Scott Skiles fielded the errant alleyoop pass as it bounced away from Georgetown's backboard. The Hoyas trailed his Michigan State Spartans by just three points in their second-round Midwest region game at the Dayton Arena on Saturday. Fourteen minutes remained—plenty of time for John Thompson and his tournament-tough Hoyas.
Little did Georgetown realize, however, it was the beginning of the end. In a flash, Skiles, the high-scoring, thrice-arrested senior guard, was pumping furiously upcourt. Encountering Hoya guard Michael Jackson at the opposite foul line, Skiles looked right and improvised a wildly improbable, lefthanded behind-the-back pass that appeared to be going westbound but on release from his right hand went east, freezing Jackson and hitting forward Larry Polec in the hands for an easy layup.
It was a pass for the evening news shows—vintage Ernie DiGregorio out of Bob Cousy. Polec's bucket stretched the Spartans' lead to five in a game they eventually won 80-68. All the intensity that Thompson could coax from his hard-bitten Hoyas could not match the indomitable zeal of Skiles. He had made only 1 of 7 shots in the first half but hit 6 of 7 in the second and finished with 24 points. "The kid can do more than score," said the Georgetown coach. "He goes around and checks on his teammates and makes them better players. He has a contagious effect."
Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote, who is often asked to compare Skiles with former Spartan Magic Johnson and his collegiate rival Larry Bird, has a stock answer: "I don't think you can compare a 6'1" player to a 6'8" or 6'9" player. Scott Skiles is Scott Skiles and he has a court presence all his own." Polec adds, "You can count on Scott to spill his guts on the floor."
Against Washington during Wednesday's 72-70 first-round victory, Skiles indeed bled from his left knee all evening after cutting it in a collision with a cameraman. (The same wound opened up and drenched his white sock in blood on Saturday.) He scored 31 points, including the two game-winning free throws with two seconds to play.
In addition to his troubles with the law—Skiles was arrested in August 1984 for marijuana and cocaine possession, and in September 1984 and November 1985 for driving while intoxicated (SI, Feb. 10)—he has been known to utter an occasional oath. It didn't take an accomplished lip-reader to understand the four-syllable epithet he called a Georgetown player when he was caught in a TV closeup on Saturday. So when Skiles was asked a question at a midweek press conference, Heathcote passed him the mike, whispering just loud enough for everyone to hear, "This is a microphone."
Skiles will spend 15 days in jail for probation violation following the tournament. "I'm a guy who's committed some crimes," he says. "I'm going to have to pay. Right now I'm thinking about basketball." That much is obvious.