Mike Jarvis's style of coaching the George Washington University basketball team should be far less adventuresome than his forays through the streets of metropolitan Washington.

Shortly after arriving here this summer, Jarvis took a route through Rock Creek Park, emerged in Silver Spring early for a meeting and thought finding his way around town was a snap. The return trip proved otherwise.

"It was noon," he recalled the other day. "I had an appointment at GW at a quarter of one and I thought I had a lot of time because I was an expert at getting myself around. I went back into the park and, about half an hour later, I was at the same place I went in.

"And then I wound up going on a mystical tour. I think I ended up somehow coming down to Georgetown and ended up being about an hour late for my appointment. . . . The way I look at the experience is that every time I get in my car, I almost assume I'm going to get lost, and I'm going to discover a monument or historical site I hadn't seen before. That's how I get my sightseeing in at the same time."

But Jarvis has found his way successfully through 17 seasons as a coach at many levels, including the past five when he won 101 of 152 games at Boston University, reached the conference tournament final all five years and twice advanced to the NCAA tournament.

George Washington's new coach starts from scratch every year and emphasizes defense, whether he has a high school, college freshman or varsity team; whether he has a veteran squad or a new job; whether his center is Patrick Ewing, whom Jarvis coached at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, or Byron Hopkins, likely GW's best inside defender and shot-blocker this season.

"I've always gone back to square one each season and laid the foundation," said Jarvis, whose career record is 309-90, which includes stints at Newton North (Mass.) High School, Northestern University (freshman coach) and Harvard (freshman coach and varsity assistant).

For the Colonials, who have not had a winning season since 1983-84 and lost a Division I record 27 games two seasons ago, Jarvis said, "We're going to teach the game from the ground up."

That means this year's team is going to learn aggressive, man-to-man defense and role-playing in Jarvis's 10-man rotation. Success will depend on the attitude and effort from six seniors, and avoiding injuries to key players.

There is great anticipation surrounding Jarvis's arrival, what with his $200,000-plus income package and the university administration's commitment to building a top 40 program. He says he will take no shortcuts. In fact, he won't put in his offense until early November, three weeks after working almost solely on defense.

Jarvis plans to put in a fast break and two half-court offenses, with set plays resembling more the pros than colleges. This is understandable, because growing up in Cambridge, Mass., Jarvis observed Red Auerbach establish the Boston Celtics' dynasty with defense -- and a center named Bill Russell.

"Defense is going to be what we are going to be the best at," he said. "That's what you win championships with, and that's what we eventually want to be -- champions."

Who gets the most playing time will be decided during the first two to three weeks of practice. Jarvis purposely has not watched many tapes of last year's 14-17 team to not influence his opinion of the players once practice starts Monday. He also has stressed weightlifting, aerobics and jumping rope in preseason drills -- not pickup games -- for conditioning and establishing work habits.

No position is set, Jarvis said, but if he had to name a starting five now it likely would include sophomore forward Sonni Holland, a member of last season's Atlantic 10 Conference all-freshman team, and senior guard Ellis McKennie, GW's most experienced back-court player and third-team all-conference last year.

"Role-playing and learning of roles will be the most important part of this team," Jarvis said. "It's sometimes harder for some people to accept their roles. If we can get everybody to accept their script by March 1, then we'll be a pretty good basketball team."

Jarvis also stressed that he plans to use 10 players. "We don't have 10 {good} players, but we'll try to play 10," he said. "I don't know how many teams have 10 {good} players. But I'm hoping we have kids who will accept a role. You don't have to be very talented to contribute."

The target date for peaking is the week of the Atlantic 10 tournament: GW has never survived the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals or those of its previous conference, the Eastern Eight.

"Our motto this year is, 'Today is our tomorrow,' and we're going to take every day and do the best we can to improve and build on it, so that tomorrow we're better," said Jarvis. "Our ultimate tomorrow for this season is . . . when the Atlantic 10 tournament takes place."

Neither Jarvis nor top university administration officials want a quick fix, but they are looking to significantly upgrade the program. Long-term plans are to build a separate recreation facility next to the 5,000-seat Smith Center and to gut the current facility and build a state-of-the-art 10,000-seat arena, or to expand Smith Center by about 2,000 seats.

But before the first basketball is bounced in practice, the reaction to hiring a top-notch coach is evident: season-ticket sales have reached an all-time high; fund-raising is booming; about a dozen games will be televised locally this season; and, perhaps most significantly, the two-year-old administration wants a strong basketball team and is willing to provide the resources.

The university wants to attract more -- and better qualified -- applicants, just as Duke University has done in the past five years, when it has gone to the Final Four four times and applications have increased from 7,000 to 14,000 per year. GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and his top assistant, Bob Chernak, view basketball as a marketing tool.

"Intercollegiate athletics is more visible than most of the other things that go on at a university," Trachtenberg said. "So it is possible to have, as we do, a remarkably strong philosophy department, with some extraordinary faculty. And the truth is that outside of this campus the only people that are aware of that are other philosophers at other universities.

"By contrast, an intercollegiate athletic program has the ability to deliver a message about an institution that casts a halo over the other things it does. . . . I'm a great believer in doing these things in a moderate and sensible way. Anything carried to excess can become an obsession, can become pathological and can hurt you. It's good to eat. But if you eat to excess, you get fat and you're not healthy."

Following that philosophy, Jarvis hardly recruited this year, bringing one of his BU players as a transfer and signing a point guard from Florida. He didn't want marginal or junior college players. As a result, Jarvis will have eight scholarships available for next season. He may use five.

"Basically we're recruiting a player at every position who can contribute next season," Jarvis said. "We are going to make a concerted effort, we are trying to recruit a legitimate, bona fide shooter at the off-guard and also at the small forward. We . . . have to bring in really good shooters at {those positions} because the three-point shot is a very valuable weapon, and one we want to eventually capitalize on and take full advantage of."

Jarvis says he is "recruiting all over," but wants eventually to concentrate on the District, Maryland and Virginia. Clearly, he's going to learn how to get around town.