Five minutes into that nationally televised Nike socks commercial yesterday in Capital Centre, it became known to the college basketball world that there is a breed of player faster than a Runnin' Rebel. It's a Hurryin' Hoya.
As the Nevada-Las Vegas players discovered, and others on Georgetown's schedule shortly will, a Hurryin' Hoya has arms that seem to stretch from one end of an arena to the other, flicks passes away at midcourt and shots off target closer to the basket. It pitches defensive shutouts for minutes at a time.
"Defense is the game I like the most," said one of them, Ed Spriggs. His eyes sparkled and he added, as though no sane player actually could have uttered such a thing: "I like it."
"Because I was never a great offensive threat."
When their pressing defense works as it did yesterday, the Hoyas make a scoreboard click like an out-of-control cash register and turn a Jerry Tarkanian into a towel eater by midway through the second half. Let's recall some reasons why:
Michael Johnson gets a shot buried by Pat Ewing . . . guard Danny Tarkanian puts up a hopeless five-foot shot through a thicket of Hoya arms . . . Spriggs tips a lob pass to Freddie Brown.
This is terrific defense, the sort of hustling plays that would delight some coaches if they came in one half. These came on one trip down the floor by the Rebels, who thought they'd left one-armed bandits back home.
With 28 turnovers, Hoya pass-snatchers were good enough for John Thompson to find fault only with the offense after a 24-point victory. Coaches must scold something after each game, but Thompson could find nothing wrong with the way his players threw a well-coached team into panic.
Naw, the Georgetown players said. Television made no difference in their intensity.
"We play the same no matter who we play," said Eric Smith. "Or where we play. Or on what channel."
Perhaps. But Thompson knows the surest way to kick the lethargy out of his team, and the confidence out of the other coach's, is to order that press. Great defense usually means instant offense.
The Hoyas are quick enough and enthusiastic enough to make Thompson's variety of harassing defenses effective. They are special for what is waiting for the unlucky soul who actually penetrates them.
If a clever fellow happens to elude the flapping arms of Sleepy Floyd and Brown on a double-team near midcourt and drives toward the basket, all he has to do to get the ball in the basket is get it over Ewing. Bjorn Borg might not be able to get a topspin lob over Ewing.
"We can overplay because of him." said Smith. "We know he's always waiting."
Waiting to correct whatever mistakes aggressive play sometimes causes. Oh, drat, a smiling Smith might whisper toward an opponent who has just slipped by him, now all you have to do is get by Patrick.
Every time Vegas got close enough for Thompson to fret, he'd sic the Hoyas on 'em full court. And the game would get safe again.
"Floyd's not a bad defensive player," Thompson said.
His flip manner was partly to tease reporters who have not gushed about that part of Floyd's game. He wanted us to know how uncommon it is for a high-scoring guard to dive for loose balls. Floyd is the Hoyas' best offensive and defensive guard, the man responsible both for important points and taming the opposition's best small shooter.
Still, Floyd was more scorer than stealer against Vegas, making 10 of 17 floor shots and scoring 27 points. The Hoyas' major thief, with eight steals, was Brown.
Like his teammates, Brown yesterday seemed more comfortable. With each game, the young Hoyas become bolder, as though they no longer are afraid to fail now and then.
Brown is the inventive sophomore playmaker whose flash has been all but been eliminated by Thompson. Some of us were fearful the coach might have gone a bit too far, that Brown seemed to have become too mechanical at times.
There were no such problems yesterday. Clearly happy, made teammates happy five times with splendid passes. One of them could only have been delivered by a young man some higher power wanted to play point guard.
From about halfcourt, 40 feet or so from the basket, Brown all of a sudden interrupted his dribble and sent a two-handed pass soaring downcourt. He had seen Ewing fake his man out of position and lunge toward the basket. The ball and 7-foot Ewing met about ceiling level, and Ewing stuffed it home in grand fashion.
So grand, in fact, that somebody wondered if eventually plays such as that won't inspire the Hoyas to consider Elvin Hayes and refer to their own man as "The Bigger E."
Ewing, Floyd, Anthony Jones, Mike Hancock and some others are using a bit of pitch and catch with Ewing very effectively. It starts with Jones passing inside to Ewing, and his man hustling inside after it. Quickly, Ewing passes the ball back, before Jones' man can recover, and Jones has an unguarded jumper.
Ewing got three fouls before halftime yesterday and Thompson pulled him. Later, he praised the Vegas man, Johnson, for being able to draw them. He eluded to Johnson's aggressiveness, Ewing's, even his own a few years and few dozen pounds ago, when he said:
"Can't play that position being a saint."