Wilson Washington swung down the lane to the left of the basket. As soon as he grabbed the pass, he made one very quick step which caught his Virginia defender flatfooted and forced him for an easy jump shot.

But it didn't count. The referee had called Washington for an offensive foul. The Old Dominion fans booed and Washington pleaded with the official, begging him to retract the decision. Finally, Washington shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

"It's a problem I've had right along," Washington explained after the recent game in Charlottesville. "I'm too quick. The refs have never seen anyone move as fast inside as I can.

"I try to explain to them ahead of time some of the things I'll do, so they won't think I'm pushing off or cheating. But they usually resent it. Sounds like I'm telling them what to do."

Washington does do some things on the basketball court which most 6-foot-9, 227-pound centers only dream about. He is so-quick and his moves are so fluid that he doesn't need to fake a defender. As long as he has room for that first lightining-fast pivot step, he constantly is able to work himself free for a leaning turnaround jump shot, which he hits with 60 per cent accuracy.

"I know this might frighten some people, but Wilson still hasn't reached his full potential," said Old Dominion coach Paul Webb. He's a better player now than he was last year, or then he was in December. He just keeps improving."

And as Washington improves, so do Old Dominion's chances of making the NCAA Tournament in its first season as a major college basketball school.

Despite a pattycake schedule that has given them little chance to show their talents, the Monarchs are an impressive team with fine shooters, outstanding quickness and depth. And they have a dominating center in Washington, who can control the flow of games with his scoring and defensive ability.

Yet Old Dominion is playing scared. Despite a 20-2 record, no one at the school is sure the team will get into the ECAC playoffs, the first step toward making the NCAA Tournament. Everyone at Old Dominion talks of old-time ECAC politics and their lack of national recognition and they wonder about their chances.

As it stands now, Old Dominion and Georgetown have the best records in the ECAC Southern Region. If the ECAC selection committee decides they also are the best teams, they will meet in a playoff in March, with the winter meeting a representative from the New York-New England region for an NCAA berth.

Old Dominion officials are convinced their school should host the hoped-for geme against Georgetown. They say they can fill the 10,000-seat Norfolk scope for the contest. Besides, they argue, their record and 17-game winning streak have earned them a hosting role.

"But every time we win a game now, it seems like we hear how the ECAC berth will be harder to get," said Washington. "It would be awful to have this thing decided by politics and not ability. All they have to do is watch us and they can see how good we are."

That is part of the problem. Old Dominion plays the bulk of its schedule in the South. Few basketball fans or ECAC officials have seen the Monarch perform this year as they built their glowing record by beating the like of Georgia Southern (twice), Western Carolina (twice) and Georgia State.

Two years ago, a similarly constructed Old Dominion team won the NCAA Division II title, Washington, played only the left half of that season after transferring from Maryland, was the tournment MVP. He says he passed up a $300,000, three-year contract last summer because he felt this team also had championship potential.

"We had a great recruiting year and I liked what I saw in their attitudes," said Washington. 'We were together all summer and you could feel that we were capable of going somewhere."

The best of those new recruits is 6-7 Ronnie Valentine, like Washington a hometown Norfolk product. Valentine, a high school all-America, has had an exceptional rookie year, averaging a team-high 21 ponts while rebounding well (9.2 a contest) and taking some of the pressure off Washington, who has 18 points, 11 rebounds a game.

The other forward, 6-5 senior Jeff Squad in scoring the last two sea-Fuhrmann, who played at Fairfax County Jefferson High, led the squad in scoring the last two seasons. Kevin Grevey lookalike. Fuhrmann and guard Terry Douglas, from Largo (Md.) High, give the Monarchs explosive outside shooting.

Four years ago, when Lefty Driesell signed Washington to a Maryland grant-in-aid, the reaction from most people was "Wilson Who?" he had played high school basketball for only two years and was lightly recruited. But Driesell liked the raw potential he saw in him and lured him to College Park.

Washington left the following Decembr, saying Driesell had promised him a starting position, a charge the Maryland coach laughed off.Washington says now that his bitterness has gone away. "I don't have any ill-feeling toward them now."

Instead, he says he looks at Maryland "like you would you first girl friend. You always have a special feeling for her.

"I really think my time at Maryland molded me. I went through all the preseason work and got roughed up and I learned a lot about what coach Driesell thinks about basketball. He started me in the right direction."