Treating invited guests to a good time is one thing, but the St. Stephen's basketball team had been going overboard on its generosity for much too long before Coach Win Palmer arrived.

For 18 straight years, St. Stephen's had failed to win the St. Stephen's Invitational postseason tournament. But when the eight-team, three-day affair begins today for the 30th consecutive season, the Saints will enter as the defending champions.

"We were gracious hosts for far too long," said Palmer, who five years ago took over a team that had 10 straight losing seasons and has compiled, including this season, a 50-17 record. Over the last four seasons, St. Stephen's is 40-7, including 26-3 at home.

This past Tuesday, the Saints (14-5 overall, 9-2 in the Interstate Athletic Conference) played host to Landon and tried to wrap up back-to-back league titles for the first time in more than two decades.

Tonight, the Saints play Pope Paul VI at 9 o'clock in the opening round of the tournament. In other first-round games, Landon meets Episcopal at 3 p.m., Woodberry Forest plays St. Albans at 5 and O'Connell takes on Georgetown Prep at 7. The title game is scheduled for Saturday at 5 p.m.

Gonzaga, a long-time tournament entrant, is not competing this year because its strong lineup would overwhelm the field. The Purple Eagles' absence should make St. Stephen's, which is led by junior Orson Williams (18 points per game) and senior point guard Jim Molster (17 points and six assists per game), the tournament favorite.

Frank Smith, who spent most of his senior year at Mount Vernon torn between major college football and basketball scholarship offers, is proving his decision to play basketball at Old Dominion was a good one.

Smith, a sophomore point guard, will be one of the keys tonight as the Sun Belt Conference tournament opens with Old Dominion seeking its first tournament championship ever.

In Coach Tom Young's first year at the Norfolk school, Old Dominion finished 21-6 by winning nine of its last 10 regular-season games. The former American University and Rutgers coach guided Old Dominion to the regular-season Sun Belt title with an 11-3 record.

Smith led the Sun Belt in assists, averaging 7.6 per game. Young was not surprised by Smith's floor leadership, but he received more than expected from the former All-Met quarterback.

"Not only is he a point guard in every sense of the word, but his shooting (45 percent from the floor, 80 percent from the free throw line) has been very good throughout the year," said Young. "Defensively, we press a lot and he is very important to us there."

Last winter, Brian Banks struggled through George Mason University's indoor track season with a pulled hamstring injury. Healthy this year, the junior from Gar-Field High is excelling for the Patriots.

Banks, a 6-foot-5 sprinter, has qualified for the 400 and 500 meters in the March 7-9 IC4A track championships at Princeton, N.J. He is also the anchor on George Mason's 4 x 400 relay, which was victorious in the recent Bud Light Invitational meet and has a best time of 3:12.02, second only to Villanova in the East. Banks ran a 47.6 anchor split to gain that clocking.

"Brian really makes that relay go," said George Mason Coach John Cook. "Brian is valuable because he can also score points for us in the 400 and 500."