Distant debuts are in vogue today as several area colleges begin their basketball regular seasons -- each of them on the road and all but Georgetown facing a relatively stern test.

The Hoyas' core of a half-dozen newcomers likely won't be pushed, but will get its playing-for-keeps indoctrination in Hawaii -- with a two-game tour of the islands and the traditionally underwhelming matchup against NAIA school Hawaii Loa. Hawaii Pacific will provide the opposition on Saturday.

George Mason visits Miami, and Howard's Butch Beard and Virginia's Jeff Jones will receive their initial tastes of head coaching. Howard plays at Wake Forest, Virginia against Siena (N.Y.) College in the Great Alaska Shootout.

The remainder of local schools will begin play in the next four days. Coach Mike Jarvis's debut for George Washington comes at Loyola (Md.) Saturday afternoon, the same day that Navy visits Fordham. Maryland hosts Towson State Monday night at Cole Field House, and American -- with new coach Chris Knoche -- faces UDC Tuesday at Bender Arena, where the Eagles have a 15-game winning streak.

Few teams have more questions than Georgetown, which might start three freshmen with twin towers Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning. With a showdown against Duke in the Big East-ACC Challenge less than two weeks away, the Hoyas need to return to the mainland with the some answers.

Thompson insists he's not wary of his club's youth. "It reminds me of when I first came {to Georgetown}, and we had five freshmen on the floor at times," he said. "Of course, we didn't have Dikembe and Alonzo out there too."

Thompson seems particularly fond of freshman point guard Joey Brown; he said he's undecided about whether to start freshman Charles Harrison or his son, junior Ronny Thompson, at the other guard. Freshman Robert Churchwell (Gonzaga High) probably will get the first shot to start at small forward.

In all, five or six newcomers may be among the club's regular eight- or nine-player rotation.

Thompson must decide soon about the status of sophomore guard Antoine Stoudamire, who made the trip but won't play because of a virus and strep throat that kept him out of preseason practice. If Stoudamire is redshirted, then perhaps 7-foot-2 freshman Pascal Fleury won't sit out as planned.

"I don't know how good this team is or can be," Thompson said. "Young in age doesn't bother me as much as young in knowledge of our system. Every time we go onto the court is vital to our development process."

George Mason, with Coach Ernie Nestor beginning his third season, returns the nucleus -- center Robert Dykes, forward Byron Tucker and point guard Mike Hargett -- of last season's 20-12 team, and optimism is high.

But Miami has five starters returning from a 13-15 club -- including senior center Joe Wylie (Wilson High School), an 18.4 points-per-game scorer a year ago -- and a highly regarded new coach, Leonard Hamilton.

Jones is the youngest coach in ACC history, but he has one of the league's deepest, most-experienced units. Virginia's first appearance in the Shootout will bring a quick challenge from Siena -- which has four starters back from a 16-13 team, including sometimes-dazzling senior point guard Marc Brown and 7-foot center Steve Downey.

Howard's new up-tempo system will be sternly tested quickly, and Beard, who has spent the past 15 seasons as a NBA player and assistant coach, is trying to be realistic with a team that went 17-39 over the past two seasons.

The Bison will play 11 of the first 13 games on the road, with Wake Forest (said to have had one of the nation's top recruiting classes), Georgia Tech, St. John's and Northeastern heading the list.

"When I look at this schedule, I don't panic," said Beard. "I don't like being away and playing these teams, but it will set us up for the conference. . . . In the conference, I know nobody fears us, and that's good. But by the end of the year, they will fear us."

Two keys for Howard will be 6-8 senior forward Tyrone Powell (Forestville High) and sophomore point guard Milan Brown.