In Washington, basketball is not a game that is played before 16,000 screaming fans and ends when a buzzer goes off.

Basketball is played to 32 points on scarred asphalt between teams of three or four people who may or may not know each other, in front of three or four others who keep busy arguing over "who got next?"

On the asphalt playgrounds of Washington, in the Boys Club, in the restaurants and at the shoe shine parlor, in schools, variety stores and at bus stops, the word that is quietly building into a feverish buzz is an obscure Greek word, "Hoya."

It wasn't too long ago that Georgetown University was a place as foreign to the playgrounds of Washington as "Hoya" was to the language of the streets.

Both have now been adopted.

Curtis Roach, 19, of Northwest has been a fan of Georgetown's basketball Hoyas for more than a year. "Why?" he said, sweat beading on his brow after a close game at Stead Playground, "because they got my man--the 6-foot-6 small forward from Dunbar High School, Anthony Jones."

"I go to UDC," said Darnell Sharperson of New Jersey Avenue NW, who arrived at the playground on a motorcycle, "but I'm a bigger Hoya fan than a UDC fan because they got my boy, my longtime family friend, Gene Smith."

In Washington there are basketball fans and there are "purists" to whom basketball is a life force, said Carl Mintz, 33, a playground player who lives in Adams-Morgan. Mintz sees the purists warming to Georgetown as the Hoyas head off this weekend to seek the NCAA championship in New Orleans. "They realize what this team is, defensively, in terms of discipline. Georgetown is really something."

Oddly, interest in the Hoyas' success seems more intense outside of Georgetown proper than in the university's own backyard.

"I'll tell you why no one around here gives a damn," said Frederick Gauger, rising on crutches from the stoop in front of The Door nightclub on M Street. "Because one-tenth of the people are Georgetown people and the rest of them don't even live around here."

In the bars and elegant fern-bedecked restaurants around M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, there are no Hoya posters on the walls, or bumper stickers on the cars. At Clyde's, the quintessential Georgetown saloon, lilting, feminine laughter is borne on a breeze by the wooden overhead fans.

"We get a few alumni in here on game nights," said the bartender, Nancy Johnson, "and a lot of kids who work here go to Georgetown." But there has yet to be a riotous Hoya celebration in the bar at Clyde's, she reported.

Mike Lumovich, the "manager du jour" at Clyde's, as he puts it, said a more critical connection between the university and the saloon is, "They supply us with waiters who can speak English."

And in truth a brief tour of Georgetown watering spots in search of Hoya Fever produced only a Hoya Headache. "Those people can probably tell you more about the Dow Jones average than about basketball," said Mintz, the purist.

Across town, the fever is rising.

At No. 2 Boys Club, a crumbling, half-boarded-up brick ruin off North Capitol Street, they still play the game to 32 points, straight up, the way they did 30 years ago when John Thompson played there.

Willie Wood, the football player, played at No. 2. So did John Austin, Dave Bing, Elgin Baylor, John (Ba Ba) Duren, George Leftwich and other Washington legends.

They still build dreams at No. 2, which is how Jeffrey Edelen, an eighth-grader at Terrell Junior High, comes to break away from a pickup game to confide, "I'll be up there (at Georgetown) in four more years, taking Sleepy Floyd's place."

According to Bill Butler, the director of No. 2 Boys Club, thoughts like that didn't cross the minds of kids from the club until a decade ago, when the same John Thompson became Georgetown coach. "Before that," said Butler, "we identified with Georgetown as the place we were never going to get to."

Even Thompson felt that way. "Georgetown didn't represent a lot to me when I was young," he said this week. "It was a place I wasn't invited to."

Butler says there is no resentment over those lost years. He thinks a major reason why the city is taking Georgetown to its heart is Thompson. "They identify with the man," said Butler. "He's lived all over the city. He has charisma. He walks with the least and the best of people. He still comes by here to say hello. He brings along guys from the team. The kids know who he is.

"He doesn't go in (to Georgetown) and then this place don't see him no more.

"I know a kid right now who says, 'I want to go to Georgetown.' I had kids too numerous to name that say it. They didn't say that before John went there. They didn't even know where Georgetown was."

On the streets of Washington, there is the sense that the Hoyas are the city's team, even though the university has never been the city's school. Basketball is Washington's game and the Hoyas have players who honed their skills here. And they are playing for a man who honed his game here.

At Butch's Place, a variety store at 13th and U Streets NW, owner John C. Snipes said his ties with John Thompson go way back. "I knew of him from childhood on up." And Snipes feels he may have touched the Hoya star as it ascended.

Georgetown freshman standout Bill Martin stopped in Butch's Place a few years ago, on his way to a movie, and Snipes took him aside. "I said, 'Slim, you play ball?' He said he was thinking about going to Maryland or Georgetown. I told him to go with John, because he'd get more development as a person.

"I don't know if he paid any attention to it, but he ended up going to Georgetown."

Georgetown won Snipes' respect, he said, the day "they gave John a chance. We've got to respect that. Today the alumni love him, the students love him, and if you check the streets, we love him.

"We don't embrace Georgetown totally," Snipes added, "but we're behind them because of the shot they gave John and what he proved he could do if they gave him a fair chance. We'll be pulling for John Thompson and the boys because we know 'em."

At the Florida Avenue Grill, where breakfast is a sensual experience of warm, fresh biscuits and the sweet smell of sausage, scrapple and buttered grits, Joe Wilson said, "This is a Hoya place."

At Theodore Roosevelt High School, Ricardo Prillaman, Renee Juhans and Eric Hill all placed themselves in Georgetown's corner because of Thompson. They said they couldn't root for anyone else.

Which may just be the way it is when you see one of your people out under the television lights, someone who has stomped the same asphalt playgrounds, playing to 32, straight up.

Who could root for anyone else?