When Maryland freshman Greg Manning scans the court for someone to pass to he can't believe his eyes.

There is Albert King, who grew up in Sports Illustrated and prepped for college by scrimmaging with Dr. J. they are street-smart, slam-dunk specialists whose moves and desires began in the pages of a life Manning could only imagine.

"There are all these guys from big cities." said Manning, a slender, innocent-faced 6-foot guard. "I'm from a little town. Where I played, I was the biggest guy."

Manning honed his game in the backyard of his home in Highspire, Penn. His father coached him. His mother shot baskets with him. Both will be at his game tonight when Maryland (3-0) plays Penn State (0-0) at Hershey, Pa.

Manning won't be starting, but he will play quite a bit, as he has in the first three victories. When the big games come around, Manning, the backyard player, will likely quarterbacking the team of playground players.

Billy Bryant has been starting at point guard, the driver's seat left empty when Brad Davis entered the hardship draft. But Bryant's gift is putting the ball in the air, not bringing it across midcourt.

Soon, that could be Manning's exclusive chore.

In Manning's first brush with college ball, he had made 13 of 18 shots from the floor (the team's top percentage shooter) but has also been in on 11 turnovers.

In Maryland's close game with Georgetown, Manning twice botched the Terps's stall - called for travelling and charging. But he is able to regain his poise quickly, as he showed by sinking the final two points from the foul line in the four-point victory.

Manning's performance has surprised even him. He has good court sense and enough brains off the court not to fret about the inevitable comparisons to Davis and John Lucas.

"I don't think comparisons are fair to either player, because each person plays differently," said Manning.

"Brad was a little better ball-handler. I might have it on him in shooting."

The quarterback role is one Manning enjoyed so much on a football field as a youth that he didn't give serious thought to basketball until the eighth grade. Manning was always comparatively short and his choir-boy face makes him look smaller than he is.

Manning shaves only once a month. "I don't even own a razor. I borrow them," he said.

In the training room last week, a youngster wandered in and was compelled to tell Manning, "you look like you're 12."

But in some ways. Manning is mature beyond his years.

His only adjustment problem, he says has been the dormitory food and being away from his girlfriend. Manning has dated one girl, a cheerleader at Stecilton-Highspire, and now they talk twice a week on the phone and she writes eight letters a week.

"It's been tough," said Manning.

To help ease the pain, Manning went home the first nine weekends of the semester.

"I've always stayed at home whenever I can," said Manning.

When basketball became a more serious endeavor, Manning took a tape casette player, and at seven each morning ventured all the way to his grade school gym. where the janitors knew him and let him in to practice in solitude.

After Manning makes his homecoming appearance tonight, the team heads to California to play a nocounter against Athletes in Action. But it's a game that Manning will remember.

"I've never been on an airplane before," said Manning. "I've never been on a train. Only cars."