"The White Shadow," just to get the suspense out of the way, is what his black players decide to call their new, white high-school basketball coach as this one-hour premiere ends and they realize he's led them to a last-second victory in only their second game.

This is CBS' first replacement show of the season and despite the fact it's up against NBC's strong "Little House on the Prairie" in the 8 o'clock time slot tonight, it has considerable promise.

Ken Howard plays the coach - an ex-pro basketball player - with likable authority. He can almost play basketball as well as the kids.

For the viewer (and you were in the vast majority) who didn't go for Joe Namath in NBC's "The Waverly Wonders," as a high-school basketball coach trading in one-liners and a professed ignorance in his ability to teach history, this show will come across as a considerable improvement.

The writing is crisper, the one-liners are kept to a minimum. The relationships between the kids and Howard, as spelled out in the first episode, have a harder, more realistic edge to them.

The characters may all be two-dimensional but they're understandable and appealing, without that cloying hey-you've-got-to-like-me-I'm-cute touch of the ABC sitcoms. Howard doesn't even have to teach a class, which is a relief.

In this episode, newcomer coach Ken Reeves bounces a bright troublemaker and potential basketball star (Thomas Carter) up against a locker for calling him "man" once too often.

The younger immediately quits school - not, as the suspicious vice principal (John Pringle) thinks, because of the "assault," but because his mom's in the hosptial and there's no one to 'ake care of his 4-year-old brother (and his 400-pound dog, Rufus).

Coach, of course, solves the problems, manages to earn the respect of the other key players by outplaying them in a game of two-on-one and coaches them to victory.

The supporting class tonight is strong right down the line and that is a major plus, if they don't all bail out after the pilot.

The big problem, aside from the competition at 8 o'clock (ABC may be making a move here, too, soon) is the predictability. Will this go the route of every other high-school-based comedy drama and start playing the youngsters for laughs? Or will MTM Productions try to keep this reasonably "realistic" for a while?

Somehow, we guess they will, MTM has taken care with this pilot and it shows. Why, that MTM logo with the little cat at the end even features a black and white kitten bouncing a basketball.