In the 1980s, one hotbed of college basketball has celebrated: two national championships, two new arenas, two players chosen first in the NBA draft, a U.S. Olympic coach and four other highly regarded coaches who happen to be black.

Can there be any doubt that, all of a sudden, the Washington metropolitan area has emerged as the best of the urban areas for college basketball in the country?

Consider this: New York doesn't come close to the variety here and its best team (St. John's) has not even been as good as ours (Georgetown), Philadelphia's vaunted Big Five harmony is cracking, Chicago is a one-team town, Boston must claim Providence to make even a shaky case.

Once upon a time, the best of the basketball cities revolved around an area less than 100 feet long and 50 feet wide. That was the approximate size of Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, where UCLA hoisted 10 NCAA championship banners in a 12-year stretch.

"What we're seeing now, because of the commercialization of college basketball," said American University Coach Ed Tapscott, "is that the power centers are moving toward the midwest.

"More and more, teams in smaller cities {dominated by colleges} are thriving. I think it's because they have a captive market, their games command attention."

Last year, the Final Four of Indiana, Providence, Nevada-Las Vegas and Syracuse seemed to bear that out; the year before, however, Washington (Georgetown), Philadelphia (Villanova) and New York (St. John's) were represented in the Final Four.

Only in the Washington area have fans this decade been treated to so many conferences and so many stellar players and the very real possibility of a team cracking the elite final round. And that's not even counting the former University of Ralph, Virginia, which considers itself no more than a few dribbles from the Beltway.

We even have the most influential basketball alum, Red Auerbach, who frequently may be seen near courtside at George Washington.

"It wasn't always this way," said Washington native Tapscott. "I can remember when college basketball was not that big at all. In the '60s, high school ball was king."

The significant factor, often overlooked, in the area's rise is that it was accomplished without a whiff of major NCAA rules violations. Lefty Driesell didn't cheat in starting the resurgence at Maryland, neither did John Thompson at Georgetown and others less ambitious.

"First thing that comes to mind," said Tapscott, getting into specifics, "is that the area seems a mecca for black college coaches. John and A.B. {Williamson of Howard}, me and Bob Wade {at Maryland} at the Division I level, and Wil Jones {who won a Division II title at UDC in 1982}."

Some areas consider it almost criminal for one of their basketball sons to leave town for college; we're mostly adult about an Adrian Dantley going to Notre Dame, because enough Craig Sheltons, John Durans and Len Biases stick around.

One of this area's own, David Robinson, did stay home when nobody especially wanted him; he and Navy grew up and grabbed more glory than most players, and most schools with requirements that usually limit basketball success, dare dream.

We have no import restrictions. Patrick Ewing (from Boston) was welcomed, as were Brad Davis (Pittsburgh), Mo Howard (Philadelphia), Boo Bowers (New Jersey), Len Elmore (New York) and lots of others.

If Baltimore would like to keep sending its best high schoolers 25 or so miles down I-95, that's fine. Its Dunbar had perhaps the best two-year run in high school history; with Wade at Maryland, David Wingate and Reggie Williams at Georgetown and Tyrone Bogues with the Bullets, the Washington area has grabbed the primary components.

"We've also accomplished everything, as an area," Tapscott reminds, "without a downtown municipal coliseum. We did it before the Convention Center was built, and it still hasn't hosted a basketball game."

For the most part, the rivalries have been friendly. Trouble is, the best one, Georgetown-Maryland, has been dormant. And the Hoyas also have been more inclined to schedule games 5,000 miles from campus rather than 15 minutes away.

No longer are Washington-area teams and their fans forced to endure games in discomfort; each has a shiny gym now. Georgetown even has two, Capital Centre being home for nearly everything except practice.

There is a college home here for nearly every player at nearly every level of basketball. Also, the area has been the launching pad for a number of coaches. Among them: Tom Young (Catholic and AU), Jimmy Lynam (AU) and Paul Evans (Navy).

This should be a season of flux for several teams. George Mason will be led by a new coach with enthusiasm, Rick Barnes; Navy will try and stay afloat without Robinson.

For the first time in several years, Georgetown is expected to be chasing somebody (Syracuse) in the Big East; if it finishes fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and wins 17 games -- both reasonable goals -- Maryland could get an NCAA bid.

The area is eager for that to happen -- and fully prepared to yell loud and long for the NCAA to mandate that the Hoyas and the Terrapins get matched in the tournament.