Georgetown could get a commitment soon from a prize 6-foot-11 prospect, one who has played against the best competition in the nation for three years. He is rugged, intelligent and knows how to get along with Coach John Thompson.

If the player makes up his mind to play at Georgetown next year, the Hoyas again could be one of the top teams in the nation.

The problem is, Georgetown has stiff competition. Ralph Dalton, who already has played three years for the Hoyas, is that "prospect." Because he missed his freshman year with a severe knee injury, Dalton has another year of eligibility.

But the business world, even Fortune 500 companies, already have drafted him. Dalton, 24, with bills to pay and a life to get on with, is faced with deciding between graduate school and a fifth season at Georgetown or a spot in the workaday world.

Dalton, who said recently he still hasn't made his decision, certainly gets enough advice, most of it unsolicited.

"So many people come up to me and say, 'If it was me, there's no question I'd go back and play and get all the recognition,' " he said. "But it's so much more complicated and involved than that."

Since his mother died a couple of years ago, Dalton has been on his own. His younger sister Evelyn, who works for the State Department, has been helping support him.

"To struggle for so many years, you have to evaluate, 'What responsibility should I answer?' " Dalton said. "It's not something that I'm trying to drag out. I have to iron out some of the wrinkles, but it's not something I can afford to decide blindly.

"To simplify a little, as a student I can't even afford to get sick. What happens if I get sick or injured outside of basketball? I've had to go without insurance, without so many things for a number of years. I have bills that need to be taken care of that I've incurred over the years. I'm on my own financially."

Leaving Georgetown would solve that immediately, and Dalton knows it. He has had numerous job offers and, after working for the Senate Budget Committee last summer as an intern, Dalton is in the Xerox training program.

"I guess you create your own solutions," he said. "I don't know right now. I have job offers, options in several different fields. Do I deprive myself of something I've been working for four years? Because of basketball commitments, I went through 12 months of interviews in two months.

"I have to wonder if it's fair to my sister, who's helped support me. I guess there are advantages and disadvantages.

"The exposure in basketball would be nice, but certainly something I could live without. An advanced degree is now almost mandatory in the business world. Then there's the thrill I get from playing at Georgetown, the camaraderie of it all."

There is another potential disadvantage that Dalton doesn't dwell on.

In November 1981, in a preseason intrasquad game, he incurred torn ligaments and nerve damage in his right knee. The injury was so serious that Thompson later recalled, "I heard (the doctors) wondering whether he would be able to walk, correctly or without aid. It scared the hell out of me.

"I was beginning to think he wouldn't be able to function in the normal world. Forget about basketball. I'm talking about walking and working. I had no idea he would be able to come back and play basketball."

Dalton has not suffered any subsequent injuries. If he returns, he wouldn't be Patrick Ewing's backup any more. He probably would start.

Dalton said the possibility of reinjuring the knee wouldn't affect his decision whether to play. "I've kinda put that out of my mind," he said. "I don't think of myself as being injured."

Before Dalton was injured, Thompson bet one of his sons that Dalton would be a first-round draft choice at the end of his collegiate career. That, of course, probably won't be the case now.

But it doesn't mean Dalton wouldn't be valuable to Georgetown. His statistics over three years are unimpressive. But in three postseason games last March when Ewing often was in foul trouble, Dalton averaged 6.3 points and nearly seven rebounds.

His return would allow a more gradual development for 6-10 sophomore-to-be Grady Mateen.

Dalton is realistic about his slim chances of playing professional basketball. "I would never close off an option," he said. "But I can't say it's a priority. I know my future is in the business world."

From the day Dalton came into contact with Georgetown basketball, he has had major decisions and sacrifices to make. Thompson wanted Dalton to go to Fishburne Military Academy after attending Suitland High School. Dalton did, though it was a startling change from growing up in suburban Maryland.

Thompson wanted Dalton to stay an extra year at Fishburne. "That was one of the first big decisions," Dalton said. "It was so demanding; up at 6:20 a.m. and everything was programmed for you until bed at 10:15."

After the injury, Dalton had to decide whether he would go through the long, painful rehabilitation without a guarantee that he would be able to play again.

Now, he has one final decision concerning Georgetown. He listens to a few people, like Thompson, his sister and his girlfriend, Alyson Westbrooks, who graduated from Georgetown last month.

"It's not the decision itself I have a problem making," he said, "or standing by. I'm not bitter about how anything's turned out. It actually feels strange now if I'm not facing some big decision about school or basketball or life.

"I think having to be responsible at a fairly young age has forced me to become a little sharper and made me a little more aggressive. I certainly don't think I can make a bad decision. My sister says it certainly can be worked out (financially) if I want to go back.

"I think it can all be worked out."