For most of the game today, Navy's center found himself with a Maryland player to his immediate left, a Maryland player to his immediate right and a Maryland player hand-checking from behind. It was the first time Goliath ever got frightened by David.

David Robinson is the biggest surprise in college basketball. In less than two years, he has grown up, to 6 feet 11, and into a player of unlimited promise.

"Whoooooh," the Terrapins' Keith Gatlin cooed. "If we had him, we'd be a helluva team to beat. Be hard to beat. Be hard to beat. I wish our coaches had known he'd grow five more inches (after high school)."

Gatlin, Lefty Driesell and nearly every other coach beyond the city limits of Chapel Hill, N.C., has that very vision: be hard to beat with David Robinson at center.

On television or in person, they saw how Robinson rocked Maryland early in the first half and early in the second half today and thank their lucky stars that submarines only accommodate shorties.

It's a fact. Ships are not large enough for a basketball "aircraft carrier." Because of that, and some other factors, Robinson might leave the Academy to minor in spin moves for a school either in the top 20 now or a couple of years after he arrives.

He is that gifted.

This weekend proved it.

Before the NCAA tournament, Robinson's impressive season had been slightly suspect. He had scored all those points, blocked all those shots and grabbed all those rebounds against players whose goal is an MBA instead of the NBA.

Could he hold his own against real players?

Most certainly.

Against Louisiana State Friday, he had 18 points, 18 rebounds and blocked three shots; against Maryland today, he was 11 for 18 from the field, with eight rebounds and two swats.

"Guess I have a little chip on my shoulder for Maryland," he said, an honest thought that might cause Driesell a wink or two of sleep, he needing a large center the way jazz bands need a sax.

"I wanted to show 'em I could play," Robinson continued. "I wanted their respect."

That started to build less than 90 seconds into the game, when he clutched the ball after Vernon Butler's missed layup as though it were a grapefruit and slam-jammed it home.

Next time for Navy, Robinson turned on Terrapins center Derrick Lewis and scored from eight feet; the time after that, he posted Lewis from six feet.

There were some even more imposing plays at the other end of the court. In one three-possession stretch, Robinson blocked Lewis, blocked Adrian Branch and tipped Len Bias' miss to a teammate.

Doing lots right for at least the 505th time in his college coaching life, Driesell tried several combinations on Robinson.

The last one, Bias and his considerable bulk forcing Robinson a few feet beyond his comfort zone on offense, seemed most effective.

As a timeout was ending midway through the second half, Bias and Robinson exchanged what seemed pleasant pats and hand slaps near midcourt.

It was a charade.

"He said I was throwing a lotta elbows," Robinson recalled. "I told him to stay off me -- and he said okay."

Truth is, the best defense on Robinson was -- Robinson. Inexplicably, his tank of high-octane energy dipped to near-empty in the final minutes of each half.

"I started getting tired (again) with 10 to 12 minutes left in the game," he admitted. "I stopped scoring on offense. Defensively, I got frustrated a few times on alley-oops.

"I had no incentive to move. I couldn't breathe like I wanted, maybe partly because I have a slight cold. I'd post up low, and when the ball moved to the other side of the court, sometimes I'd flash for it and sometimes I wouldn't.

"I was not as aggressive as I should have been without the ball."

His instant memory of this fine weekend, of himself and his team, was not pleasant: "It'll be looking up at that scoreboard today and seeing them with more points."

The enduring, and endearing, impression for others will be of Navy's spunk and Robinson's exceptional surge from anonymity.

"Next year," he said, "we'll have a lot of confidence."


"I don't like thinking about leaving," he said.

But he will.

"In a couple of weeks," he said.

Understandably, Navy is praying he will discover either that his ties with the Academy are too strong to break or that what seems a deep love for basketball is merely infatuation.

Navy has based some of its future on Robinson staying. Tournaments hosted by Syracuse and Georgia Tech have been booked for next season.

Whispered is the possibility that Robinson could finish his college experience at the Academy and still begin a pro career almost immediately.

At 6-11, Robinson would have to sign a waiver for restricted duty during the five years he owes the Navy for his education. No one with a growth spurt such as his ever failed to agree to the waiver.

No one had such a unique option.

The last year or so has indicated that Navy's coach, Paul Evans, also belongs at the elite level of college basketball. Rumor scenarios have him and Robinson as a large package to a school in need of a certifiably bright mind and likely brilliant center.

"Basketball has become a bigger part of my life," Robinson said. "When I came, I was thinking Navy and an education. It's kind of a split life now: basketball and the Academy. It's pretty even now."

For Navy, the basketball season may be over, but the games go on.