Saturday was a crystal-cold February night on the Georgetown hilltop. Overhead, the constellation Orion, the hunter, sparked.

Only slightly lower, a new star in the basketball heavens - Craig Shelton, the Big Sky - shone bright and strong.

Inside streaming stomping McDonough Gym, the hexed Hoya sophomore played his first masterful college game, dismantling Detroit's dozen-game winning streak with final assist, steal, rebound and basket of GU's 83-82 win.

If the education of Big Sky - college style - had only begun, Shelton had surely aced one mighty important exam.

"Craig's biggest adjustment to college has been to stop breaking his own bones," insists Hoya Coach John Thompson.

Indeed, after enduring 22 months of self-inflicted wreckage, Shelton now finds himself in tolerable health.

His crutches, knee brace and wristcast are gone. And the wraps are finally off his ferocious desire to devour the game like a 6-foot-6 shark.

Saturday, all Shelton had to contend with was flu, fever, a wrist-brace and that terrible Titan Terry Tyler, the Motor City's shot-guzzling monster.

Instead of waging war with one leg and one hand, Shelton had 1.9 legs and 1.5 hands. The result: by night's end, Shelton had picked clean Tyler's 6-foot-7, 230-pound carcass.

Shelton's statistics - 20 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three blocks, three steals - reveal the bare bones, but not the reckless flair of his evening's work.

Shelton leaves his admirers as rhapsodic as he himself is phlegmatic. "Helluva player," repeated Detroit Coach Dave Gaines. "Great. Super. I'm outta words. He gets to the glass and then crunches it home. Those ain't but the two most important things in the game.

"He was the difference. He put my whole starting front line in foul trouble - before halftime."

On a night when GU's guards shot miserably (nine for 31), Shelton was the staff of life, the stuff of GU's future hopes.

As the game's final two minutes bled like an open vein - Detroit freezing the ball with a three-point lead - Shelton was a one-man Georgetown hospital.

Need a rebound of a missed one-and-one free throw, plus a full-court pass for a layup? Ask for Shelton.

With 50 seconds, left, a venturesome Titan guard, thinking he was some sort of Detroit Ford, drove the lane from the four corners. It was an awful sight. Shelton has been gobbling guards for some years now.

Shelton did not so much make a "defensive switch" as he dropped out of a tree like a panther. The guard neither shot nor passed, he relinquished the ball like an unnerved child.

Switching from high school center to college forward has probably improved Shelton's defense. "He doesn't have to be the big man now," says Dunbar coach Joe Dean Davidson. "He was always the quickest man on my team. The guards could not run with him or react with him."

If Shelton has faced one serious college problem, it is fear. He doesn't have any.

I not only leads him to casts and crutches, it puts him on the bench with foul trouble. Shelton plays bad bench. It's his big weakness.

"Craig does the tough things well and the impossible things better," says Thompson. "He's not injury prone. Any human would break in the positions that Sky has fallen. But not many humans would put themselves in those positions.

"When he plays, he forgets everything. Sometimes I have to pick up his hand and show it to him and say, "Look Craig. There are plays that can't be made with one hand.'"

Shelton seldom touches the ball in GU's offense, a true anomaly since the GU coach calls him "unstoppable in the low post one-on-one. No college player can hinder him."

Half the reason for his exclusion is offensive fouls, "Sky is so quick and has so many fakes," says captain Derrick Jackson, "that sometimes the defender just gets paralyzed by the first move and by the time Craig gets finished, he just charges over this frozen defender."

The other half of the reason is the semimobile right hand that makes him theft-prone. "We only get it to him in the post now when he's isolated with one man," says Thompson, starting to smile. "That is, unless the game is riding on it, like it was tonight. Then we get it to him if we have to kick it in."

Shelton's game-winning basket against Detroit summed up his offensive game. Surrounded by three men, he petrified them with a fake, spun across the lane for a layup before any of them budged, then leaped again to get his own offensive rebound, simply outjumping the whole Detroit team to drop the ball in the basket to win the game.

"Craig has every natural talent," said Dunbar's Davidson. "But it's the want-to-do that sets him apart. he wants to do worse that anybody I've ever seen.

"I'd tell him, 'Craig, work on this,' and an hour later I'd come back and he'd be in the same spot working on that one thing and I'd say, "Craig, you can stop now, Craig.'"

Shelton does have weaknesses. Since his days at Evans Junior High as a 13-year-old miracle of nature, he has lived in the shadow of the rim. For one dribble he is a cyclone. For two he is Turnovers, Inc.

His jump shot, when taken with relaxed premeditation, is adequate. But when he rushes, as he usually does, he lays some awful tricks.

Shelton is still at his best playing like the world's shortest 7-footer. Because of his quickness and his fearlessness, he can pull off the trick - if the whistles don't sit him down.

A healthy Shelton is a romantic figure, risking himself with expressionless ferocity, always playing selflessly and with daring. When the McDonough stands chant, "Sky, Sky, Sky," it is more than rooting. It is a cry of genuine affection, mixed with more than a little worry.

Big Sky was created for the jousting above the rim. Off the court, he is humble, impeccably mannered. The final score of a typical Shelton interview might be 14-13 in favor of the "yes,sirs."

"yes, sir, I knew the ball was coming to me for the last shot. But if it hadn't, I would have tired for the rebound," he says with a face that is vastly more expressive, more vulnerable, than his words.

"I'm beginning to get in the flow of the team. Mr. Thomspon is an excellent coach. Not only academically, but in basketball too.

"I feel that I'm finally getting a chance to play against the men of the game."

Shelton, even if he still has many exams ahead of him, is already one of those men of the game.

As folks are saying at Georgetown these days, "Thank you, Craig."

"You're welcome, sir."