One day recently, John Thompson winced playfully when a reporter asked him to talk about how well Billy Martin has played for Georgetown through the first quarter of this season.
"Shhhhh," Thompson said with a wink. "I don't want to talk about it. I just want to watch."
If Thompson was trying to avoid jinxing Martin, he apparently need not worry. Going into Friday's game (8 o'clock EST) against Tennessee State in the Copa Navidad Classic, Martin leads top-ranked Georgetown in scoring and is a primary reason that the Hoyas are 9-0 and seemingly invincible.
Atop Georgetown's statistical sheet is Martin's name. He is averaging 15 points and 7.2 rebounds. His 63 percent shooting is very impressive, considering so many of his shots come from 10 feet or farther.
"Billy's been doing everything great," Patrick Ewing (who expects to play despite a sprained nonshooting hand) said of Martin. "I feel he'll keep it up. He's hitting inside shots, outside shots, and rebounding. He's playing the position all around."
The position in question is power forward. When Michael Graham's academic deficiencies took him off the team, those looking for a weakness in the Georgetown lineup pointed to power forward.
After all, it was Graham who had played so well at the end of last season, especially in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. With Graham gone and freshman Ronnie Highsmith needing more time to develop, Martin would have to come back into the lineup and play power forward. He had averaged eight points and five rebounds per game through his first three years. But the Hoyas would need better production from him this season.
He has responded superbly, reaching the level of excellence and consistency many predicted for him three years ago when he came out of McKinley Tech as an all-America and was given the stellar rating of five-plus by basketball camp expert Howard Garfinkel.
"It feels really good," Martin said. "I'm definitely scoring better. And that's important with people so conscious of stopping Pat. Before, I wouldn't take the 15- to 18-foot shots. Now, I'm sticking it consistently."
Consistency has come with comfort, and becoming comfortable has taken Martin nearly three years. "Coach Thompson told me when I first came to Georgetown that I'd have to learn to play facing the basket," Martin said.
"In high school, I was very much projected as a good prospect at power forward in college. So I had been working on being around the basket and working on post moves. When Coach Thompson put me in the drills with the guards and small forwards, I felt clumsy and awkward."
Some observers who expected Martin to reach stardom wondered what had happened. Last year, he started only six games, down from 32 the year before.
"I thought at first it was a demotion," he said. "But it wasn't really. I remember there being so much buildup about Anthony (Jones), Patrick and me coming in at the same time. I was supposed to be the perfect complement to Patrick at power forward.
"And it bothered me because I had it set up in my own mind that I should be starting. Finally, I got the bigger picture. I wasn't the best power forward on the team; there were guys who could do that better. I could see what was going on."
Gradually, Martin started to feel better handling the ball, shooting consistently from the perimeter, playing defense inside or outside. "I wasn't that effective at first," he recalled. "I started to feel good about it at the end of last year, and I really feel good about it now."
Martin has good reason to feel that way. His jump shot from 10 to 18 feet, which he often takes on the turnaround, is exceptionally accurate. "Now, I can just feel I'm open," he said.
With teams still opting to sag two and three men around Ewing, that jumper becomes vital. "Players can't afford to collapse back on me as much," Ewing said.
Against De Paul, Martin was in foul trouble but still made four of six shots. Against Nevada-Las Vegas, he made seven of 11, with 11 rebounds. Against American, he shot seven of eight. And against Morgan State, he went 10 of 12 from the field (with nine rebounds) for a season-high 22 points in only 24 minutes of playing time.
In Georgetown's toughest game to date -- Saturday at New Mexico -- the Lobos twice had pulled within three points when Martin's turnaround jumpers increased the Hoyas' lead back to five.
Having learned the scheme of perimeter movement, including elements such as feeding the ball into the post, Martin -- as Thompson requires of so many of his players -- developed a better degree of flexibility.
He can play power forward or small forward, offensively or defensively. "In practice now, Coach Thompson is putting me back into the low post," Martin said, "and I haven't done that in about two years. It's making me better. I may be the most experienced starter at inside and outside position."
One opponent openly happy for Martin is Jones, his close friend who transferred to UNLV after his sophomore year.
"He's looking great," Jones said. "I'm glad to see he didn't get down on himself when he was going through that transition period. That stage can be tough under Coach Thompson. But Billy came through. I'll tell you what: He's going to be very important to their team, especially in the tough games when they try to gang up inside. As a matter of fact, he's been very important already."