Mark Whitaker is a rarity at Virginia Tech. When he graduated last month, he was the only basketball player recruited by Tech in the last six years to do so.

Whitaker, an all-star basketball player at Manor High School in Portsmouth, Va., who graduated in the top 10 in his class in 1983, came to Virginia Tech on an athletic scholarship with the expectation of being a student-athlete. But he said he quickly became disillusioned by the "superficial" emphasis placed on academics on the Blacksburg campus.

Whitaker, 22, tells a story of succeeding in a program where many others apparently have failed, a program that he now calls as a "sophisticated slavery system," with "athletes pouring out their sweat, but not receiving degrees."

A recent internal investigation of athletics at Virginia Tech, the state's largest school, found a dozen apparent violations of NCAA regulations in the university's basketball program, including grade-tampering. The report, released last week, also said the university enrolled players who "are not serious students," and noted that not a single Tech basketball player recruited since 1981 had graduated (the report was compiled before Whitaker received his degree in management science last month).

Whitaker said the results of the investigation should not have been surprising because many athletes who come to Tech are in "no-win" situations. The athletic department recruited players who were not prepared for the university's academic program, and the administration allowed those students to be accepted, he said in a recent interview.

"I don't want to be perceived as saying that these young men shouldn't have been able to go to college, but maybe not an accelerated school such as Tech," Whitaker said. "If the NCAA is going to allow them to attend, they should provide some type of remedial program to allow them to progress toward a college degree."

Last week's report found that scholarship athletes at Tech scored an average of 440 points lower than other students on their SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests), "a difference in academic potential that places the student-athlete at a serious disadvantage in the classroom," the report noted.

Whitaker, whose father is a Baptist minister and whose mother is an elementary school teacher, said he was attracted to Tech because of its academic tradition and its strong basketball program.

Both James and Otelia Whitaker are college graduates, and they impressed upon their four children the importance of an education, Whitaker said.

Whitaker enrolled at Tech in the fall of 1983. It wasn't long, he said, before he set himself apart from the other basketball players by stressing his studies. "I remember going down to breakfast one morning {in his freshman year} and one of the players said, 'Hey, Whit's going to class,' and everybody was laughing," Whitaker said.

His teammates missed class routinely and some talked about receiving special consideration from professors, he said.

"I felt sorry for the players," he said. "They were older than me and they needed to realize that they couldn't skate through life. Then I thought about all the black kids that have been denied a chance to go to college that would jump at a chance to go, and here these guys were wasting it."

Whitaker, whose courses as a freshman included chemistry, said he asked basketball coach Charles Moir for permission not to attend two away games his freshman season so he could study. Moir consented.

Whitaker played only 22 minutes in 10 games his freshman year.

In his second season, he was allowed to skip all away Metro conference games, he said; similar permission was granted in his junior year.

Moir said he allowed Whitaker to sit out away games his sophomore year because Tech had a solid team without him. But Moir said he had fewer quality players in Whitaker's junior year and did not want to grant his request, but that Whitaker was adamant and "more or less demanded" it.

After a dispute over postseason game tickets in his junior year, Whitaker said Moir approached him and said: " 'Mark, I won't be needing you for practice any more.' "

Whitaker said he asked about his scholarship and that Moir said it would be renewed for his senior year.

Then last July, Whitaker received a letter from the school's financial aid department, notifying him that his scholarship had been revoked.

Moir said in an interview this week that when he and Whitaker spoke, at the close of Whitaker's junior season, he said Whitaker's scholarship would be good through his junior year, but did not say it would be renewed for his senior year.

Moir said he recommended that the scholarship not be renewed because, in essence, Whitaker had quit the team. "If a player doesn't want to travel with the team, I think it is up to the coach to make a decision of whether he should be on the team," Moir said.

Tech eventually reinstated the scholarship after it was learned that the university had missed the deadline for not renewing it. Whitaker said the school also paid $700 for his legal fees.

Moir said this week that he regretted that "things didn't work out, athletically," in Whitaker's case, but that he was pleased Whitaker graduated. Moir declined to comment about the state of athletics at Tech, but said that "you can't follow every athlete to class. I think the athletes have to assume some responsibility and discipline."

Mark Whitaker did not play his senior year at Tech. His collegiate basketball career spanned 96 minutes. He played in 27 games and scored 54 points. In September he will enroll in an MBA program at Atlanta University.

@ CAPTION: Mark Whitaker