The scout from the Seattle SuperSonics watched a typical Craig Shelton performance the other night, Shelton grabs a rebound, tosses the outlet pass, then runs swiftly down court, to get in position to score the basket at the other end.
"Does the guy run like that all the time?" the scout from the Supersonics asked Georgetown Coach John Thompson afterward.
"Absolutely," the coach replied. "All you have to do is come to practice and watch the sprints every day. Everyday, he's in front. If he's not in front, you have a tendency to look at him and wonder whether he's sick or something to that extent."
The collegiate basketball world and some pro scouts only now are learning to appreciate the 6-foot-7 forward, now that he has helped beat Syracuse twice and St. John's once in the past three weeks, culminating with his selection as the outstanding player in the Big East Conference tournament Saturday.
Red Auerbach, the crafty Boston Celtic president-general manager, watched Georgetown end Syracuse's 57-game home-court winning streak last month. He watched Shelton power his way inside for nearly one-third of the Hoya points against 6-9 Louis Orr and 6-11 Roosevelt Bouie, both leading pro prospects.
In some minds, Shelton's pro potential shot up drastically that night. Not in Auerbach's. "I knew a long time ago how good he was," he said. "I spot them way back there and then the cream rises to the top.I was hoping to pick him on the second round. But he'll be a first-round pick."
The man they call "Big Sky" leads the Hoyas into the NCAA tournament this week. He and guard John Duren, teammates now for seven years, are the pillars of this team that finally has some members of the outside world believing they can accomplish their goal -- the national championship.
But as well as Duren directs and orchestrates the Hoyas on the floor, NCAA tournaments are won with inside power. On the eve of this tournment, Thompson offers this long-felt appreciation of the man some pro scouts and most fans only now are beginning to appreciate:
"You can talk about everybody involved, but Craig is the key to this team.He does the dirtiest of the dirty work. He's the one under there getting those rebounds and taking the beating and running from basket to basket.
"Craig exemplifies the word power forward as much as any player I've ever seen. The guy plays with such intensity."
What makes Shelton special is the way he generates this intensity with little regard for his body. He has broken a kneecap and wrist stopping opponents. Another thing that makes him special is simply known as attitude.
For instance, he was asked if he and Duren were irreplacable on the Georgetown team. No, he said, firmly.
"They have a fine back court coming back. Jeff Bullis (Shelton's backup) is a fine athlete. (Ed) Spriggs, (Mike) Hancock and (Mike) Frazier will all be back and they're fine athletes. They're not losing anything but just two players."
This is a man who reads Aristotle and Plato and bases his life on logic, positive thinking and hard work. He is self-motivated to the extent that Thompson says:
"If I had a professional team and Craig Shelton never got on the floor, he'd make a contribution to that team. There's no doubt in my mind if he ever got on the floor it would be very hard for them to get him out, because of the level of intensity at which he plays.
"That's his habit. I haven't motivated Craig Shelton to play hard. He is really more of a motivation to me, in reassuring my beliefs in athletes really wanting to put out and be the kind of athletes they're supposed to be."
Shelton can't remember how he developed his drive. He calls it instinctive, just like his high threshold of pain, which allows him to take a physical beating under the basket.
"I've always had the enthusiasm and determination to get something done, the desire to want to be perfect, to be the best at what I want to do," Shelton said.
When he started playing basketball, Shelton said it was just for fun, like many other youths in Washington's inner city.
"You've got to love the game and you've got to play to win," he said. "I used to play just to have fun and just to play. But it got to the point where I'm playing to win now. And the fun comes along when you are winning." w
And when did he start playing for more than fun?
"When I realized I could make a living out of this," he replied.
As high school seniors, he and Duren led Dunbar to an unbeaten season. He has broadened his horizons at Georgetown, both on and off the court.
As a freshman, at GU, he met Felix Yeoman, another basketball player, a man Thompson describes as a "health bug." Yeoman got Shelton into running. Throughout the summers and the early falls, Shelton constantly ran from campus to the Washington Monument and back.
"Sometimes I would think I was out of shape," he said. "I needed a second wind."
Thompson marvels at the dedication:
"There are some people who will play hard and won't practice. There are some people who won't practice at all by themselves, but will practice in a group. Craig will do all three of them. He'll practice on his own extremely hard; he'll practice with the team extremely hard and he'll play very hard in a game."
Shelton chose Georgetown over Marquette and Minnesota. He says he has no regrets.
"I really mean that," said the player who probably would have scored many more points and gained much more national publicity elsewhere. "The reason not only is the education I've gotten here, but the people I've met. I've really enjoyed playing with the caliber of ball players here. iThey have character, and that's hard to find."
And, as the Hoyas prepared to play either Iona or Holy Cross Sunday in their opening NCAA tournament game. Shelton dreams at night about his team playing in the NCAA championship game. For most players, the dream concludes with the player making the final shot for the championship.
Shelton says his dream end a little differently.
"I look back and say we put it together," he said, "We formed a picture which is a beautiful picture."