Relative of New York Knicks icon in college ranks
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — For 17 NBA seasons, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing was a dominant force in the paint.
The 7-foot center and “Dream Team” member averaged more than 20 points and eight rebounds per game in each of his first 13 seasons en route to being an 11-time All-Star and an All-NBA First Team selection.
For the better part of his career, Ewing was on center stage at Madison Square Garden as the leader of the New York Knicks. He’s still revered here in the Big Apple, and now his niece is getting a chance to make a name for herself on the local basketball scene.
Rosedale native Alyssa Ewing James is the new assistant coach for the St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, women’s basketball team. She brings years of basketball experience to the Terriers, who are led by second-year head coach Linda Cimino.
James’ hoops career began in fifth grade playing for the Catholic Youth Organization team at St. Martin de Porres, Uniondale, L.I. She was a bit skeptical about the new sport but got the hang of it very quickly.
“In seventh and eighth grade, basketball became a big part of my life,” James said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to play basketball in high school and eventually in college.”
She played in high school at St. Mary’s H.S., Manhasset, L.I., before signing on to play college ball at Caldwell University in New Jersey, where Cimino was the head coach. After one season, both James and Cimino moved on together to Binghamton University.
As a forward, James was the co-captain of the team for three years as well as a three-time America East All-Conference selection and three-time America East Defensive Player of the Year. In addition to scoring more than 1,000 career points, she set the school and conference record for single-game, single-season and career blocks.
Though she was too young to remember seeing her uncle star for the Knicks, she of course has heard the stories and seen the highlight reels from his Hall of Fame career. Throughout her college career, she played with the same tenacity displayed by Ewing for all those years.
“The thing about him (Ewing) that pushed me to be the basketball player that I was had to be his work ethic,” James said. “Hearing the stories of how he worked hard every summer with other players to get better and improve made me want to be a better player, a better teammate and a better captain.”
After a brief stint playing professional basketball overseas in Montenegro, James earned a master’s degree in geography from Binghamton earlier this year. When St. Francis had a coaching position open right as the season was about to begin, Cimino knew who to call.
“She (Cimino) gave me some time to think about it, and I didn’t take too long,” James said. “She keeps taking me with her. She took me with her in college, and now I’m here.”
In her new role — which is her first coaching job — James has been tasked with coaching and developing the team’s post players. She’s followed a similar path to her Uncle Patrick, who coached as an assistant for four NBA teams before becoming the head men’s basketball coach at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
“It’s been a different experience seeing the game from this side of the court,” James said. “I’m definitely still learning, but I’m just happy to have all these great coaches that we have here at St. Francis.”
Before accepting the Terriers job, she reached out to Ewing, who happily offered his sage wisdom.
“He said, ‘If this is what you want to do and you love the game, you’ll be ready to help the girls overcome any obstacles, and that’s all that matters,’” James said.
James is eager to do whatever it takes to help guide the Terriers to have a successful season in Northeast Conference play. As she completes her transition from player to coach, she will look back on her own experiences as a student-athlete to motivate her in this new position.
“The one thing I did miss out on in my four years as a college player was that I was never able to win a championship,” she said. “I want this team to be a championship team. I want next year’s team to be a championship team. Our biggest goal is to help this team do that.”
Patrick Ewing won the NCAA Tournament with Georgetown in 1984 and is a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Now it’s up to James to help add to the family’s tradition of championship basketball.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.