ALBERT KING'S selection as a first-team All-American is good news for everyone -- not just for fans of the University of Maryland basketball team. In a gloomy year, full of reports of scandals in which coaches allegedly forged grades on transcripts to keep athletes in school, Mr. King seems to be a virtuous student-athlete. He has apparently avoided the dirty-business aspect of college basketball and still kept the emotional intensity and spirit that makes the game fun to play and watch. While another college player is reported somehow to be driving two expensive cars, even though he has little income of his own, Mr. King offers an alternative picture of the college athlete as he bicycles around the campus of the University of Maryland.

Mr. King plays team basketball and is thus no showboat. But the All-American award is also a tribute to his personal accomplishment. Last year, his athletic performance, by his own admission, was somewhat disappointing. In the overdramatic world of college sports -- where values and priorities are often misshapen -- Mr. King was burdened with the expectation that, although he was a freshman, he would immediately bring a national college championship to Maryland. Mr. King did not succumb to the pressure, the bad newspaper stories or the resentment of some fans when he was not an immediate success.

He says questions about his ability did affect him and his performance. But he persevered. And now he has triumphed over the often mean and unthinking roar of the crowd. The frustration or the personal disappointment with his play he may have felt did not result in the childish anger, or pouting, common to many struggling athletes. Instead, he decided to prove to himself that he really was a good player, and so he honed his skills and became a team leader while failing to grow the ego that often accompanies star athletes.

The All-American designation is a reward for Mr. King's athletic ability: his style of moving his elegantly thin body to the basket around taller and thicker players. But there is another reason to give All-American acclaim to the University of Maryland junior. He is an All-American by virtue of the very classy way he has handled the craziness surrounding the sport.