"Firsts," John Thompson kept saying. "Glad for all these firsts to be over with. We've had more damn firsts this year than since I've been at Georgetown. First games for Patrick (Ewing); first time in Capital Centre. First time everything. We want to get 'em over with, get comfortable."
His Hoyas got comfortable the final 20 minutes yesterday against San Diego State. Their first audience in Capital Centre was close to twice their capacity audience in McDonough Gym, and Athletic Director Frank Rienzo remarked at halftime: "It's hard to tell which team is more nervous."
Any doubts about Georgetown winning ended about five minutes later, after a 20-2 burst that included yet another breakthrough for Thompson: first time his heart leaped toward his throat, when Ewing stayed on the floor, face down, holding his eyes.
This was the first time local Ewing watchers had seen the 7-foot freshman block a shot on his way back to earth. John Garwood got him off the floor a bit too soon, but Ewing was wondrous enough to still slap the ball away. He took a finger to the eye for his trouble.
And lay still on the court an uncomfortably long time, so long that the coach walked toward where Ewing was being examined.
"When I saw him smile," Thompson said later, "I turned and went back to the bench."
Thompson was smiling an hour after the 71-53 victory, for it had been a coach's delight. His team had won, but it had sinned enough for him to be able to fuss some during the next practice.
"It's gonna be something when we get it going the way we want to," Thompson promised. And what does he want?
"To be fast," he said. "I want to be able to play fast, and also to be able to break down at the end, when we have the kind of lead we had today, and get the easy basket or fouls."
That is coaching Utopia, to have a team gifted enough to dazzle everyone with speed and rebounding and also smart enough to play keep away when the opposition starts a comeback. Thompson is confident that is possible; when remains a mystery.
"That's the thing that's bothering me right now," he said. "I haven't got enough information yet. I'm afraid of a lot of things, some of which I don't want to expose. But anybody who knows basketball knows it's hard to play it the way we're playing it right now.
"There's no logic to how I'm substituting. I'm putting guys in for experience, as opposed to putting guys in to accomplish certain things. It's a hard thing for a coach. You're trying to invest in a product down the road. You see a Bill Martin or Anthony Jones or Patrick Ewing make the wrong rotation in a zone, and you get upset and snatch him out, you break his confidence.
"They've got to work it out on the floor. And while they're working it out, the other team scores."
Few coaches have been blessed with such talent; few coaches have been challenged by a blend of senior pride and freshman ambition.
"You can get tough and fuss -- and destroy your team," Thompson said. "It's very difficult coaching a team in December, because you don't know how to mix kindness and anger, or whatever it is you call it. I've been gentle. But I've firmed up this week a lot.
"But at halftime (with a two-point lead) I just told 'em regardless of how they played they were my team. Go play the game. I was a little bit scared to say that, the way we were playing, but things got better."
In a hurry.
It took the crowd a while to get into the game. Most arrived not quite certain what to expect, given all the preseason hype followed by two losses in the first three games. Only the cheerleaders were cheering much of the opening half. The second half the players and fans got more at ease with each other.
In another first, Thompson gave an assist to the Capital Centre organist, Chris Dixon.
"This our home," he said, "and I love that organist. That lady gets to hittin' that beat (when the team's momentum starts building). If we can get that atmosphere. But we're starting off (toward another basketball level) at Georgetown.
"It's not gonna happen at one time."
Surprisingly, the Georgetown guards, Sleepy Floyd and Fred Brown, got more rebounds than centers Ewing and Ed Spriggs. That was one of the troubles during a 20-12 season last year. Floyd was the team's leading rebounder, with an average of slightly under five a game.
Also, the Hoyas shot 10 more free throws than they did field goals for the game.
"One of the biggest things we're going through right now," Thompson said, "is that these kids are so nice. Everybody wants so hard to do what I want done, and to an extent they're thinking about it instead of reacting to it. They'll be all right. We'll make some mistakes, but that doesn't scare me.
"I've been in this business long enough to know that you've got to build a team. A team is not something that's hatched in December. Not the good ones anyway."