John Thompson is the first to admit that seeing giddy Georgetown players falling on the floor in happiness is a fairly novel notion.

Saturday's game against St. John's here in Rupp Arena will mark Georgetown's third trip to the NCAA Final Four in four years. But all season, its players have shown a youthful exuberance that clearly separates them from the Hoyas' other two Final Four teams, or from most any of Thompson's 13 Georgetown teams.

Earlier this week, Thompson recalled walking into the first day of practice on Oct. 15, looking at the assembled cast and thinking, "What in the world will happen here? What will the personality of this team be?"

Most of Thompson's players over the years have been quiet and unemotional outwardly. "I have had a lot of quiet kids," he said, "a lot of what I call, 'Old Heads.' Like last year's team, guys like Gene Smith and Fred Brown were like wine that aged before its time. Those guys didn't show a lot of what they felt.

"This group has a spirited way. They show emotion more. The other day against Georgia Tech was an example. They're falling on the floor (after a close victory), yelling and jumping around. Hell, I found myself even doing the same thing. It became infectious."

The mix of this team also is new. Georgetown, once thought of as being a team of inner-city kids from Washington, D.C., now has only one player from the District proper -- senior forward Bill Martin from McKinley Tech.

Otherwise, the Hoyas come from all over the country. Kevin Floyd, a reserve guard, is from Los Angeles. Another freshman, Grady Mateen -- a quiet, studious bibliophile who does fit Thompson's "Old Head" model -- comes from Akron, Ohio.

Patrick Ewing, the dominant player on this team and in the country, spent the first 11 years of his life in Jamaica and moved to Cambridge, Mass., where he learned to play the game. He is a fierce competitor on the court who started his college career as a painfully shy teen-ager. He still is somewhat shy off the court with strangers, but he has grown to the point on the court where he occasionally offers strategic moves to Thompson.

The freshman who has played the most this season, versatile Perry McDonald, is from New Orleans, and as a former junior Olympic boxing champion, he possesses the confidence any fighter would have.

Earlier this year in Hawaii, a couple of young toughs stood behind some bushes looking suspiciously at Thompson and a few players. While a couple of Hoyas looked for refuge, Thompson remembered young McDonald saying, "Don't worry, Coach, I've got your back."

In future years, McDonald probably will become one of the team's more forceful personalities.

Right now, one of the most visible characters is David Wingate, the junior from Baltimore, whose comedy stylings could be as smooth as his silky moves. "It's David who usually gets us into our pregame festivities," said Horace Broadnax, a junior reserve guard from Plant City, Fla. "He's definitely the team comedian."

But not the only comedian. At least half the Georgetown 12 seem to be cutups at some time or another. "You know what I think it is about this year's team?" Martin said. "I think this team may be more compatible as people. We like each other . . . It seems to be a looser atmosphere, just an easy mesh of personalities.

"Where do I fit in? I think my role is to mediate between the crazies and the not-so-crazies."

Ralph Dalton, one of three seniors, said, "I personally think it's better to have the guys who are a little relaxed and some who are tense. I think I can go either way. I think we have the right balance.

"Three years ago (when Georgetown first went to the Final Four), the team was tense, and maybe because they were still trying to reach levels, like the Final Four. I think the guys on this team, at least the ones who aren't freshmen, can visualize better."

Clearly, the Hoyas think they fit together, which is where that vague concept of "chemistry" comes into play.

Over the course of a year, a team fusses, fights, gets sick of each other, then makes up like brothers do. That's one reason Thompson said, "The personality of the team is very important."

Few teams have players with such diverse backgrounds. The Hoyas go from McDonald, the tough ex-boxer, to Ronnie Highsmith, the 24-year-old Army veteran who brings a more mature type of worldliness and discipline.

Dalton is another player with a military background from two years at Fishburne Academy in Waynesboro, Va. More discipline. "We love comparisons with the military," Thompson said. "We love our country."

Michael Jackson doesn't have any military experience. He came to Georgetown straight from South Lakes High School in suburban Reston, Va. He looks and dresses more like a fashion model than most players on Thompson's teams.

Jackson might not look tough -- Thompson says he was concerned about that when he recruited him -- but he certainly has proven his toughness this season. Jackson doesn't have the physical strength and presence of last year's defensive star and point man, Gene Smith. But he is smart and confident enough -- some would call it cocky -- to run a most intricate offense.

Broadnax, the Southerner who never even heard of the Big East before he came to Georgetown, has enough perspective on his own game to not mind Jackson getting the majority of the playing time and the accolades.

"I don't care if I never play because that would mean Michael's running a perfect game," Broadnax said of his role as the backup point guard, perhaps overstating the point just a bit.

Thompson doesn't feel he's overstating the point that this group's spirit sets it apart. "They're so young," he said. "I'm not talking about chronologically, I mean in spirit and the way they approach the game. It's hard not to get caught up in their enthusiasm."