The time before Saturday's tipoff between the University of Ralph and Mount St. Patrick is for fantasy. No sense dwelling on reality just yet, that the game's parameters all but preclude either giant getting the ball nearly enough to satisfy our pregame craving, that in fact the pivotal person very likely will be a relative runt, Othell Wilson. That can wait.

Dream on. You're part of the hype that all but dwarfs 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson and 7-foot Patrick Ewing, anyway, so imagine what might happen if their institutions of higher yearning forgot that basketball is a team game every fourth or fifth trip down court.

What if coaches Terry Holland of Virginia and John Thompson of Georgetown sent the eight supporting characters into the stands for pizza every now and then and let Sampson and Ewing go at each other, one on one? How would it go? Who would do what?

"It's (Bill) Russell and (Wilt) Chamberlain all over again," said Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry. "Sampson is more complete, excellent at every phase. The one skill he has that might be the most outstanding I've ever seen is the ability to play above the rim rebounding. No one has been that consistently above the rim.

"Ewing is a mostly defensive, physical player who is learning the finer points of the game. Two years at that age (Sampson is a senior, Ewing a sophomore) is a very big difference. He's limited just about to a turnaround jumper, but Ewing will be an offensive force; right now, his makeup, his feeling, is more defense and rebounding."

Ferry savors Sampson.

"Beautiful. Graceful. Just a wonderful, wonderful athlete. Finely tuned. The most multitalented player his size I've ever scouted. And fun to watch. Very few 7-footers are, you know. The only person who can keep him from being one of the best of all time is himself."

Sampson is taller than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and more fluid.

"Jabbar's great ability is tied to his height," Ferry said. "The sky hook. Sampson is just as comfortable facing the basket, maybe more, than with his back to it."

Shortly, we'll get to the mind-soaring possibility that creates: Sampson and Ewing together! But if Boston College's Gary Williams were advising them how to attack each other, he'd say to Sampson:

"You have the experience; try to use what you've learned. Try to be clever. Take him away from the hoop, work your moves on him. Pop out for the jumpers; put the ball on the floor now and then."

To Ewing: "Don't be clever. Keep him down low, close to the basket. Use your intensity, your obvious physical talents -- strength and quickness and your ability to get up in the air. You might only be a sophomore, but you're this team's leader."

Sampson and Ewing have been terrific at times against North Carolina, with James Worthy and Sam Perkins on the court. Ewing swatted everything in sight early in last season's NCAA championship game, just to let the Heels know he was no ordinary freshman.

Coach Dean Smith was so spooked by Sampson he ordered Carolina to hold the ball nearly half the second half of the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. Because much of college basketball (except for the NCAA tournament) dashed to experiment with a shot clock and three-point play after that game, we might call them Ralph's rules.

"Ewing and Sampson both could have contributed to pro teams out of high school," Ferry said. "Right away. But both are better off for staying in school. So is basketball."

Sampson's career has shown us athletic inflation at its most rampant, he having turned down astronomical offers after each of his freshman through junior years.

"If he doesn't come out after this year," joked Ferry, "if he goes to graduate school, I'll think something's wrong."

Each is what basketball calls a "franchise."

"Somebody you build around," Ferry said, "as opposed to fitting in. For instance, (James) Worthy, great as he is, must fit in with the Lakers. If, say, Houston would get Sampson (in the NBA draft), it would have to fit a team around him. That wouldn't take long, either."

Which would you choose to start a team?

"Just because I'm a good guy," said Williams, "I'll take the one that's left."

Much of this speculation about Ralph versus Patrick simply won't materialize. NCAA rules will be in force, which means no time clock and, more important, no three-point play to keep tiny Hoyas and Cavaliers from collapsing on defense. Virginia might tie a Tim Mullen to Ewing's sneakers; If Sampson drops his chin, it might hit the top of David Wingate's head.

Still, while we're in this reverie, might as well take it one Ralph-step farther. The Stanford coach, Tom Davis, is not being facetious when he says: "They would play very well together. Sort of the ultimate double post, right?"

Sampson would be the forward.

"Patrick's already the best in the country inside," Davis said. "Sampson has a tremendous outside dimension, agility and ball-handling ability. And court awareness away from the hoop. Both are very unselfish, inclined to pass rather than force a shot; both are extremely coachable."

Who else would dare join such a fearsome front court? Depends on who's dreaming.

Said Davis, who is 5-9: "Even I could play small forward on that team."