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One is Center Ed Spriggs, a 25-year-old former post-office worker whom Thompson discovered in Washington while watching games in the Melvin's Crab House summer league. Spriggs didn't play sports in high school. For three years he worked at the post office in Riverdale, Md., "out on the loading platform, inside and driving a truck," and often was seen with his younger brothers, Gregory and Larry, who mirror his 6'9", 240-pound physique. Larry was drafted out of Howard University by the Houston Rockets. Gregory is a bodyguard for Sugar Ray Leonard. "You'd see those brothers walking down the street at night and hope, holy God, that they were nice people," says the 6'10", 300-pound Thompson. Spriggs is nice enough to be serving his second year as captain of the Hoyas. He started 31 games last season and now is content to be a valuable backup to a budding legend. "In common with these guys?" Spriggs says. "Hey, I'm six years older than some of these guys. No, wait. Hey, I'm seven years older. Whew."
It's Spriggs's duty to lean on Ewing in practice, to muscle him, test him, toughen him up. "Intimidation is everybody's thing," he says. "You have to be crazy to play underneath anyway. My first year I was constantly being separated from fights myself. Pat just goes one step too far sometimes. This is a mental game, and he's got to use his head more."
"Patrick is definitely a warrior," says Thompson, "but his fierce attitude has been projected out of all proportion to his personality. He's just not tactful. Right away he comes out and glares at you. He wants you to know that's his dominion. And stay away. He's not trying to intimidate. It's his competitive honesty. The kid is so up, tuned-in, ready, psyched. I've mentioned the elbows. We talked about it. And he's getting better. But he really does get beat on. The way he responds is normal for a non-docile person. Understand now, I don't want any of my centers smiling. I'm not raising any St. Therese, The Little Flower."
Thompson says he has had "unsportsmanlike" players before, but not now. "I did my practicum for my master's in counseling in the D.C. jail," he says. "I know intimidation. I know bad guys. This is not a tramp athlete, a bum. Pat is not a dirty player. In our society people are afraid of any tall black man who is aggressive. But labels are odious. If you talked one-on-one with him you'd find a gentle, nice, polite kid."
Unfortunately, such a conversation is impossible because of a Thompson dictum: no interviews with freshmen before January. To be fair, Thompson has applied this rule—along with some other quaint coaching strictures, such as closed practices—since 1972.
If Ewing, who was born in Jamaica and moved to Massachusetts when he was 12, could be confronted, it would be interesting to hear if he sounds like Bob Marley or Tip O'Neill and to know how he is getting along in the classroom, because he has a reading deficiency. Among the extraordinary academic conditions demanded of recruiters by Ewing's family and his Cambridge Rindge & Latin High coach were permission for Ewing to tape-record lectures and take untimed testing once he got to college.
Thompson denies that Georgetown, which has a distinguished academic reputation, made any deals regarding Ewing's course of study. "I am not hiding anybody or anything," says Thompson. "Sure, I could have open house on Pat and he could do interviews every hour. Then the same people who took all his time would criticize him for not adapting to school. Un-unh. We're not talking about a messiah here. Or an illiterate savage. Just a very special kid."
Maybe even the second coming of Bill Russell.