Some Georgetown University students were high on the twin intoxicants of sweet victory and warm beer today when they climbed on the shoulders of fellow celebrants to cut down the net as a trophy of their basketball team's victory over mighty Syracuse. Net in hand, they threw it over John Thompson's head and the coach smiled in thanks.
A second later, though, Thompson took the net off and there was on his face an expression that said, well, this is all nice but we haven't even got to the real stuff yet.
The real stuff is the NCAA tournament that starts next weekend, a three-week war of 48 teams for the national college basketball championship, and all today's victory over Syracuse did was guarantee the Hoyas a spot in the tournament.
The road is long and there are miles to go before John Thompson can sleep.
Though Thompson's ability is certified beyond doubt by his creation of a top-20 basketball program at a school that was 3-23 the year before his arrival, it is yet painful to him that the Hoyas have never won a game in the NCAA tournament. Three times they've made it into the tournament, three times they've been dismissed abruptly.
This will be the fourth try, coming up next weekend, and anyone here this weekend must believe from the available evidence -- successive victories over teams ranked in the top 10 -- that Georgetown will not only win that precious first game, it may keep on winning until that long road leads to a net that John Thompson will wear forever.
Not that Thompson is foolish enough to say anything like that. He leaves such foolishness to dimwits who know how to type. All he'll say is that today's 87-71 victory over Syracuse, a team ranked No. 2 in one poll and No. 3 in the other, is proof positive that Georgetown ought to be ranked by the nation's dimwit typists higher than the 20th of this week.
"Folks forgot us," Thompson said, "but now for those doubting Thomases, I'll play the Lord and say you can now come up and put your hands on my scars and believe we are pretty good."
"You don't count your money while you're still sitting at the table," the coach said, "and I never evaluate my team until the season is over. We're still playing."
If the coach is a reluctant appraiser of the Hoyas, no such reluctance lives in at least one typewriter, which even at this moment is convinced in its keys that Georgetown University's basketball team is the very thing Dr. Naismith had in mind when he put up a peach basket and said this basketball ought to be a good team game.
Done well, basketball is the prettiest game of all. It's the prettiest because it asks that the sum exceed the total of the parts. It asks that wonderful individual abilities be blended together into a single unit. The Celtics of old were a jazz band of outrageously gifted soloists whose every riff made the next man's sweeter. Maybe Bill Russell could have scored 30 a night, the way Wilt did, but then what would have happened to the shooter, Bill Sharman?
As those Celtics were a piece of art, so are these Hoyas, for just as Russell gave away part of himself to make Sharman better, just as that team used its great individual talents to build a single masterpiece called a team, so has Georgetown taken 10 players of wonderful ability and made them into a team that is a joy to behold.
"The biggest hypocrisy," Thompson said, "is all the attention that goes to these 'star' players. Nobody ever gives any credit to anyone who plays team basketball.Look at John Duren."
John Duren is a guard for Georgetown, a powerfully built senior who scored 12 points today. Experts say he will be one of the first four guards chosen in the draft by the professionals in June. Yet here in his senior year, when the "stars" average 20 points and get their faces on magazine covers, John Duren is an anonymity, lost in the same show business shuffle that caused dimwit typists to ignore Georgetown all season.
"It is my decision that John doesn't score very much," Thompson said. "If I wanted him to go hunting, he could score 50. But I decided, and he agreed, that his priority is to get the team moving. As a result, he is not scoring. But he does everything else just the way he is supposed to, and he makes us a team."
Today's victory was vivid demonstration of how much a team Georgetown truly is. On a day when the nation's No. 2-ranked team shot 64.7 percent, Georgetown yet won. On a day when Syracuse played exactly the kind of game it wanted -- run, run, run -- still Georgetown won. What Syracuse wanted most of all was to limit the Georgetown stars (Duren, Eric Floyd and Craig Shelton) to about 60 points (they had 51) -- and still Georgetown won.
The Hoyas won because two reserves scored 30 points. Eric Smith had 17, Ed Spriggs 13. Spriggs had a game-high 10 rebounds.
The losing coach, Jim Boeheim, said it was a great game in which his offense played as well as it can and, to tell the truth, he couldn't fault his defense, either, because everything went just the way he thought it would.
Except for those two guys coming off the bench.
"Smith and Spriggs broke our back," the coach said.
Never had Eric Smith, a sophomore, scored 17 points in a college game. His best was 16 against Boston College, which ain't Syracuse, and only seven times in 28 games had he scored in double figures. What Smith does best is play defense, for he is a quick, agile, intelligent, small forward who at 6-foot-5 jumps well enough to be asked to play defense against people such as 6-8 Louis Orr of Syracuse.
Louis Orr is Syracuse's second-leading scorer with a 15.8 average built on 56 percent shooting. If it may be said that Georgetown built this victory on a good first half in which it outscored Syracuse by four points, it can not be forgotten that in those first 20 minutes, with Smith playing man-to-man defense against him most of the time, Louis Orr did not score a point.Louis Orr didn't even get a shot.
Through 30 minutes of the game, Orr had scored six points and only his desperate long shooting late in the game raised his total to 16.
"I just tried to not let him touch the ball," Smith said in explanation of his good work.
"Smitty was great today," Thompson said. "He played a little bit of basketball today."
The stars scored their 51 points. The benchwarmers broke the heart, if not the back, of the nation's No. 2 team. The coach, Thompson, couldn't sleep the night before and so looked at movies of the last Syracuse game at 3 in the morning and passed along some hints to his fellows. And now, with the biggest prize still available, the prettiest team begins its trip down the longest road.