Few nicknames make less sense than Eric Floyd's: Sleepy. Better it should be Radar, in appreciation for his special defensive skills. Or Vanguard, for all those on-target missiles he started launching shortly after arriving on the Georgetown campus four years ago. But Sleepy? He might look the part; he hardly acts it.
"Baseball," said Floyd, tracing the Sleepy silliness to its origin. "Sixth grade. I was with a recreation team, playing second base when a ball got hit past me and somebody in the stands said: 'This guy's asleep; get him outa there.' From then on, it just stuck.
"At first, it took awhile to adjust to it. At a young age, I guess, you take it kinda negatively. But you learn to adjust; people identifying you with it. People who know me, are around me a lot, know I'm not that way, that I'm a really aggressive person on and off the court."
As Coach John Thompson says, Floyd hit the ground shooting. No outsider made a quicker impact on Washington college basketball than the freshman from Gastonia, N. C., the Hoyas kept under wraps all the way to the second game of the '78 season.
That was against Maryland, ancient history it now seems. The Terrapins were the area toughs back then, Georgetown just beginning a surge that would include three straight NCAA tournament appearances, one of which ended frustratingly short of the final four, and Thompson leaving Lefty Driesell in his recruiting wake.
It was a very big deal for the Hoyas to beat Buck and Albert, Ernest, Greg and Larry Gibson by three points in Capital Centre that night, and the grandest debut anyone could imagine for a baleful, bashful bomber we soon discovered was called Sleepy. He was in one of those streaks that have become so familiar: 11 for 18 from the field, 28 points in all.
That merely certified for freshman Floyd what he had sensed for weeks, that he belonged at the highest level of his sport. He figured Thompson was no fool, that he would not offer a scholarship to anyone who couldn't at least pass most basketball tests.
Most of the grades have been As.
Sleepy has been wide awake on the court ever since the slightly older Thomas Wilson taught him technique and included him in playground games as a preteen. That he already has a postgraduate game is not surprising to those who know Floyd's roots, who have seen him more than hold his own for years against James Worthy.
They live five minutes apart in Gastonia, Worthy and Floyd, all-Americas at North Carolina and Georgetown, an inside player and an outside player who made each other better in games that must have been a joy to behold.
More than casual but not quite close is how Floyd describes the relationship. They met each other as young rivals, Worthy from the local boy's club and Floyd from the urban rec center.
At the rec center, on the playgrounds in the summer and later in junior high and high school, Floyd could develop that machine-gun jumper alone; he became a complete offensive player, able to invent moves while flying only by trial and error against such as Worthy.
The smaller Floyd would rise toward the basket, only to have whatever he tried rejected by the taller Worthy. Flustered but also challenged, Floyd would charge again shortly, twisting his body in new ways that would keep the ball away from Worthy's paws and into the basket.
"When you play against players as good as he is," Floyd said, "you have to reach for something else. Something on another level. Especially on the playground level, where it's not structured, where there's a lot of one on one, a lot of creativity."
When Floyd's jumper fails him, as it did the other night against Villanova, he either passes more or tries to get closer shots, anything to create some success for himself or the team that will feed off itself. The 2,000th point of his career was typical, a midair dance that ended with a scoop shot five feet from the basket.
Floyd will lead the Hoyas against St. John's today at 2 at Capital Centre. His has been a rich career, though unusual in that it began with extraordinary success: 28 points against a fine team the second game of his first season; most valuable player in the NCAA East Regional as a sophomore, with 31 points in that thrilling loss to Iowa in the final. The lesson Floyd learned last season was that being very good is not good enough for some fans.
"I learned how to deal with a lot of ups and downs," he said of the Hoyas having lost their prime feeder, John Duren, and major rebounder, Craig Shelton. "I learned how to deal with people. For Georgetown, that (20-10 and loss to James Madison in the first round of the NCAAs) was a losing season. We felt we should have been better, so I learned how to deal with people in almost a losing atmosphere."
Floyd senses that this enigmatic 15-5 team, one that sometimes plays beautifully against fine teams and badly against ordinary ones, is creating some of those elusive bonds, the team chemistry that made those near-final four Hoyas exceptional.
"On defense, when we really get going," he said, "everybody's talking to one another, communicating extremely well. I'm talking to Eric Smith; he's talking to Pat (Ewing). It's just a feeling you get inside. Sometimes it gets to a point where nothing has to be said. You know what the next person's going to do."
As Thompson demands, Floyd has constructed an academic crutch for life after basketball. If something catastrophic kept him from running to the NBA, Floyd said he would walk into law school. He will graduate in May.
A loner by nature, Floyd has taken the chance to examine government in action first hand. Through basketball, he has seen two presidents (Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan) live and met one, Carter. He also is familiar with the less glittering Washington, the people broken from society's potholes.
"It's so easy to get caught up in the Georgetown scene, just up on the hill," he said. "It's possible to stay here four years, never venture out, never really get involved in things. I know a lot of people who are like that. All they know is Georgetown, Georgetown, shops, downtown. That's as far as they go. Which I think is really bad."