They are the loners of the sports world. Their life is a blur of airport hotel rooms, rent-a-cars, phone booths and scouting reports. Their reward is the signature of some blue-chip basketball player on a grant-in-aid.

It can be a brutal existence, in which fatigue, tension and apprehension combine to tear at the strongest of bodies. But college basketball recruiters aren't in the business because it's easy.

Those who can't take it usually get out before it consumes them. Others, like Dave Pritchett, who thrive on the long hours and endless search for the next Moses Malone, sometimes get so entangled in the pressure cooker they don't see the warning signs. Then it may be too late.

Until last summer, Pritchett relished recruiting teen-age athletes. He was unique even among this rare breed. He was perhaps the most driven, the most relentless and the most diligent of all recruiters.

Then, "10 years of go-to-go" - as Pritchett referred to his life - caught up with him. He didn't feel good and began undergoing tests at a North Carolina hospital. Now he's back in another hospital, undergoing still more tests.

Ovever the weekend, Pritchett, 34, resigned his job as head coach at Davidson College. He had worked a decade to advance this far, but he had to get out.

"Dave finally must have realized how worn out he was," said a friend. "Otherwise, he'd never have given up the job. Never."

Pritchett had said as much last week. He talked about how he enjoyed his job and the athletes he had recruited for Davidson and how anxious he was to return "because we have a lot more to do."

There was always something Pritchett felt should be done. His idea of relaxing was puffing on a long cigar for a few minutes. Then he'd hurry to his next task.

He was enveloped by a passion to outwork and out hustle his rivals. It was perhaps an impossible goal, and he drove himself so hard his colleagues eventually nicknamed him "Pit Stop," hin honor of few times he was able to work in stops at his home during the year.

Name a high school prospect and Pritchett could tell you everything from his height and scoring average to his mother's and father's first names. He prided himself on discovering quality players and nursing a relationship with the youngster until he eventually signed a grant-in-aid. It was thankless, tense work, where the whim of an 18-year-old dictated job security, but Pritchett always said it was the best possible world for him.

He started as assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth after graduating from Salem College in 1967. He moved on to Bluefield State, then got his first break when he because an assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth after graduating from Salem College in 1967. He moved on to Bluefield State, then got his first break when he became an assistant at Boston College.

By the time he advanced to the No. 1 assistant's position with Lefty Driesell's Maryland Terrapins in 1973, replacing George Raveling, he had helped build Boston College into a nationally ranked team. When he left, the Eagles' began floundering.

At Maryland, he was determined to keep up with Driesell, one of basketball's market recruiters who expects his assistants to relish, as he does, 18-hour work days, something Pritchett did with pleasure.

It was during Pritchett's time at Maryland that the Terrapins signed, and then lost, Malone.

The Opportunity to become a head coach came in April, 1976. Ironically, Davidson was the same school that had given Driesell his first chance to be a head coach in college. The program that Driesell had so carefully constructed was staggering by the time Pritchett was hired, the team having won only 10 games in tow years.

So Pritchett spent 56 of his first 60 days on the road, trying to catch up, although he already was months behind in that spring's recuriting war.

He signed five players, two of whom started most of the first season. He won five games and lost 22. This seasons team has already won seven games.

"We've going to get the job done. You know what I mean?" said Pritchett last year, relying on his favorite expression for emphasis. "All it takes is hard work and I can do that.

"I'm probably not coaching as much as I should because we've recruiting so hard. But we need players. We've got to have them to win. And you can't get them by sitting around.

"We are competitive now. We aren't getting blown out, because our kids are trying. I love this job. It's a lot of fun."

But he knew he'd love it a lot more if he could convince a few blue-chippers to come to Davidson, a small liberal arts school outside of Charlotte that brags about its stringent academic requirements.

He and his staff canvassed fertile recruiting areas, battling the big boys for the best prospects. By the time the signing period had ended last spring, he had landed three standouts, guard Chris Dodds from State College, Pa., forward Rick DiDenetto from Bergenfield, N.J., and forward Todd Hayne from Bourbonnais, Ill.

"He was frustrated by the academic standards," and Emil Parker, one of Pritchett's closer friends at Davidson.

Pritchett began to feel below par early last summer. He underwent tests and rested as much as he could. Doctors recommended swimming for therapy - he has no hobbies - and he tried it for three days, starting at 7 a.m. The fourth day, he stopped.

He made it back by October for preseason practice but his players sensed things were not right. "He isn't as strong as before," said junior Pat Hicket. "He doesn't have as much energy. He came back too soon."

Pritchett was convinced his problem was physiological; his friends are convinced he was suffering from stress. He tried to work at home as much as possible and his assistants began to do more of the recruiting, but he explained, "I can't send them just to recruit. People will say, 'Where's the head coach?"

In December, he began feeling nauseous and suffered dizzy spells and shortness of breath. After the Wildcats beat Georgia Tech for his biggest win in his 1 1/2 years at Davidson, he decided he needed more tests.

Pritchett admitted himself to one hospital, didn't like what the doctors there found, so he checked out and went to another. For 24 hours, no one, even his wife, knew where he was. Later, he was moved to a third hospital by the school.

"Dave pushed and pushed until he couldn't push anymore," said Parker. "You couldn't get him on a golf course or into a bar. He was always too busy."