Park View High School junior Nick Smith didn't show up for the first day of basketball practice. Or the second. Or the third. In fact, before last week, he hadn't picked up a basketball in almost three months.

Is this really who Patriots Coach Ken Edwards wants at one of the starting guard positions, in a key leadership role?

Definitely.

Smith could be the Northwestern District's best player, with or without practice--"After . . . two or three days, I should be back to normal," Smith said earlier this month. He led the team in scoring as a sophomore and is expected to play at both point guard and shooting guard this season.

"Nick has great skills," Edwards said. "He's got great basketball sense. He's got good court sense. He passes the basketball well. He's really improved his shooting ability. He's a kid you can turn to in a tight situation."

Oh, by the way--he and the five other members of the boys team who prompted Edwards to delay the start of the team's season to yesterday had a pretty good excuse: Just seven days earlier, the six had been a part of the state championship football game, which Park View lost, 21-20.

The Northwestern District champion gridiron squad was extremely deep, but the offense's catalyst was Smith, who at quarterback set individual school records for most yards passing in a game, season and career, and for most touchdown passes in a season (23) and career (44).

It probably then comes as little surprise that last spring Smith was the Patriots baseball team's starting third baseman, batting over .300 in the leadoff and No. 5 spots.

"Nick's the kind of athlete where whatever sport he puts himself into, if he concentrated 100 percent, he'd be at the top of the heap," said his baseball coach, Mike Nunnally.

This past summer, he focused on basketball and made a big impression in the Jelleff Summer League in Washington, totaling 14 points and nine assists in the postseason all-star game. And Edwards said he has received inquiries about inviting Smith to next summer's Nike camp for top college basketball prospects.

Smith said he hasn't even thought about having to give up one of the sports, and Edwards, Nunnally and football coach Mickey Thompson all say they don't expect him to do so as long as he's in high school--and all support him.

"He's got plenty of time to decide whatever he wants to concentrate on," Thompson said. "In high school, whenever he's able to be in a leadership situation, learns how to play in the clutch, it helps him for any sport. The worst thing we can do is specialize. That's the worst thing you can do with a high school athlete."

Edwards thinks eventually Smith will have to make a choice--and said he's probably more gifted in football.

"It doesn't bother me," Edwards said. "Nick does a good job for us. He's a good team player. . . . I think if he totally concentrated on basketball he could probably play, right now, low Division I. By the same token, if he concentrated 100 percent on football, he could play Division I football right now."

Smith started playing all three sports when he was 7 years old and living in Charleston, W. Va. He has continued the trend since his family moved to Sterling when he was in the fourth grade.

"I'm thinking I eventually will have to [pick one sport], and I don't know which I'll have to give up," he said. "It would probably be a hard decision. I'd have to sit down and think about it a lot.

"College will decide which way I go," said Smith, who is being recruited by Penn State, among other schools, as a defensive back. He said he has also been told that the Nittany Lions' basketball team is interested in him. "If I could play all three in college, I would. But I don't think they would let me."

NICK SMITH

Park View, Guard, Jr.

* No. 1 goal for 1999-2000: Win the Northwestern District title.

* Colleges he is interested in: Penn State, possibly for football.

* Favorite move: Doesn't really have one. "I just play the way they play me," he said.

* Favorite place to play pickup basketball: Sterling Community Center.

* Favorite basketball video game: NBA 2K for the Sega Dreamcast. "I've created myself and I play for the [Sacramento] Kings. I'm the shooting guard alongside Jason Williams. We've only lost two games."

* Players he most tries to emulate: Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Trajan Langdon when he played for Duke University.

PARK VIEW PATRIOTS

* Last season: 9-13, 6-8 Northwestern District.

* Coach: Ken Edwards (24th season).

* Top returning players: G Nick Smith, 6-0, Jr. (16.1 ppg, 4.0 apg, first-team All-Extra); F Jeff Schwalm, 6-7, Sr. (5.5 ppg).

* Key departures: F Joe Nelson (13.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, first-team All-Extra).

* New faces: G Jahmel Lewis, 6-2, Fr.

Contrary to their up-tempo, full-court pressing style, the Patriots typically begin the season slowly, as they need time to learn Edwards's intricate system. This season might start off slower than most; half the Park View roster did not join the team until five days before its season opener. Those players were all suiting up for Park View's state runner-up football team, which ended its season Dec. 4. Edwards restructured the Patriots' schedule, delaying the start of the season a week. But that won't be enough time for this team to get comfortable with one another, and consequently, the first few games might be sloppy.

But once the Patriots hit stride, they will be an exciting bunch to watch. "We don't hold the ball too long," Edwards said, "and that's good for the kids because it gets everyone involved in the offense." Smith, Park View's star quarterback, epitomizes the basketball team's athletic roster, which returns four starters. He can play either guard position, and even small forward if need be, and is a scoring threat from the outside and as a penetrator. Sophomore point guard Derek Chew and senior guard Matt Brownlee also have good shooting range.

Park View's big void was created by the graduation of Joe Nelson, the Patriots' second-leading scorer and top rebounder. Edwards hopes Jonathan Petrie, a defensive end on the football team, can pick up some of the slack. Whether or not the Patriots can effectively rebound and play defense will determine how far they go this season.

SCHEDULE

(All nontournament games start at 7:30 p.m.)

December

11 at Osbourn

17 Loudoun County

21 Potomac Falls

27-29 LTM Tournament at Park View

January

4 at Liberty

6 at Chancellor

7 Broad Run

11 at Handley

14 Warren County

21 at Loudoun Valley

25 Handley

28 at Loudoun County

February

1 Osbourn

4 at Potomac Falls

8 at Warren County

11 Liberty

12 Loudoun Valley

16 Chancellor

18 at Broad Run

22, 25-26 District tournament