Georgetown University, whose basketball team never ceases to amaze its coach, plays North Carolina State at 6 o'clock tonight in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. The game will be broadcast by WEAM (1390-AM), but will not be televised.
"They've acted the way a storybook says you're supposed to act," Hoyas Coach John Thompson said. "Very seldom do you get that, really. People start talking of athletics as sacrifice and of giving one's self.
"These are the fantasy stories they tell you about the way sports are supposed to be. These kids have made an attempt to do that, without having the story read to them."
Georgetown, 23-6, is a two-point underdog to the 20-9 Wolfpack from the Atlantic Coast Conference tonight, according to Jimmy (the Greek) Snyder. He makes Texas a one-point favorite over Rutgers in the second game. The winners play for the championship at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Like almost everybody else, the Greek obviously has no respect for Eastern basketball, and that suits Georgetown fine. The Hoyas believe, and the results show, that they play better as underdogs than front-runners.
In this tournament, Georgetown accomplished what no other entry in the 16-team field did: it won on the road, and it did it twice, to reach Madison Square Garden. The Hoyas also did it without Derrick Jackson, their leading scorer and captain, who is hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer.
"It's hard to get the unselfishness you need for a team effort in order to win," Thompson said. "We would have had our sneakers packed a long time ago without it. Then when the situation came up with Derrick, it was an opportunity for all of them to lay down.
"Under the most adverse situation, without our leading scorer, we've had the hardest path to the Garden. They got themselves in a situation where they met that challenge.It surprises me as much as it surprises anyone, I guess, not because I don't have confidence in them, but because they never cease to amaze me with the fact they rally and keep going."
To make up for Jackson's absence, point guard John Duren said the players got together and decided to put forth more effort on defense. Most teams can always play much better defense; this team ranked among the nation's top 10 defensive clubs all season.
Defense, in the form of a turn-over-producing full-court zone press, beat Dayton in the quarterfinals.
Duren said there was no team meeting as such but that every player discussed it with him at one point or another, usually in small groups.
"We said we have to get down and play better defense for the help of the team," Duren said, "since most of our defense was gone."
In beating Virginia and Dayton, Georgetown was able to use exceptional quickness in defending against slower teams. Now, for the first time without Jackson, second only in quickness to 5-8 guard Mike Riley among the Hoyas, Georgetown will play a team perhaps its equal or better in quickness.
It is not the only similarity between them as State Coach Norman Sloan is quick to point out, and that includes a foundation of players from Washington - Hawkeye Whitney and Kenny Mathews and Georgetown's Duren and Craig Shelton.
"We can play slow, we can play fast," said Sloan. "So can they. When playing our normal tempos, we're about the same. We both press, may be they press more baseline to baseline than we do. The offenses are similar. We both play a lot of people. The size of the personnel (match-ups) are similar. We are good outside shooting teams."
Which brought Sloan to a commentary about his team, and it could have just as easily have come from Thompson: "The inside game might be stronger if we worked on it more. But the outside shooting has been good."
Georgetown has an edge in its experience in the Gardens. The Holiday Festival champions are 3-0 there this season. It will be State's first appearance.
Sloan even was willing to make a prediction:
"It will be real close, a matter of who puts together the more solid game. By that I mean the boards (rebounding), turnovers, and who hits the highest percentage of shots. It will go right down to the end and somebody will make a big play or something."
Duren, the Holiday Festival MVP, would like that big play to belong to Georgetown as it has so many times this season.
"How do I want this team to be remembered?" he said, "Georgetown U., a team with pride and dedication to teamwork.