Patrick Ewing’s nickname was the Hoya Destroya. The name came from his college years playing for the Georgetown Hoyas where he had one of the greatest NCAA basketball careers of all time, making three NCAA Championship games in four years and winning one title. The name Hoyas comes from an old Greek and Latin phrase.
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What was Patrick Ewing Known For?
Patrick Ewing was a Hall of Fame player based on his NBA career alone. I wrote here that Ewing was both one of the ten greatest centers in the history of the league and one of the ten best players of the 90’s.
Ewing won Rookie of the Year, made 11 All Star teams, 6 All NBA teams and was chosen for the original 1992 Dream Team. He rewrote the New York Knicks record book, replacing Knick great Walt Frazier as the leader in most categories.
But even with all those honors, Patrick Ewing was somewhat overshadowed in his NBA career.
Everyone who played in his era was overshadowed by Michael Jordan, and Ewing was no exception. Ewing came in the league the year after His Airness and played his whole career in Jordan’s shadow – like everyone else.
But Ewing was also unlucky (at least in terms of recognition) to play in what many would consider a golden age for NBA centers. Ewing’s career significantly overlapped with three of the greatest centers to ever play the game: Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal.
With that, Ewing’s NBA career never seems to get as much recognition as it probably deserves. In hindsight, Ewing is defined in many ways by his college years.
So it is no surprise that Ewing’s nickname, the Hoya Destroya, came from his college years.
How Did Patrick Ewing Get the Nickname the Hoya Destroya?
Patrick Ewing played for the Georgetown Hoyas. The school nickname Hoya has an interesting history itself. The term comes from the college’s official cheer developed in the 1800s: Hoya Saxa.
Hoya Saxa translates into Such Rocks or What Rocks! How the cheer developed is shrouded in mystery but it is believed to refer to the defense of the football or baseball team, or, possibly, the stone wall surrounding the fields where they played.
In any case, the cheer stuck. The Georgetown teams are the Hoyas. And Patrick Ewing is the Hoya Destroya because he destroyed all comers in his college basketball career.
It was in his college years, as a Georgetown Hoya, when Ewing first came to national recognition.
In his freshman year at Georgetown, Ewing led the Hoyas to the NCAA championship game. That matchup featured an incredible array of stars including Ewing and two other future Hall of Famers: James Worthy and Michael Jordan.
Worthy and Jordan’s North Carolina Tar Heels won the game but Ewing was becoming a legend. He not only started as a freshman when that was rare but he also took his team within one play of a national title.
In his sophomore year, Ewing dunked on Virginia’s All American center Ralph Sampson in a regular season matchup called the Game of the Decade, establishing himself as the dominant big man in college basketball. That season ended in a disappointment for Ewing and the Hoyas with a 2nd round NCAA upset defeat.
The next year saw Ewing winning the national title as a junior. The Hoyas won the title game over another All American center, and future Hall of Famer, Hakeem Olajuwon. Ewing won the tournament’s most outstanding player award.
Ewing was completely dominant as a senior. His team beat league rival St. John’s, and future Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, in the NCAA semi-finals.
They lost to Cinderella VIllanova in the NCAA Final. It was Ewing and the Hoyas 3rd championship game in his four year career.
Villanova had to, and did, play a perfect game to beat Georgetown. The Wildcats hit 79% of their shots for the game and missed only one shot in the 2nd half.
Ewing closed an utterly dominant college career with one NCAA title, 3 NCAA championship game appearances, 3 1st team All American selections, and 4 Big East Defensive Player of the Year Awards.
Patrick Ewing was the Hoya Destroya. He destroyed all opponents in his path on his way to one of the greatest NCAA basketball careers of all time.
What Was Hoya Paranoia?
While Patrick Ewing was the Hoya Destroya, a common term used to describe the Georgetown Hoyas approach to the media, opponents and others was Hoya Paranoia.
John Thompson was the team’s coach. Thompson was a 6’10” former college and pro player who had backed up Bill Russell for the Celtics.
He was a physically imposing presence who was almost always bigger than opposing coaches and, generally, opposing players as well.
Thompson was an old-school type who stressed rules and discipline within the team while teaching his players to be extremely competitive. As such, the team took winning very seriously.
They didn’t seem to be having a ton of obvious, jovial fun while they competed either.
In addition, Thompson did not seek out anyone’s approval. He coached his way, it worked quite well, and he did not care what you thought of it.
Thompson was not the type to work the media in hopes of positive coverage. He did not care what people thought of his style. He wanted to win.
Finally, Thompson was not very forthcoming with the media. He’d keep news to himself and deny reporters interviews with players – especially Ewing, with the belief that not much good could come from most of those interviews.
As a long-time Boston sports fan, that trait reminds me of Bill Belichick who wants almost no part of the media. In fact, while I have never thought too much of it before now, Belichick and Thompson’s styles have a lot in common.
When you add the style Thompson cultivated within his program to the success they had, you got a lot of enemies.
Opposing teams, and the media for those teams, said Georgetown was paranoid. They were too competitive, too uncooperative and too unpleasant. They called it Hoya Paranoia.
How correct they were is up for debate. To me, as I said, Thompson comes across as very similar to the coach I respect more than any other in sports: Bill Belichick.
Belichick is hated by many for sure. But he’s a winner and it’s clear that is all he cares about.
In some ways, Thompson comes across as better than Belichick in one glaring way: as a college coach he had a responsibility to help prepare his players for life in a way you would not expect from a professional coach.
No one that I have read has ever accused Thompson of not caring for his players. In fact, just the opposite is true. Thompson had and has a reputation as being unfailingly devoted to the success of his players.
So why did he get so much hate? Some, including writer and commentator Michael Wilbon have said that a factor in the Hoya Paranoia claims, and the claims of teams being intimidated by Thompson’s Georgetown teams, was racism.
Thompson actually downplays some of those claims in that article saying teams weren’t intimidated, they were just beaten and didn’t like it.
But Thompson was the first African American head coach to win the NCAA tournament and his teams were mostly made up of black players.
Would it surprise me if some of the hate these teams received in the 1980s was based on race? Hardly. But I also can’t speak to anyone’s motives but my own. People hate Belichick too.
Summary: Patrick Ewing’s Nickname
Patrick Ewing had one of the best college basketball careers of all time, and earned the nickname Hoya Destroya in the process. The Georgetown Hoyas made three NCAA Championship games in Ewing’s four year college career. Despite having a Hall of Fame NBA career, Ewing never really overshadowed his college accomplishments and the nickname stuck.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.