Moments before a Georgetown practice at cranky and musty McDonough Arena yesterday, a cruel parody of the Hoyas' season was carried out. All at once came this burst of symbolism:
Fred Brown, a junior guard, sat on the hardwood, with a heating pad wrapped around both pained knees. He wore a disturbed look.
Anthony Jones, a sophomore forward, practiced jumpers from the base line, trying to keep his once dislocated left elbow cocked just right. Most of his shots bounced off the rim. He, too, wore a disturbed look.
And Bill Martin, a sophomore forward, sat on a courtside bench, trying to figure why his season took a strange and awkward turn 10 games ago, toward unproductivity. He, too, wore a disturbed look.
Today, the Hoyas are to leave for Louisville, where they will play Friday in the NCAA Midwest Regional against either Alcorn State or Xavier.
While most of the attention this year has zoomed in on Patrick Ewing's magnificence or the brilliance--blink!--then the inconsistency, of the freshmen, the real cause for attention rests with Brown, Jones and Martin.
After all, beyond Ewing, these three are the most eminent members left from the Hoyas' dynamo last year. These three were expected to recreate the magic, to provide the blood, the sweat, the cheers.
Really, they haven't. They, too, have been bugged by injury and inconsistency. Too much was expected. It hasn't been easy being a member of the team that follows the team.
"In every season," said Brown, locating the perspective of these three veteran Hoyas, "you have peaks and valleys. I kind of hate to say it but this team is inexperienced. And they have had to play some games without us. They have won 21 games. I think they have done well."
Brown has missed half of this 21-9 season--including the last five weeks--because of a strained patella tendon in his right knee. He has averaged 4.6 points per game. He limped the half-season he did play. Coach John Thompson says he hopes to use Brown as a substitute in the NCAA tournament.
"I definitely think I'm ready to play," said Brown. "The biggest problem? I'm not in shape."
Jones dislocated his left elbow in late December, missed seven games, then returned to battle problems at the free-throw line, where he shot 32 percent. He is a hard worker with a delicate ego who has worked hard toward improvement in recent weeks.
"It's been somewhat of an awkward feeling," said Jones, who averages 7.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. "You want to score points, you want to get your numbers, but sometimes you just don't.
"I didn't expect to get hurt. I don't think I've played terrible or had a pitiful season or anything. I mean I've had some highlights and I'm going to have some more."
Martin has had no problems with injury. But he has had problems.
His numbers represent the height of respectability: 10.8 points, 6.4 rebounds per game. But there are some other numbers that show that Martin, really, has traveled across two seasons:
In the first 20 games, he shot 54 percent from the field, averaged 13.1 points, 6.7 rebounds per game. A power forward was duly born.
In these last 10 games, though, Martin's numbers have shrunk to 37 percent shooting, 6.2 points, 5.8 rebounds. Most painfully, his playing time has been decreased recently.
"It's sort of a chain reaction," said Martin, who is both quiet and classy. "My scoring average goes down, my rebounding average goes down; consequently, when I don't do those things, my minutes will go down."
Thompson has treated Martin's inconsistencies with the touch of both a kind father and an angry uncle. "Sometimes, I've tried to cuddle him. Sometimes, I try to get him angry at me. When Billy is angry at me, he plays harder," Thompson said.
"The problem has been that Billy gets tight. A lot of times when you're tight, the tendency is to become tighter. I think Billy has been putting more pressure on himself. Now, he has to pull himself out of it."
There are times late at night, Martin said, when he thinks about basketball. "Just imagining," he said. "I see myself snatching the rebounds, scoring, running."
He paused, shook his head and out came, "Then I look at the game films and it just doesn't come across the same.
"When I'm playing my best, playing like I think I can play, I'd say the player I'm most like is Buck Williams. I see Buck Willimas as the type of player who combines talent with technique, a good rebounder. I think I can be that type of player if I work at it."
Once again, Martin was imagining. Here, he laughed at the very thought of playing like Williams, as if he had exposed his innermost truth.
Perhaps, the most wonderful and precocious trait that runs throughout the bloodstreams of Brown, Martin and Jones is that of optimism. Looking to the end of the tunnel, these three not only see the light now, they see Albuquerque, site of the NCAA tournament championship game.
"This team can go all the way," said Brown. "I definitely believe it."