Those kings of the road, Georgetown University's basketball Hoyas, will dine at Sardi's Saturday night, take Sunday brunch at the Garden and then stuff themselves silly at Mama Leone's Monday night. After brunch and before Leone's, they'll also play a basketball game against North Carolina State. Such is life in the NIT.
Readers with long memories know that this typist is not in love with the National Invitation Tournament. A week ago, he called it the MIT, the M standing for Money. The MIT is shamelessly unfair. It is not a competitive event; its only purpose is to fatten assorted bankbooks, including, yes, Georgetown's.
You can't knock Georgetown for taking the money. Big-time college athletics is expensive. A season's-end bonus of $20,000 or $30,000 helps buy shoelaces. So if you take the MIT's greenbacks, you also take, without complaint, its format. For Georgetown, a class team without a large arena, that format says, "Hit the road, Jack."
So while North Carolina State and Rutgers have advanced to Sunday night's semifinals by winning two games at home - as the tournament sponsors undoubtedly planned it - Georgetown has won both its games on the road.
These Hoyas are so many Rodney Dangerfields in sneakers. They get no respect.
The same thing happened in December when Georgetown went to Madison Square Garden for the Holiday Festival. "All of our teams are ranked in the nation's top 20," a Festival man said, adding, ". . . except Georgetown."
"That got us competitive, " said John Thompson, the Georgetown coach. What he meant was that those words left the Hoyas steamed. They were insulted by the condescension.
So they did the best thing you can do to get respect. They didn't talk.They simply won the tournament. They beat Holy Cross first, then took care of Alabama. To do it, they shot 56.1 percent the first game and 68 percent the championship game.
It is Georgetown's ambition each season to qualify for the NCAA tournament that decides the national championship. Any lesser accomplishment is disappointing. When the Hoyas' main man, Derrick Jackson, fell ill only hours before his team undertook the first of two games needed to get into the NCAA field, Georgetown came apart. It lost to a weaker team and had to settle for the NIT.
One suspects the worst. By inviting the Hoyas, the NIT money men might have been saying, "Well, they won the Festival and if they get lucky maybe they'll win at Virginia and then at Dayton hah! - and people would drive up from Washington to see them here. So what if Mississippi State looks like a better team? Nobody's going to drive up from Starkville to buy tickets.
But as Thompson had hoped, his team now has compensated for Jackson's absence by developing more offense inside. And Georgetown is back in the Garden.
"Where's the guy from the press conference who wanted to know about Eastern basketball?" Thompson said, smiling, to a group of reporters minutes after the 71-62 victory at Dayton two nights ago. A newspaperman had asked Thompson if Georgetown felt a need to uphold the East's honor, seeing as how five Eastern teams had lost in the first round of the NCAA. It was a provincial question, heavy with condescension.
"Well, we're from the East," said the man who learned the game on Washington's playgrounds, first lured there by reports of somebody named "Rabbit." Rabbit was Elgin Baylor. was fun to see the parts of this team
"They play ball in the East. And we're going back home now," Thompson said.He sounded proud.
Well he should be. In the enemy's home, Georgetown played efficiently and unflappably. It came from behind in the second half, which is no really big deal, but then it turned back repeated Dayton rallies, which is a big deal. No better test of a team's character exists than being asked to hold a slender lead against a team playing at home with 13,000 friends screaming inspiration.
Georgetown's performance was a credit both to the players and the coaches. Less than seven minutes into the game, Thompson had used nine players, each of them contributing significantly. By game's end, Georgetown's bench had won it, outscoring Dayton's reserves, 28-13. It was fun to see the parts of this team fit together so smoothly in a game it wanted so much to win.
You may have read about Ed Hopkins' wonderful offensive performance at center. You probably know Steve Martin was so bothered by all those screamers that he only made 10 of 10 free throws. But for this writer, one image is clearly his favorite.
Look at this picture: Georgetown is pressing full-court. Dayton is having a nervous breakdown trying to get the ball inbounds. And here's little Mike Riley, the Hoyas' 5-foot-8 guard. He's in the weirdest defensive stance of all time.
He's hiding. Out in the middle of the floor, with 13,000 people watching, with Dayton ready to throw it in, Mike Riley is crouching down low - so low that his hands are touching the floor to keep him balanced. His head is up, the eyes alert. And he's creeping forward, like a man crawling through a tunnel two feet high.
And as Dayton throws in the ball, Riley springs up from his hiding place, a cat leaping into battle with a sneakered mouse.