Maret, which in earlier days absorbed weekly whippings in its effort to become a competitive and respected basketball school, is no longer the fodder schools loved to schedule for a tuneup. The private school in Northwest Washington, better known for academic prowess, is enjoying a fine season. With a favorable bounce here and there, Maret might be 18-3 rather than 15-6.

"I know we have as tough a schedule as anyone," said third-year Coach Charles Lewis, whose team was 10-17 one season ago. "Last year, we had a lot of inexperience and it showed in the tough games. This year, our players have worked well together and we've gotten good play from all of our players. We've lost some tough games, but we wouldn't have it any other way. We want to play the Metro and Interhigh teams.

"We only have about 100 boys in grades 9-12 500 total boys and girls from kindergarten to grade 12 so we've done very well over the years when you consider that fact," said Lewis. " . . . We don't have that many kids but I think we've proven we can play with the good teams."

Maret's players come from very diverse backgrounds. The odyssey that led them to the small school is as interesting as the school itself.

Greg Taylor can remember when his entire life revolved around a six-block radius of his home in Northeast Washington.

"I came here in the ninth grade and it proved to be a good move for me," said Taylor, who would have attended either Spingarn or McKinley had not Lewis convinced him to consider Maret. "It was a different atmosphere over here and the academic adjustment was tough. But I saw gradual improvement and I feel I've accomplished my goals of playing basketball and achieving in the classroom. I think I want to go to law school now."

Junior forward Ronald Berry, who finished third in the preliminaries of a slam dunking contest last summer ("Something came up and I couldn't make it back to the finals"), selected Maret over Archbishop Carroll and several schools because of the challenge of the tough academic program and opportunity to contribute to the program.

"The work is tough," said Berry, who scored 1130 on his boards, "and, like everthing else, you have to put in the time to succeed. I came here to expand both my academics and athletics. This is a very structured program and you have to be disciplined."

Matt Lapin, who began playing basketball in the third grade, felt Maret offered him that perfect balance between academics and athletics.

"This was the perfect situation for me," Lapin said. "There is no great pressure to win all your games and we still enjoy good competition. I don't feel many teams are that much better than we are and we shouldn't lose too many more games. We feel comfortable on the court regardless of who our opponent is. Our program has reached the point where no one thinks of us as being an easy game anymore."

Taylor and Lapin are the senior co-captains while Berry is a fast-improving junior for a school that has seemingly found balance betwee650his year, including its 69-41 defeat to second-ranked Gonzaga last week, were to Flint Hill (51-46), DeMatha (99-63), Dunbar (77-71), Archbishop Malloy (97-76) and Mount St. Joseph's (74-63). Lewis prefers to say, "We lost to the area's No 1, 2, 3 and sixth-ranked teams, and to a top team in New York and Baltimore."

"That's one advantage of being independent -- you can schedule the better teams," Lewis said. "We are not out to build a bogus won-lost record by playing the weaker teams. We want the kids to play good teams and get in college."

The Maret players have not had any problems getting in college. The 6-foot-8 Lapin, who is averaging 16 points per game and made 1270 on the college boards, is expected to attend an Ivy League school. Taylor, a 6-3 guard with a soft jump shot and flashy moves to the basket, is headed for William and Mary.

While Lewis is proud of his players' future plans, he would like to get a few more wins before season's end. "We have a good shot at winning 20 games," said Lewis, who was an assistant coach to Butch McAdams (now at Mackin) for seven years.

Lewis says he refuses to accept transfers from other schools ("I don't want to make enemies"), preferring to build his program from within.

"I talk to every junior high school counselor in the D.C. public schools and inquire if there are kids playing basketball, either on the honor roll or in the top section," Lewis said. "Then, and only then, do I go to the coach and the kid and inquire if he is interested in applying for Maret. A lot of the kids just can't do the work and there's no way we can take them."

The team's other top players are 6-7, 240-pound James Barnes, 6-6 sophomore Anthony Carr and 5-10 Sylvester Simpkins.

"Our program has really improved in the past few years," said Lewis, a math instructor at the school. "We don't want to be a national power that concentrates totally on winning basketball games. We're right at the level we want to be. We just want a bit of respect from our area opponents."