For the first six minutes, Steve Stipanovich can't get a shot against Patrick Ewing.
So here he comes, running the right wing of a three-on-two fast break, and Stipanovich is thinking layup. Or maybe Missouri's big guy will take a pass and stuff it. He is 6 foot 11, 250 pounds.
Only, Stipanovich notices something.
"You're constantly aware of where Ewing is," Stipanovich said later.
Where Ewing is, right now, is in a half-crouch at the hoop, his eyes a predator's sweeping the plains. Here is an eagle, waiting for an enemy to reveal itself by moving.
Stipanovich now is moving, with the ball.
Now he is in a whole bucketful of trouble. If you move with the ball toward Patrick Ewing, you soon will be his lunch.
Someone later asked Stipanovich to describe what happened next.
"You saw it," he said, declining to add to his embarrassment by saying he tried a reverse layup, throwing the ball back left-handed, rather than challenge Ewing.
Stipanovich missed the shot.
"What can I say?" he said later.
The idea today is a few words on Ewing versus Stipanovich: the Georgetown freshman 7-footer against the Missouri junior, three years the center for Big Eight champions, averaging 11 points and eight rebounds on the nation's No. 4-ranked team. Let's see how the kid did against an old man once considered the high school equal of Ralph Sampson and Sam Bowie.
Thumbnail scouting report on Stipanovich today: Nice base line jumper, good touch inside. More aggressive now, they say, because he's a health food nut instead of a junk food junkie. Blocks out well. "He'll be up because this is his chance, on national TV against Ewing, to show how good he is," said a Missouri newspaperman.
As we know now, Stipanovich is not Sampson or Bowie. Too slow and too close to the floor when he jumps. Gets up 26 inches, which is all you expect from a guy whose feet splay out.
Patrick Ewing is providentially knock-kneed and pigeon-toed, with all his strength under his center of gravity, where it belongs. While Stipanovich arranges his toes for a little hop, Ewing is rising about 86 feet.
Did Ewing's pregame mood match Stipanovich's--was this a chance to prove something?
"I don't ever think about it, I just go on and play my game," Ewing said.
Ewing-Stipanovich was no contest.
Patrick Ewing is to Steve Stipanovich as a Rolls-Royce is to a Chevy. The one promises fantasies yet undreamed, the other is okay for a trip to the grocery store. Ewing outscored Missouri's big guy, 13-4, and outrebounded him, 13-5. Stipanovich played half the game before fouling out.
"He's a fine player," Ewing said of Stipanovich. "I wished he wasn't in foul trouble, so I'd be able to play him more."
"He's a dominant force inside," Stipanovich said of Ewing. "Strong." He considered how Ewing bumped him to and fro. "Strong--and tough."
"Patrick is Patrick," said his coach, John Thompson.
It is increasingly clear that Patrick Ewing is, as his coach suggests, one of a very special kind.
He establishes a territorial imperative on a basketball court the way few players ever have. Bill Russell used to sidle up to Elvin Hayes and say, "Three tonight." Elvin said, "That meant he was going to block three shots. He'd block one and say, 'One.' Then you'd worry when The Ghost was going to block the others. I called him 'Ghost' because he'd come from nowhere and getcha."
Ewing causes such concern. Statistics gave him three blocked shots Saturday. It didn't include the Stipanovich panic/reverse layup. Thompson's coaching computer did. "You go to the basket, you see me, you get scared and pass," Thompson said. "That's a 'blocked' shot."
What makes Saturday's work remarkable is that Ewing owned the game without playing extraordinarily. On his average day, he ruined the veteran center of the nation's No. 4 team. The second half, Ewing was 0-for-8 from the field. Let's spend a minute on that, for it is instructive of Ewing's continuing development.
First time with the ball in the second half, Ewing dribbled to the left corner. Going up, he fired a nonsensical brick of a jumper as he floated over the end line.
"Almost in my office," John Thompson said with a forgiving chuckle, meaning his cubbyhole 100 feet up on the corner catwalk.
Another time, the roaring lion in Thompson might have bitten off Ewing's head. But the gifted teacher knows his special pupil needs room to learn by mistakes. What better time to learn than in a nonconference game against a team that, it quickly was clear, had no prayer to beat Georgetown?
Ewing took more bad shots Saturday than a gang of near-sighted duck hunters. Not once did Thompson reprimand him. That's because Ewing, precocious as he is, still is growing up before our eyes.
There'll come a time, like next week, when Thompson will send him a cease-and-desist order. He'll say: No more fallaway jumpers, Patrick. Get the ball in low. Then take it to the hole. Anybody gets in your way, go over 'em. A 7-footer doesn't have to say please, Patrick. Ain't no position for saints.
For this Saturday, Thompson let Ewing have his playful fun. It was a full house at McDonough Arena, with future ambassadors having painted H-O-Y-A-S on their chests. It was national TV, No. 13 Georgetown against No. 4 Missouri. And at game's end, Patrick Ewing, no stoic giant, went around the court trading high-fives with his teammates. He smiled a whole lot.
On the Missouri bench, Steve Stipanovich's chin rested in his left palm. He moved his eyes to sneak a peek at Ewing in celebration.