The debate is this: When you're watching today's NCAA semifinal game between John Thompson's Georgetown and "Looie" Carnesecca's St. John's, do you leave the phone on the hook or not?

"I have to leave it on because so many of us keep calling each other," said lawyer Michael Bader yesterday. "We really do. 'Hey, did you see that one?' we say. 'Did you see Patrick block that one?' "

On the opposing side is Wall Street Journal Washington bureau chief Al Hunt, who will be sharing the moment with a few "serious fans" at the house of Washington Post columnist Mark Shields.

"Nobody comes over who's frivolous," Hunt said. "I don't answer the phone. Not only that, I don't only watch the games, I tape them."

Frivolity doesn't enter into it for these people. True Hoya fans may not be in Lexington, Ky., with the team, but their minds certainly aren't in Washington this weekend. They are waiting to see if Georgetown can win a second straight national championship. Patrick Ewing graduates this year and Hoya Mania may never be so highly pitched again.

The fans follow the team at the Capital Centre and on the road. They talk about the Hoyas and their coach in reverent tones. They start training their children almost from birth and by the time the little ones are toddling, they're hooked.

"When my son became of basketball age, which was 3 1/2, we started going," said season-ticket holder John Quinn, a partner in the law firm of Arnold and Porter. His son, now 12, wears Patrick Ewing's No. 33 on his school basketball uniform, his 9-year-old daughter has a bet riding in the Arnold and Porter pool, and the entire family will be in front of the TV today.

Some people are born to the obsession. Hunt's 3-year-old son went to his first game when he was three months old and now offers running commentary on the games on TV, things like "Daddy, is Coach Thompson mad?"

Some are converted by their children.

"My son loves them. He has been to every game," said Janet Hill, who is a partner in the management consulting firm of Alexander and Associates and married to former Dallas Cowboys running back Calvin Hill. Her son Grant saw every home game Michael Jackson -- the player, not the singer -- played at South Lakes High School in Reston, and now follows Jackson's career at Georgetown.

"Now," says Grant's mother, "I'm a bigger fan than he is. With my husband having a career in professional sports, 15 years in the NFL, I always had something of a disdain for the true fanatic, but I am just the consummate basketball fan now," she said. "And I am the true spectator. I do not aspire to put the ball in, myself. I can't dribble and chew gum at the same time."

Some try to hold out, but eventually succumb to the enthusiasm. ABC News senior correspondent John Scali, a fan for 40 years, said that Hunt's wife, PBS "Frontline" anchor Judy Woodruff, and Scali's wife Denise "accept this as a given in our flawed personalities and they come along. But recently I've seen Denise grabbing the sports section before me in the morning, so she's becoming infected too."

Being a true fan isn't easy. You need energy.

"I block shots when Patrick blocks shots," said architect Darnell Dunson. "If someone blocks a shot and falls on the floor, I kind of squirm in the chair, too. I don't holler much, but I do move constantly.

"I can remember playing on the playground courts. Everyone had the dream. They would be in the Final Four and make that winning shot as the buzzer goes off. Those are the things you play around with on the court, before games, after games. I'm just a frustrated player."

Sometimes the fever attacks an entire office. At the management consulting firm of Michael M. Kaiser Associates, where one employe estimates "95 percent" of the lunch conversation concerns college basketball, seven eager voices gathered around a speaker phone to express their feelings. Everyone spoke at once.

Voice No. 1: "We have utter confidence. We know they're going to win."

Voice No. 2: "We have one sour grape."

Voice No. 3 (Sour Grape): "My affections are with the Ivy League."

Voices Nos. 4-7: Groans.

Voice No. 4: "He doesn't like anything. He used to like Prince before he became popular. He doesn't like him anymore. He liked the Talking Heads. Once their movie is a hit, he won't like them either."

There's always one.