Not such a long time ago when young Earl Monroe or Bobby Dandridge or Sam Jones or Bob Love was growing up in these parts, they dreamed small.

They dreamed of playing basketball for little, black Southern colleges: Winston-salem State, Norfolk State, Guildord, Gardner-Webb or North Caroline A&T.

For every grits-and-Greens prospectsive Lou Hudson who went to the northern promised land to play for Minnesota in the Big 10, there were dozens who stayed home in conferences with initials - CIAA, SWAC, MEAC.

Those days are gone.

This year the University of Alabama started five black players. 'Bama even had black bench warmers, and that, as they say in the South, is real progress.

At major, predominantly white state institutions from Mississippi to Arkansas to Kentucky to Tennessee to North Carolina, the indigenous black basketball player is at the heart of nearly every program.

What happens to the programs at black schools on a plane with South Carolina State, that developed a star player only to see him transfer across the railroad tracs to rich South Carolina?

The answer is simple. The small black colleges with the wrich athletic traditions are moving to the back of the basketball bus. All the way back.

"Everybody's convinced they've got to have the good black ballplayer," says South Carolina State coach Tim Autry. "You have to go outside your stte to find players. It's tougher and tougher."

"I've got to beat the bushes and pull up and the roots to find players," says Sterling Holt whose North Carolina Cenrral team finished 3-24 this year. In desperation Holt has shifted his recruiting northward. Three of his four freshmen were little-known players at Washington's Chamberlain, Bell and Spingarn.

"The major Southern white schools have drained the local talent to the point where it's very difficult to go to the South and attract even a secondline player," says Marshall Emery, coach of Delaware State, whose team was 2-25 this year.

It is hard to fool black college fans with inferior talent.

To take the pulse of black college basketball simply look in the stands. Empty seat don't lie.

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, that used to attract 10,000 a night for its tournament, held its season-ending affair here last weekend. The three-day attendance was less than 9,000.

"We took a financial bath," said onne coach. "Even my school's students told me. 'We got to desert you, coach. We've got to go somewhere else and see, some better ball.'"

It is ironic that the MEAC should come up dry. Seven years ago the seven MEAC schools broke away from the thriving 15-team CIAA to form their conference.

"We thought we were the cream of the predominantly black colleges - the best academically, the best endowed," said a member of the original planning committee. "The idea was to build a conference as respected as the ACC or Big 10 with an automatic NCAA postseason berth."

But the MEAC's commitment has floundered. Two of the league's schools - Morgan State and N.C.Central - are still Division II. The confernce's out-of-league winning percentage in basketball this year was 290.

That same member of the original MEAC planning committee, the man who six years ago thoguth the creme de la creme of black athletic programs could move into the NCAA Division I mainstream, now says: "In my lifetime I don't believe I will ever see a predominantly black college win the NCAA title. We don't have the resources."

Or as Emery of Delaware State says, "I offer a boy a cheeseburge and Dean Smith (of North Carolina/ offers him a steak dinner.

"On top of that the parents of black players are still into that old 'If-it's-white-it-must-be-better' syndrome. They still think the white man's ice is colder than ours.

"When I coached at Howard (nine years) my wife must have cooked chicken dinner six times for Wilson Washington and his father.But Washington Went to Maryland because Lefty Driesell sat nest to his dad at high school games. The old man couldn't resist getting up to pulpit on Sunday and saying, 'My son is going to Maryland.'"

If the MEAC is an example of a league that reads the directions of the times incorrectly and temporarily overreached itself, then the old CIAA is the epitome of a black league that tightened its belt and found moderate success.

At a time the MEAC tournament was playing to nearly empty houses in the Greensboro Coliseum, the all-Division II CIAA held its tournament on the same three days and sold out more than 10,000 seats for each session in the Hampton (Va.) Coliseum.

"They've got to be laughing at us," said former Howard assistant athletic director Tillman Sease. "We thought we were leaving them behind us as we moved up the status ladder. Now they've passed us just by staying behind."

Certainly the CIAA cannot boast the kind of shootouts it once had with its Monroes and Dandridges. But the CIAA teams have winning records and their fans still come out, although fewer pro scouts come around.

"The CIAA understands that the two keys of the future are organization and realism," said Emery. "They have a full-time commissioner (the MEAC does not), a suite of offices and a smooth operation."

But more important, the CIAA schools, and in the last year or two several MEAC and SWAC schools, are learning selling points they still have over the largely white basketball factories.

"The recruiters from the white schools have all been to salesman school," said Autry of S.C. State. "They've got the initial selling pitch down pat, but are they as good once they have gotten the player?"

"I have one tremendous advantage over the recruiter from the big school," said Emery. "They can offer him cars and money, but once they have a kid most schools either molly-coddle a black and say, 'Come on, baby. Be good' or they treat 'em like dogs.

"White coaches believe all this mystique of black athletes. They don't understand that we've got some sorry black guys who can't do a thing. Just cause a kid is black doesn't mean you can tell him, 'Jump up, but don't come down.'

"I can talk to a kid, get his attention, give it to him straight without a chaser."

With the merger between the NBA and the ABA, many black coaches feel that major schools will be less able to use the pro dream as a carrot. "You don't have to be Phi Beta Kappa to figure out that only half of one per cent make it," says one MEAC coach.

The hope of coaches at many black colleges is that players will increasinglly chose a school because they think they can take a degree there, or because their coaches will offer them genuine understanding and criticism, not simply a snap of the whip or a groveling plea.

"Let's face it," said Emery, who was on the 1976 U.S. Olympic basketball selection committee. "Many white coaches think their black players can't be disciplined. They're afraid. They'd rather sacrifice their coaching principles than risk having a star quit and tell the other blacks that the coach is a handkerchief head (honkey).

"It's a reverse insult to treat a black athlete as though he can't be coached. More parents are going to realize that black college programs can offer an extension of the family ties and that includes discipline."

Whatever hopes coaches at black colleges hold out for their programs, whatever recruiting strategies they try, and whatever sociological trends they hope they see coming to their aid, all agree on one thing: they have moved into a new and more demanding era.

"I wish somebody would encourage the white kids to play more," S.C. State's Autry said. "Good white players aren't extinct, are they?"