Two complete strangers, linked for two years by talent and anticipation, will finally meet Tuesday. Felipe Lopez. Allen Iverson. El Senor. Bubbachuck.
Mere freshmen, they are heralded as the saviors of the Big East, a once-mighty basketball conference gone soft. They are compared to the game's greats.
But they have never met, not on the streets, not on the basketball court. This changes Tuesday when Lopez and St. John's face Iverson and Georgetown at USAir Arena in Landover, Md.
The matchup is long anticipated. Phones in the Georgetown ticket office rang busy throughout Friday, and the national media is descending, despite the sprained right ankle that makes Iverson questionable for today's game against Villanova.
Iverson and Lopez, both among the Big East's top five scorers, appear amused by all the fuss.
``It's not me against Felipe Lopez,'' Iverson said. ``It's Georgetown against St. John's.''
Indeed, Lopez is a 6-foot-5 wing guard, Iverson a 6-1 point guard. They will not match up against one another.
But just the thought of getting them on the same court sends the hype-meter haywire. A television analyst compares Lopez to Grant Hill. A rival coach compares Iverson to Isiah Thomas.
Is Lopez as good as his lofty reputation?
``I don't know,'' Iverson said. ``I've never seen him play.''
``I can't say, `Oh, yeah, I'm better than Iverson,' '' Lopez told the Hartford Courant. ``He might be better that night, or I might be better. It's what you do on the court and how you handle yourself. That's what matters the most - not all this talk.''
The talk began two years ago when Lopez and Iverson were touted as the nation's best high school juniors, Lopez in New York City, Iverson in Hampton. When Parade Magazine named its 10-player All-America team, Lopez and Iverson were the only juniors.
Normally, two such players would meet on basketball's summer circuit, a grueling odyssey of camps, all-star games and tournaments. But it never happened.
Iverson and Lopez attended different camps. Their summer-league teams could not agree on a site for a game, although Washington, D.C., was proposed as a compromise.
Lopez, who played in a holiday tournament in Norfolk last season, continued to earn raves as a senior at Rice High School. A native of the Dominican Republic, he moved to the Bronx five years ago and became a genuine hero in New York's Dominican community.
They call him El Senor, and when Rice won the New York City Catholic championship last season, Lopez wrapped himself in the Dominican flag. In November, he made the covers of Sports Illustrated and The Village Voice, a rare double.
In 1993, the National Supermarket Association, which represents Hispanic grocers, honored Lopez at a black-tie dinner.
``In the 30 years I have been in this country, I haven't seen anyone who can portray the Dominican community the way he can,'' association spokesman Alfredo Rodriquez later said.
Lopez's heritage prompted priceless recruiting gimmicks: then-Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo speaking Spanish during a visit to Lopez's home; St. John's broadcasting its games in Spanish.