Georgetown basketball players and rooters were caught up early this morning in the emotions of the team's impressive victories over Holy Cross and Alabama for the ECAC Holiday Festival championship. Their chant was: "Bring on Kentucky."
At 3 a.m., Georgetown coach John Thompson sat in a coffee shop across the street from Madison Square Garden, site of his 8-2 Hoyas' sixth straight victory, and said:
"I don't think we're ready to beat the hell out of Kentucky right now . . . If we have a mature, accomplished center, we're a great team. Once we establish that, you ask me how good this team is and I'll tell you quick. If the center position is nailed and stable, we've got a great team."
By that, Thompson said he meant a team that could compete night in, night out with any in the country.
It is no secret that the inside game is the key to winning basketball games. Because of injuries, it took Thompson 36 games over the past two season to get the inside players he wanted into the starting lineup. Finally, Thursday night against Alabama, Thompson was able to team 6-foot-11, 225-Tommy Scates and 6-7 Craig (Big Sky) Shelton.
Guards John Duren and Derrick Jackson, one of the best college backcourt pairs anywhere, made the alltournament team here, with Duren named MVP. But the only guards who ever won a major sports championship were a couple of chaps named Thurston and Kramer of the Green Bay Packers.
So Georgetown's era of power basketball still is in an embryonic stage. The jury will be out on this team for awhile. However, Thompson, a big man (6-10) himself, does not think Scates is that far away from turning a corner that would result in what Thompson calls a great team.
No one can argue that Scates is not a defensive force after the Holiday Festival. He forced opponents to become perimeter shooters with his long arms, his bulk and his uncanny timing as a shotblocker in Georgetown's zone. All he lacks defensively is more consistency.
On offense, however, the junior from St. Anthony's High has problems.
"He has to relax enough so he can be a real strong factor at the offensive end of the court," said Thompson. "He has anxiety because he wants to prove himself so badly. If he realized what he is capable of doing on offense, it would change his outlook. What can he do? Anything Chamberlain or any great offensive center could do."
Scates' problem, Thompson believes, is inherent to his personality. He is a shy and private person, a kind man without arrogance.
"If he was just big and dumb, he'd be a great player, with no care in the world or no concern about anything." said Thompson. "It's his sensitivity and his awareness of certain things that restrict him from being great.
"He really doesn't want to hurt anybody. He's got to swing across the middle (of the lane) and make hook shots. The answer to not hurting anyone is them getting out of his way. If he was angry, I'd get out of his way."
Scates' current repertoire of shots is limited to the dunk. He doesn't need that much more, according to Thompson.
"Big guys have to do as much as little guys," the coach said. "With a little hook - a consistent hook - he's a whole different player. A little hook left and right because of his arm span, that's it. Catch it going into the middle and be comfortable with the little hook, and it's over.
"And I tell you. He can make those moves. I've worked against him and seen it in practice. He can swing across the lane and shoot a hook with form you wouldn't believe. But the anxiety builds up (in games). It used to be there on defense to the point he couldn't get the defensive things going.
"Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to have him and so would a lot of other coaches. I tell you we wouldn't have won here without him. If they allowed trading in college ball and I said he was available, my phone wouldn't stop ringing."