worth $17 million, with the heaviest money coming in the last two years of the current agreement.

So far Ewing has to be pleased or at least satisfied with what he has accomplished as an individual, even though his efforts have not been enough to turn the team around.

Because of the nature and extra length of the pro game, he has scored better than he did in college, where he was often triple-teamed.

He has done all right in the rebounding and shot-blocking departments, too, and will do even better as he gains more experience. Moreover, he has a great attitude and has shown that he understands the importance of team play.

Asked to compare Ewing with the best rookie centers who have come into the league in the last six or seven years, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Los Angeles Lakers replied:

``While I haven't played that much against him yet, Patrick is as good as any first-year center I've ever seen. He's big enough and he's strong enough so that he's always going to get his points. Four or five years down the road, I think you'll begin to hear people say what a great defensive player he has become. He'll continue to improve, because guys with his kind of talent always improve.''

Ewing was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but moved to Cambridge, Mass., when he was 12, and it was there that he discovered basketball. Naturally a kid that much oversize for his age is going to be asked to try out for his high school team. And just as naturally, since Cambridge is only a referee's whistle toot from Boston Garden, it wasn't long before Celtics president Red Auerbach heard about him.

``The first time I saw Patrick, he was just a big sophomore who was still growing into his body,'' Auerbach recalled. ``But he was good enough so that I phoned John Thompson [the Georgetown coach who once played for Red on the Celtics] and told him that he had to see this kid.''

One look was all Thompson needed to know that this was the player who could put his program over the top, and he launched an all-out campaign to get him. Even though Ewing probably could have had a basketball scholarship to any college in the country, Thompson convinced him and his mother that he'd be happiest at Georgetown, where Patrick led the Hoyas to one NCAA championship and two runner-up finishes. Now there are reports that the Knicks' management has had at least one secret talk with Thompson about reuniting John next fall with his former All-America center.

Looking for an unbiased report on Ewing's first season as a pro, I got this appraisal from a current NBA scout who was willing to share his opinions as long as his name wasn't used.

``Patrick Ewing is two things: the best rookie in the league this season and also the most valuable rookie. There is a difference, because some guys with exceptional talent just play for themselves.

``The fact that Ewing hasn't been able to turn the Knicks around isn't his fault. Neither Patrick nor anyone else is going to do that until New York gets some new players who fit together. And I think management realizes that now.

``Ewing fooled some people with the amount of concentration he has brought to his game, and also the accuracy of his jump shot. He wasn't supposed to be that strong in either of those departments.

``I've seen him play against almost every team in the league, and the only center that really gave him trouble was Abdul-Jabbar, who simply had too much experience for him. But if I know Patrick, he learned something from that meeting.

``As good as Ewing is defensively, and believe me he's good, he still hasn't learned the best way in which to keep tough opponents away from the basket. He's also weak on defensing his man before he gets the ball. But for a rookie playing a tough position under pressure in a big media city like New York -- well, you can't really find much fault with him.''

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