When the losing team is happy a day later, the game must have been special. And American U.-Georgetown was as much as anyone could ask of basketball at any level: two teams going at one another full-bore the entire game; two teams playing chest-to-chest defense over every inch of the court; two teams trying to deny everything but breath to each other.
Gary Williams defied both the law of gravity and common sense at times, and came away appearing more than capable of maintaining an AU tradition of energetic, bright and sometimes innovative coaches that have included Tom Young and Jim Lyman.
In the first half, with his team trailing by 13 points, Williams executed the best technical-foul tantrum in years. Whether it was because Fred Brown seemed to take 37 steps without dribbling en route to a layup or to keep his own team from melting into helplessness, no one is quite sure.
But Williams' double-pump, first-flailing, coattail-flying, pens-and-money-scattered-for-yards show was memorable. It had the hang time of a Ray Guy punt, and showed everyone in musty Fort Myer that beneath that angelic-looking facade beats the temperament of an alley fighter.
In the first half, whatever AU did well, GU did better. AU ran, but GU ran faster. And had Mike Frazier, slightly smaller than the Washington Monument and slightly more mobile, to retrieve most of its misses. w
To keep Georgetown from some Reagan-like run-away, AU seemingly had to slow the tempo the second half.So Williams ordered the Eagles to go even faster, to come out of the dressing room at ramming speed. To many in the overflow crowd, it seemed suicidal.
It worked. A scrambling, reckless defense that once included Gordan Austin all but undressing Brown to force a turnover enabled AU to turn a 15-point deficit into 72-72 madness with two minutes left. One of Sleepy Floyd's missiles finally hit its target for the game's final points and the final AU shot bounced off Frazier's hands.
Drained, Williams was as proud of his team as he was frustrated by the final result. Without its best player, the injured Boo Bowers, AU had given Georgetown much more than it wanted. An introduced students, faculty, alums and lots more of us to an entertaining team, perhaps the essence of college basketball but, alas, a Mike Frazier and a gym away from being genuinely big-time.
Georgetown seems on the verge of being bigger than big-time, if the scenario of John Thompson's dreams plays the way nearly everyone expects. If AU-GU was almost all-consuming for Williams, it was not necessarily uppermost in Thompson's mind immediately before it began or immediately after it ended.
That seemed evident when Thompson met the press after the emotionally draining game. His first words were not the gushing praise for Williams that flowed later, or even both encouragement and dismay about his own team.
Thompson's first public words were that a scholar from the Boston area, Patrick Ewing, who also happens to be 7 feet and the best center prospect since Ralph Sampson, had not -- repeat, not -- committed himself to Georgetown, either verbally or in writing.
Reports to that effect have been rampant for months, and Ewing's delay in confirming them before the previously announced first week in February must make Thompson's nerves even tighter. He can be outwardly quiet and unassuming, but few things in life give him more pleasure than winning basketball games.
Already, Thompson is a fine coach. Ewing could make him an instant genius. And if Dunbar's Anthony Jones were to follow Ewing, Thompson would have final-four material. In one recruiting binge, he would eclipse Lefty Driesell locally and all but a few coaches nationally.
The nature of basketball is such that almost every coach is a big man away from the next level of his profession. With Ewing, Thompson could be at the pinnacle, a proud black man with a realistic chance at a national championship. And the money and presitgue that brings.
Ewing blesses any team he chooses.But Georgetown is in the highly unusual position of having two players who would make Ewing even better. They would be Brown and Floyd, guards whose style complement each other and also blend with what Ewing does best.
Floyd is the consummate shooter, Brown a gifted lead guard Thompson now is "brainwashing" into being less impulsive. Both tended to go into spasms of dizziness against AU, Floyd with his second-half bombs and Brown with some passes. Frazier corrected their mistakes against the little Eagles; a Ewing could correct those mistakes against any college team in America.
Thompson was quite candid after the AU game, admitting that he is "not big on local games," that "games on the national scene" intrigue him most. In other words, he wants a national title as much as Lefty, Dean and the others -- and just might be the signature of one young man away from it.
Although he would not tolerate any mention of Ewing, Thompson did respond to one question: suppose a 7-foot, rebounding, shot-blocking leaper just happened to find his way to Georgetown by next season. Would Brown, a creator potentially of the highest order, fit in with him?
Smiling, Thompson said: "I kinda think so. I kinda think so."