That scratching noise in the distance is the sound of chalk being frantically scribbled on a strategy boards. Coaches from Fayetteville to Syracuse are about to find out that what they have suspected - and dreaded - indeed is true.
The rumors weren't hype. Iverson is the real deal.
"(New Jersey Nets All-Star guard) Kenny Anderson with a jump shot," Washington Times columnist Tom Knott spouted as he watched Iverson play. ''Hang his number (3) up in the rafters. He's better than most of the point guards in the NBA right now."
Never mind that the opponent was the Fort Hood Tankers, a team made up of Texas-based foot soldiers that surely would rank with the have-nots of Division I-A.
What Iverson displayed went way beyond the concrete measure of 36 points, five assists and three steals in just 23 minutes.
The 6-1 guard with a compact upper torso supported by pencil-thin legs put on the type of show that makes basketball pundits, even the most seasoned ones, think: I know it's silly to say this, but I'm going to anyway.
"I saw Lew Alcindor, Austin Carr, Moses Malone, Alonzo Mourning, Albert King, Ralph Sampson and Patrick Ewing play in high school," veteran sports columnist Thomas Boswell wrote in the Washington Post the day after watching Iverson. " . . . Now, I have two memories on my first-impression top shelf. The man who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Allen Iverson. Ewing is third."
At the Big East Conference's preseason media day, St. John's freshman guard Felipe Lopez was voted preseason Rookie of the Year by the league's coaches. They obviously hadn't seen Iverson against Fort Hood.
Syracuse was selected the preseason favorite to win the league. They didn't see Georgetown's level of play increase twofold the instant Iverson stepped on the court.
"Allen is a natural," said Georgetown coach John Thompson, who never has been known to heap undue praise on any player - particularly one yet to play a
college game. "He didn't surprise me. What's to surprise? I see Allen every day in practice. He's got great quickness, he can pass the ball, he works hard and he's aware of his teammates.
"But I'm not a groupie. We've had enough people here with big-name reputations. It's not new to us, so it's not something we get excited or unexcited about. Allen is a talented kid, but he's human. He's going to make some mistakes and have some ups and downs. There are things he has to learn. It's important that he knows that, and he does."
It's not as if Iverson, 19, suddenly fell to earth and landed at the campus just off M Street.
As a junior at Bethel High School in Hampton, Va., he averaged 31.6 points, 9.2 assists and 8.7 rebounds and was one of the most highly regarded players in the nation.
But over the next 1 1/2 years, Iverson primarily made news for the wrong reasons.
In February 1993, Iverson was arrested and charged with three felony counts of maiming by mob for his part in a bowling-alley brawl in Hampton.
From a grainy surveillance video and eyewitness reports, Iverson was identified as one of the instigators in a wild, punch-flailing, chair-swinging melee, accented with racial overtures.
During his court case, which began on July 9, 1993, both Iverson and the Nike Corporation came under national scrutiny when the shoe company paid for a plane ticket to fly Iverson to Indianapolis to play in a high school all-star basketball game during the weekend recess. Nike flew him back to Hampton for the completion of the court case on Monday, July 12.
Iverson and Nike became another image for what was wrong in sports. The incident became a public-relations nightmare for Nike and certainly didn't garner Iverson any sympathy in the halls of justice.
Media reports of the court case said that prosecuting attorney Colleen Killilea made reference to Nike's "Just Do It" slogan when asking the judge to convict Iverson.
Iverson was found guilty and sentenced to a five-year prison term at Newport News (Va.) City Farm. He served four months before then-Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder granted him conditional clemency. Iverson is appealing the convictions in hopes of having his record cleared.
Leery of the negative publicity, many schools turned away from their recruitment of him. The dramatized version has Iverson arriving at Georgetown
because his mother, virtually in tears, came to Thompson because she feared for her son and asked Thompson to give him the "tough love" the Hoyas' coach has been known for.
"I don't have any concerns about Allen because Allen would not be here if I had concerns about him," said Thompson, who said the only time he had seen Iverson play in person was during the ill-fated Nike camp. "I've said many times, I don't want any jackasses. We're not a program for problem people."
Thompson prohibits his freshmen from speaking with the media until after the first semester, so Iverson has been silent since he committed to Georgetown. But veteran Hoyas say their newest teammate is anything but the street thug some have tried to portrayed him as.
"When I first met Allen, I didn't have any preconceived notions of how he would be," senior guard Irvin Church said. "I just figured he would be trying to watch his step. The incident with Allen is in the past. I don't think Allen is a bad kid. From his time around us, he seems to be down-to- earth and nice. He has a good head on his shoulders. He knows what he needs to accomplish. He's a good kid."
Still, already there has been minor baggage to take care of.
After Georgetown opened practice Oct. 18, the issue of Iverson's Nike flights prompted the school to declare him ineligible. The NCAA granted Georgetown's request for reinstatement a day later because the school submitted documentation that Iverson had repaid Nike the cost of the tickets.
The breakdown of Iverson's tremendous on-court potential starts with his hypnotic dribble and the explosive yet seemingly effortless moves he creates
There was a reason why he made 19 of 21 free throws against Fort Hood.
Whether the Tankers guarded him with one, two or sometimes three players, the solution was the same: foul Iverson or just watch him blow into the lane after freezing a defender with a crossover dribble or hesitation move.
"If they interpret the hand-checking rule the way they say they are going to this season, then it's going to be very difficult for anyone to guard Allen one-on-one because of his explosiveness," Thompson said. "He can stick it
from the outside - stick it well from outside - but as I told him, don't try to prove you're an outside shooter if you can get to the basket."
As he took an outlet pass from senior George Butler and soared in for a one-handed dunk, it was hard to imagine Iverson's skinny legs could propel him that high above the rim.
"Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Everybody is going to be very excited when they see Allen play," Butler said with the glint of insight in his eye. "He's an exciting player. It'll be a treat to see him play."
Many of his teammates got an early glimpse of Iverson over the summer when he played in D.C.'s Kenner League. Playing in his first organized competition in nearly a year, Iverson totaled 99 points in three games.
"He did all of his things within the flow of the game," said Hoyas senior forward Don Reid, who played on Iverson's Kenner League team. "What has impressed me the most is his penetrating and pitching, looking down low for the big men after he has drawn our men away from us. As a big man, that makes you very happy."
History says Thompson will play the style he wants no matter the level of competition.
With Iverson and fellow newcomers Jerome Williams, Jerry Nichols, Boubacar Aw and Jahidi White expected to play big roles for the Hoyas, it would figure Thompson would use every opportunity to familiarize them with the system he will employ.
The Hoyas rang up 101 points against Fort Hood, and they did it by stepping on the accelerator as soon as Iverson entered the game.
"You coach the game to the people you have," Thompson said. "If you have people who are capable of getting the ball down the court without a high percentage of turnovers, you do it. We've had teams that have run before."
Iverson jumps right into the fire when Georgetown opens the 1994-95 season against defending NCAA champion Arkansas in the Martin Luther King Classic on Nov. 27 in Memphis, Tenn. Then there are games with Memphis and De Paul and a rugged Big East schedule.
It remains to be seen how Iverson will stand up against major-college opponents, but one guy who should know has little doubt.
Joe Smith was getting ready for practice at the University of Maryland. Last season's consensus Freshman of the Year played in the shadow of Iverson on several AAU teams.
"Can Allen have a Joe Smith-type freshman year?," Smith pondered while flashing the same glint Butler had. "Allen can have a better-than-Joe-Smith year. I think his freshman year is going to be much more outstanding than mine."