NEW YORK -- Patrick Ewing, who has been nearly everything in his career already at age 51 -- Olympic gold medalist, NCAA champion, NBA all-time great -- stood at the far baseline prior to Tuesday night's game at Madison Square Garden, watching the shooting drills about two hours before game time.

He's just a nondescript assistant with the Charlotte Bobcats now, or, at least, as nondescript as the greatest player in New York Knicks history can be, standing near the floor where he'd accomplished so much.

Ewing knows what he wants, and that is to be a head coach in the NBA. It's hardly the case he needs the work, or even that the multifaceted Georgetown grad with the fine arts degree needs the game of basketball to thrive.

But he seems to have the talent for it, earning raves from his colleagues for his work with the Rockets' Yao Ming, the Magic's Dwight Howard, and now as associate head coach on a Bobcats team coached by fellow Jeff Van Gundy coaching tree leaf Steve Clifford.

The similarities of the coaching backgrounds of Clifford and Ewing were brought home by Clifford's own comparison, speaking to reporters about Ewing, prior to Tuesday night's game.

Noting that Ewing does more than just tutor the bigs, Clifford added, "I think the biggest thing is that we share a common philosophy. We both -- I really learned the NBA, as much as anybody, from Jeff. Pat played for Jeff, played for [Pat] Riley. Then we both worked for Stan [Van Gundy], so it's all very similar."

Ah, except for one thing. Clifford got a chance this season. Ewing still hasn't. Clifford isn't sure why.

"It only takes one organization, or one GM, to give you an opportunity," Clifford said. "I think he'll be a great head coach. But again, I'm not a GM."

And that's been what Ewing still needs to do: convince someone to take a chance on him. Players like Maurice Cheeks and, notably, Jason Kidd, have advanced to a head coaching position without the experience on their résumés Ewing now has. Ewing doesn't make any excuses for those who haven't hired him.

But he's decided to play the game, move up one rung at a time, making peace with the idea that, for whatever reason, his time as one of the great players in the league hasn't allowed him to advance to the pinnacle of coaching just yet.

"I am very happy to be in Charlotte," Ewing said of his new situation. "I'm very happy to be working with a guy I've known nine, 10 years now. We have a great working relationship. He's a friend. I like what he has me doing."

Perhaps it's working for Clifford that is allowing Ewing to expand his role, getting the chance to show every NBA franchise he isn't limited to the center position.

"I'm the associate head coach," Ewing pointed out. "I was the second assistant in Orlando, [so now] I'm one step from the head coach, doing everything that he's doing. He runs things by me, I scout games, I do walk-through, I do the film, everything that an assistant does, I do."

Interestingly, the Bobcats certainly respect Ewing's playing career. But notably, forward Josh McRoberts told me he's as cognizant of Ewing's coaching career now as of what he did as a player.

"I mean, you'd like to think guys would listen to every coach, just because," McRoberts said with a smile, as we talked in front of his locker Tuesday evening. "He's obviously well-qualified, as well as being a Hall of Famer. He's obviously seen a lot. You have to respect what he's done as a player, but you have to respect what he's done as a coach, too."

One puzzling part of the lack of respect the league has given Ewing is how much he evolved as a player. He certainly didn't enter the league as any kind of finished product, dominating defensively at Georgetown, but turning himself into perhaps the best jump-shooting center of all time.

It's actually the kind of inside-out game that seems to owe more to today's league than the NBA he played in.

"We're not a position-oriented coaching staff," Ewing said. "We help everybody."

But somehow, it seems the point guards, like Cheeks and Kidd, for instance, aren't pigeon-holed as point guard coaches. Ewing, though, is only now getting the chance to expand his responsibilities, even as he continues to work with Charlotte's centers.

Ewing laughed when I asked him why this was.

"You know, it is what it is," Ewing said. "I can't worry about it, I can't cry about it. That's what most of the people who are in the position of power feel. All I can do is continue to coach, continue to work, be good at my craft, and hopefully, one day, that will help me when and if I get that opportunity."

It is striking, though, Ewing is perfectly willing to put himself through the endless road trips, early practices and flights, instead of going after a different goal.

"I enjoy coaching," Ewing said simply, smiling at the thought. "You know, I feel blessed that something I enjoy doing keeps me involved in the game on a day-to-day basis."

Now Cody Zeller, the fourth overall pick in this year's draft, gets to benefit from Ewing's desire for that chance.

"He's been great, because he's been through it all," Zeller, a 7-foot big man with a developing inside-out game, told me at his locker Tuesday evening. "Obviously, he's a legend, so everything he says is stuff that works. It's great just to have him there every day. Learning from the best is always great."

All Ewing needs to figure out is how to say or do what works to convince an NBA GM, just one, it's time for him to coach his own team.

"I've been coaching, going on 10 years now," Ewing said. "I think that gives me the credibility -- that knowledge, to be able to teach. A lot of times you can't change people's perceptions. You've just got to one day, kick that door down," and Ewing kicked the air for emphasis, punctuating his point with a high-pitched laugh.