Almost every camera crew in town had the same idea. They all wanted footage of Bobby Cremins, the former bellhop, walking into the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria. And Cremins never got tired of it. He would have walked into the posh midtown hotel the rest of the week if they asked.

"I told the boys at the Waldorf I'd be back," Cremins said.

A long time ago, they all thought Cremins would be coming back to look for his old job, carrying bags, not as coach of a Georgia Tech team that has won 12 straight and is ranked fifth in the nation.

Thursday night, here in Madison Square Garden, where Cremins dreamed of playing when he was growing up in the Bronx, Georgia Tech routed Rutgers, 85-46. The Yellow Jackets displayed all the imposing talents they will bring into Alexander Memorial Coliseum Saturday at 4 p.m. for an Atlantic Coast Conference game in Atlanta against Maryland.

The game with the Terrapins will mark the fourth anniversary of a significant event in Cremins' effort to turn Georgia Tech from a 4-23 team to the ACC champion last season and a bonafide contender to win the national title this season.

Georgia Tech, which never had won a conference game on the road, upset Maryland, 45-43, in College Park that day. "It was such a big thing, because we had so many problems on the road," Georgia Tech guard Mark Price recalled today.

And since then, the Yellow Jackets have virtually owned Maryland. In the last four years under Cremins, the score is Georgia Tech 8, Maryland 2.

Maryland used to be embarrassed to lose to Georgia Tech. Saturday, Georgia Tech will be expected to win, even though the Yellow Jackets haven't played especially well in two ACC victories over Wake Forest and Virginia.

Cremins still runs around saying, "We aren't quite there yet," like he did after the 39-point victory over Rutgers in Madison Square Garden.

But Price, playing the best basketball of his career, probably was closer to the mark when he said, "I feel we're where we want to be. It's a good sign when you can play not-so-great and win in our conference."

For the second year, the Yellow Jackets' talent is comparable to any team in the ACC -- including No. 1-ranked North Carolina -- and thus, comparable with any team in the nation.

Price, a senior, is averaging 17 points and 5.8 assists and has shot 62 percent from the floor the last nine games. He and Bruce Dalrymple (12.8 points per game) form one of the nation's most complete, error-free backcourts.

Forward Duane Ferrell is having no sophomore slump. He is averaging 12 points per game and shooting 61 percent.

Cremins' only legitimate concern coming into this season was how 6-foot-11 senior John Salley would respond to being moved from forward to center, and whether freshman Tom Hammonds adequately could step in for Salley at power forward.

Certainly, there have been no problems with Hammonds, a 6-8 Len Bias-play-alike already the team's second-leading scorer with 14 points per game. He may very well be Georgia Tech's fourth consecutive ACC rookie of the year. He is tied for the league lead in field goal shooting (68 percent).

Hammonds is from so far down in the Florida panhandle (Crestview), he was largely unaware of Georgia Tech basketball and never had heard a New Yorker in person until Cremins paid a recruiting call. "I thought the guy was crazy," Hammonds said. "I couldn't even understand a lot of the words he was saying."

Hammonds' late introduction to ACC basketball hasn't hurt so far, but Price said, "Tom's real test will come now that we're coming up on games with North Carolina and Duke."

Salley hardly has been a flop at center, averaging 12 points and seven rebounds per game. But he hasn't lived up to all that preseason hype, which probably was way out of line, anyway.

"I've had a lot of up-and-down games," he said Thursday night. "I haven't been rebounding as aggressively as I was last year or scoring as much as (Cremins) would like me to do. But I'm coming around."

It can't happen soon enough for Cremins. "Salley is the key to our season," he said. "I hate to put pressure on the kid, and he gets mad at me sometimes for being so honest. But Carolina's front line is playing better than our front line now. We need John to play like he's capable. We need him to become a factor in the rebound and on the defensive end.

"I want John to be a dominating player for us, like Brad Daugherty is for Carolina. We need John Salley to be a presence in the middle."

Some thought the key to Georgia Tech's season would be how the players handled the high preseason ranking after being the prototype underdog school for so many years.

So far, the Jackets' only stumble has been an early-season loss to second-ranked Michigan.

"We probably didn't deal with it very well," Price said. "We'd never had that type of pressure. We'd always been the ones going out there playing teams ranked higher than us and trying to prove something.

"Now we know how North Carolina, Indiana and UCLA feel every year. Every team is pumped up to beat Georgia Tech."