Four months into an improbable academic and athletic odyssey, Allen Iverson has apparently built a sturdy foundation at Georgetown University.
``This is where I want to be in my life right now,'' Iverson said Monday during his first interview since his December, 1993 release from jail. ``I don't want people to just think of me as a basketball player. I want them to know I can get it done in the classroom as well.''
John Thompson expressed faith in Iverson, whose talent and background have generated unprecedented media attention for a freshman.
``I certainly feel because of the set of circumstances that have occurred in his life, you get a total distortion of the person,'' Thompson said. ``That's the thing I find most amazing. Allen goes to school. He's at practice on time. He takes direction easily and doesn't have to be constantly reinforced.
``I've had people here who have not had the set of circumstances he had who have been pains. ... He's nothing like that. Nothing. He's not close to being somebody you worry about going to school.''
Iverson, a former All-American at Bethel High School, enrolled in Georgetown in September, one year after he was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in a 1993 brawl. Iverson served four months at the Newport News City Farm before then-Gov. Doug Wilder granted him conditional clemency.
Iverson missed his senior year at Bethel but earned his diploma from Richard Milburn High, an alternative school for troubled students. This is his first organized basketball season since he led Bethel to the 1993 state championship, but he has shown little rust.
Iverson, a point guard, averages a team-high 21.5 points, second-best in the Big East Conference. He's third in the conference in steals (2.63 per game), ninth in assists (4.63), but fourth in turnovers (4.38). He's shooting 43.4 percent from the field.
``I don't feel I'm playing like I want to right now,'' Iverson said. ``I'm still learning. I talked to Coach before I came here. He said he'd let me play my game, he'd let me run up-and-down the court, and he has.''
The Hoyas (7-1, 1-0 Big East) are adjusting to Iverson's rapid pace. They are ranked 12th by The Associated Press entering tonight's Big East game at Pittsburgh, and have won seven straight since opening with a 97-79 defeat against Arkansas.
Junior center Othella Harrington, the Hoyas' top scorer the past two seasons, struggled early, attempting only 20 shots combined in the first four games. But Thompson absolved Iverson of any blame.
``You play the post and only get five shots, that's your fault,'' Thompson said.
``We can go to anybody at any time of the game,'' Iverson said. ``All I wanted to do was contribute. I didn't care about being The Man, if you want to say that. I just cared about coming here and contributing. ... The only goals I set were to win the Big East and go to the Final Four.''
Iverson said he thinks about the Final Four ``all the time. I think about being there in that final game and winning the national championship.''
Iverson and Thompson spoke during a 30-minute news conference at Georgetown's McDonough Arena that attracted media such as USA Today, New York Daily News and the AP. Thompson does not permit freshmen interviews until they have completed a semester at Georgetown.
Past touted freshmen at Georgetown such as Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning gave their first interviews in informal postgame settings. But the volume of requests for Iverson prompted the school to conduct a news conference.
Questions about Iverson's court case were not permitted because it remains on appeal. Privacy laws prohibit the school from discussing any student's grades, and Iverson was allowed to discuss basketball only on Monday.
Iverson, as usual, was poised and soft-spoken. He has been interviewed by the likes of Tom Brokaw, so media attention is nothing new.
``He's been permitted to be himself,'' Thompson said, ``and that's important. He doesn't envision himself running around like a great big idol with a golden head. He doesn't deal with people that way.''
Thompson playfully grabbed Iverson's neck.
``I grab him by the neck and choke him once in a while, and he responds very well, to teammates and other people. ... We're not dealing with a head case or special project here.''
Iverson has scored at least 14 points in each game, and his 30 points against Providence are the most scored by any freshman in his first Big East game. His most trying game was against Arkansas, when he made 5-of-18 shots and committed eight turnovers.
``I was real excited for that game,'' Iverson said. ``I wanted to play well not just for everybody out there, but for myself. I think I rushed. I rushed a lot. I didn't get my team going. I started to do too much. ...
``A lot of times I get caught up in the hype of the game and get out of control. That's the thing Coach talks to me most about is patience.''
Iverson said he ``most definitely'' wants to play in the NBA, and Thompson labeled as unfair a question of whether Iverson will remain at Georgetown four years.
``He loves to play,'' Thompson said. ``He loves to challenge everybody. He loves to run his mouth about it 24 hours a day.''
Is Iverson as good as the hype?
Iverson grinned and said: ``I think so.''