The other fine Carribean native in the NCAA Eastern T Regional final had been astonished to learn that something so apparently trivial as basketball could finance what he valued so highly: a college education.

"I had to go to the dictionary to see what scholarship meant," Yvon Joseph said. "I closed my eyes and signed (to attend Miami-Dade Junior College four years ago)."

He is older, but less experienced at center, than Patrick Ewing, who left Jamaica years earlier than Joseph left Haiti, and also without any hint that basketball could be so grand.

At 27, Joseph is an eager giant all but lost in the overwhelming shadow cast by Ewing. While the Georgetown post player was attending all the proper basketball summer finishing schools, Joseph was unaware the sport existed.

Honestly, Joseph would not have been recruited by Coach Bobby Cremins out of Miami- Dade had Georgia Tech not been so desperate for large bodies two years ago.

"I wanted someone who could take up space," Cremins admitted today, "and who I could work with. Anyone who wanted an engineering degree the way he did ought to be a winner, and certainly wouldn't be lazy. And I did see some athletic ability."

If Ewing often seems to play taller than 7 feet, Joseph frequently plays smaller than his 6-11. He has blocked as many shots this entire season (five) as Ewing has blocked in several games.

Hands are a center's most vital tool, and Joseph's at the moment are about where Ewing's were after his sophomore season at Georgetown.

A fellow can be 13 feet tall, but helpless as a midget if he cannot do more than fumble an entry pass. Great ripples of agony flow through Tech when it seems that in his athletic will Roberto Duran left his hands of stone to Joseph.

His four teammates often have made all the proper cuts and picks to position Joseph at exactly the right spot for an open shot. The ball arrives at the optimum moment -- and Joseph bobbles it off his leg and out of bounds.

Still, the improvement has been impressive. And Joseph insists: "I'm a quick learner."

What Joseph does have, a remarkably soft touch on a jump shot to about 15 feet, will be vital if Georgia Tech is to upset Georgetown Saturday.

Very likely, the Hoyas will allow Joseph to roam rather free about the perimeter, until he convinces them with a few baskets that Ewing ought to keep more intimate company.

Points from Joseph, from whatever range, will be an immense lift for the Yellow Jackets, they having reached this lofty level with just one legitimate outside threat: Mark Price.

Cremins has been preaching for weeks for such as Bruce Dalrymple and John Salley not to overstep their considerable abilities.

As a novelist might be lousy writing pop music, as some actors are better off avoiding politics, Salley and Dalrymple are advised not to intrude on Ewing's turf.

That's how Cremins views it. Both his versatile stars love to challenge taller (in Dalrymple's case) or bulkier (for the 7-foot Salley) players inside. With Ewing, Cremins cautions, back off and pop a short jumper.

Off the court, Joseph and Ewing are dedicated toward different pursuits. Joseph is the math whiz, Ewing more inclined toward art. Both cherish the degrees they will earn.

Joseph spoke no English before arriving at Miami-Dade, but last year was able during a road trip to wish Tech fans listening on radio a Merry Christmas in English, French, Creole and Spanish.

"I'm a fast learner," he said of his various interests.

He and Cremins have an odd, though evidently effective, relationship. The coach sometimes will tear into Joseph with more than words. Sprints up and down stairs have been frequent punishment; Cremins has smacked Joseph a time or two.

This has impressed the younger Georgia Tech players, that a coach more than a foot shorter and 100 pounds lighter -- and just 10 years older -- could challenge Joseph so and get away with it. "He's also got a little bit of con in him," Cremins said of Joseph's ability to invent injuries occasionally. The coach adds: "I hope he doesn't get too excited Saturday."

For Joseph, this new game still is one. With nearly everyone about him going slightly bonkers during the semifinal test with Illinois, Joseph, at one interruption of play, could be seen bouncing the ball off his head a few times.

Soccer and volleyball were the sports of his childhood.

"He doesn't have to worry about his hands in volleyball," Cremins cracks. "All he has to do there is smack the ball."

New, and neat, as being the center of attention is, Joseph is pleasant and expansive in interviews; Ewing still swats away questions that either invade his notion of privacy or require too much of his time at the moment.

"I'm more concerned with the team than with my progress (over four years)," Ewing said during Georgetown's press conference today. He did volunteer that Olympic burnout had not singed him, adding:

"I did rest a bit (after the Games), but only for about two weeks because I love the game so much. I couldn't stay away any longer."

Because he, in fact, did exactly that in the Hoyas' victory over Loyola of Chicago in the other semifinal Thursday, Ewing was asked if he enjoys assuming control when games become most tense.

"It's a hard question for me to answer," he began.

Nearby, Coach John Thompson smiled and interrupted: "It's not hard for me to answer."