Is there something ABC is keeping from us each week? Could there also be an agony of victory? How else could one explain the curious actions of the Georgetown assistant athletic director, Steve Stageberg, his need to avoid watching the most dramatic dribbles the basketball team takes toward national prominance?

The ritual began five games ago, when Georgetown was just starting to creep into the top-20 polls. Stageberg watches the first half of every home game, then quickly leaves the gym as the Hoyas prepared for the final minutes of drama that have lifted their winning streak from eight to 12.

"I'll just walk around outside," he said.

"Oh, now and then I'll come inside for a quick peek at the scoreboard. And they always manage without me. But if this is how everything has affected me, think what it must be like for the players."

As a world-class distance runner until a heel injury five years ago, Stageberg has known almost as much pressure as the players he cannot bear to watch. But he also realizes how for Georgetown has come in basketball - and how significant each victory is not only in terms of present glory but also future leverage with schedules and television appearances.

He is missing a nice show, rather young players learning a good deal about themselves in tense victories against teams that have been pointing toward them for weeks. Oddly, Georgetown has been among the largest teams in the nation, but did not begin to play "big" until the arrival of a 6-7 forward, Craig Shelton.

Shelton is what Al Mcguire would call "an aircraft carrier," a leaper for whom the nickname Big Sky is wonderfully appropriate and whose inside power allows the outside shooters, Derrick Jackson, John Duren and Steve Martin, more freedom.

"As much as anyone, he reminds me of Bernard King," said coach John Thompson. "Both of them are exceptionally quick inside - and he (Shelton) might be a better rebounder. One on one, when he's healthy, it's very tough for anyone to stop him."

But sophomore Shelton has not experienced many completely healthy days at Georgetown. He always has been injury-prone, to the point where his mother at times asked him to quit the sport. But those playground bruises were nothing compared to the knee injury that hobbled him last season and the broken wrist that still has not totally mended.

The knee and wrist problems have kept him from honing an exquisite against game developed against such as Adrian Dantley and Larry Wright, Larry Gibson and his former junior-high teammate, James Ratiff.

"I've got to learn to jump smart," he said after Georgetown's 72-68 victory over American University. "Not like tonight (when he fouled out with two minutes left). I need the experience of playing against good college players."

As quiet and polite as he is off the court, Shelton is the sort of "force" basketball coaches covet in their star wars - and when a guard with the touch and savvy of a Duren accompanies him from Dunbar High, Thompson's victory graph ought to continue to climb.

There has been a tendency, locally and nationally, to expect too much too soon from Thompson, to forget the 3-23 disaster the season before he arrived, to forget that his first five years were much more successful than Dean Smith's first five years at North Carolina and Norm Sloan's first five years at N.C. State.

Against AU, Thompson was especially pleased that each of his younger players was capable of providing an important lift when one was needed.

Shelton was five for nine from the field in the first half, although AU overplayed him dramatically because of the still troublesome wrist on his nonshooting hand.

In the final nine minutes, when AU was playing smart and hitting its shots, Duren three times came downcourt and scored go-ahead baskets, once on a splendid reverse move when every other Hoya trotted to the other side of the court.

With less than a minute left and Georgetown up by four points, Martin blocked a baseline jumper by AU's fine frosh, Boo Bowers. And Duren's two free throws were the final points of the game.

"Each time we encounter something new," Shelton said. "We just can't get our minds fixed on what the other team is doing, but (on) what we do well. And we can be beaten. We've got to realize that, so we'll play that much harder. We can't relax."

Well, maybe they can relax just a tad against the Twinkie that Thompson added to the schedule for Saturday, New England College. Maybe Stageberg will be able to stay for the second half, because New England is unknown to at least this hoop degenerate.

The Georgetown publicist, John Blake, phoned his New England counterpart the other day and was told that the team already had played St. Francis and St. Joseph's.

Of Pennsylvania?" Blake said.

"No. Of Maine."