The topic was balance and the Georgia coach, Hugh Durham, also agreed that most of the glamor collegians, the all-Americas, did not make the NCAA tournament's final four. Then he begged to differ with those who create supreme basketball beings.

"That Houston fella," Durham said. "He's an all-America, without any doubt. They just haven't put him on the team."

They will.

A Nigerian named Akeem Abdul Olajuwon is the fastest-rising star in the American game. Three years after he was persuaded to visit Houston and meet Coach Guy Lewis, Olajuwon is making that alleged no-mind a genius. Perhaps it's sporting justice at work.

In the late '60s, Lewis twice lost in the NCAA semifinals to a 7-footer who changed his name to Kareem.

In the early '80s, Lewis has a chance to win the national championship with the 7-foot import Akeem.

Rivals and other coaches are close to awe struck by this prodigy's development. He improves dramatically every year; he improves noticeably every week; he improves daily.

Four years ago, Olajuwon might have been the tallest soccer goalkeeper in the galaxy. By that time, his 7-5 older brother probably was no longer on the playgrounds. And his little brother back in Lagos is a mere 6-8, though still in his teens. Lewis volunteers the Little O is expected to visit Houston soon "but I'm not encouraging anything."

Olajuwon is a delightfully innocent 20-year-old who talks with a slight British accent. He reminds everyone that Lagos is quite westernized, not recently forged from African wilderness. "No huts," he said.

His English is more than passable because his teachers demanded that be so. For each time he slipped back into dialect in school, Olajuwon would be fined the American equivalent of a dime.

Had Lewis done that every time Olajuwon dribbled the basketball before shooting it, he could buy Utah.

You put it on the floor and some little-bitty guard swipes it, Lewis keeps preaching.

"He's starting to believe me," said the coach, shaking his head, "but still doing it."

Lewis added: "He's 100 percent improved over last year. And when he got here, all he could do was jump. And run. And catch. With those kinds of raw skills, a 7-footer's got a chance to be a good player. But he had no idea about how to post up, or how to power inside. Or screen his man off to catch a ball.

"He didn't even know you could bump a guy now and then."

As a freshman, Olajuwon played briefly during Houston's semifinal loss to eventual champion North Carolina; long enough to accumulate an embarrassing progression: three shots, two points, four fouls.

"Last year I tried to block every shot," he said. "This year I'm putting my hands up sometimes and not jumping."

Olajuwon still had 107 fouls in 32 games this season. But teammates Clyde Drexler and Larry Micheaux had 101 and 97, respectively. Surprisingly, Olajuwon has a better foul-shooting percentage than Micheaux, although both are terrible.

"I swear he's gotten a whole lot better just in the last four or five weeks," Lewis said.

Others agree.

"He's passing off to Micheaux better," Lewis explained. "Before, if he was triple-teamed, he'd try to whip all three. Now he's finding the open teammate. He's beginning to see (beyond his area of the court); but he's just learning to play basketball."

And loving it.

"I could never be this famous playing soccer in Nigeria," he admitted.

What if he were, say, 5-8 and still in Lagos?

"I probably would be working for my father, who is a cement dealer," he said. "I'm glad I'm 7 feet."

That's tall enough.

"Any more will make it difficult to get a wife," he has said. "All the women in Nigeria are very short, and the taller I get the more difficult it will be to find a wife."

Olajuwon and the other Cougars love to effect a bandit image. Two reserves walked onto the floor before a public practice late this afternoon wearing wraparound sunglasses. Olajuwon had a Walkman on.

When they tend to business, these Cougars play up-tempo basketball as sweet as anyone.

Except maybe Louisville.

That they collide here Saturday during the eastern dinner hour has hoop junkies atwitter. Nobody gets up and down the court more swiftly than these two teams; nobody plays more consistently in the clouds. Lewis and Denny Crum are good coaches simply by recognizing not a great deal of thought is necessary with their players.

Still, Olajuwon's development is a credit to Lewis. As Lefty Driesell might put it, Guy can coach.

"I've had lots of players from foreign countries try out for the team over the years," Lewis said, "and the last time I saw 'em they still were bad."

That is why Lewis was apprehensive about giving Olajuwon a chance.

And ever so grateful he did.

Lewis sat back in his chair. Houston made the final four twice with The Big E, Elvin Hayes; it is two for two with a bigger O.

"In four years," the suddenly cerebral coach said, "I think he might be able to accomplish more than Elvin did."