Bob Tallent, George Washington basketball coach, recently returned Mike Zagardo's 20-pound weighted vest to his starting center, Tallent had taken it away from the 6-foot-10 sophomore because he was wearing himself a frazzle running in it.

After one victory this 15-8 season, Zagardo went back to his dormitory room, changed into sweat clothes and ran three miles. Zagardo was not satisfied with his performance.

When Zagardo packed to go home to Timonium, Md., following his freshman year, he took part of the athletic department with him. He and a friend dismantled GW's 700-pound "Leaper," a machine that helps gasketball players jump higher, transported it in a U-Haul truck and reassembled it in his recreation room.

For his showing such perseverance, people like Tallent rave about Zagardo's dedication to work. Tallent calls him the hardest worker he has ever coached.

"It's funny how people seem impressed with the work I do," Zagardo said yesterday as the Colonial's began preparation for thWednesday's big game against intracity rival Georgetown. "But back home, people don't think much of it."

yet,even Zagardo will tell you, "It's 75 percent work and 25 percent talent" that has made him the Colonials leading scorer (16 points) and rebounder (eight) this season. Not bad for a player one GW athletic department official saw for the first time and told Tallent he had wasted a scholarship. Actually Zagardo has no quickness and little jumping ability.

"It goes back to my parents and the way they brought me up," Zagardo said. "To do anything I try to do the best of my ability. Most people don't like to lose and it's a question of whether you'll work to achieve goals.

"And the main thing has to do with ego - you don't want to go out there and get ripped."

Until GW suffered two uninspired rippings in Eastern Eight road play last week, Wednesday's game at McDonough Gym had all the makings of a super-duper matchup between two of the hottest teams in not only the city but the nation.

"Basketball is psychological," Zagardo said, "You can tell how much by looking at our road record. We don't seem to get really fired up away. I don't know why it is. The psychology of being up for a game is a task in itself for us.

"When we're not ready to play, just about anybody can beat us. When we're ready to play, we work well as a team. We don't have the talent of a Kentucky. What we have are hard-nosed ballplayers who have a desire to win."

For example: GW plays marvelously against the Washington-area schools. It has beaten Maryland the past two years and Georgetown for the past six regular-season games although the Hoyas have won two postseason contests that got them into the NCAA tournament.

"To us," Zagardo said, "the most important games should be the league games. But, around here, with the proximity of the schools - Georgetown is just fown the street - the students are concerned about those games.

"The students get wrapped up in Georgetown. We should'nt, but it's possible the players do, too. The league games are more important to us, although it may not seem it the way we played against Maryland (an 11-point victory when the Terps were undefeated) and against Massachusetts (a 20-point loss Saturday night).

"But there's no denying there will be any problem getting us fired up for the Georgetown game, no problem at all."

In a nutshell, Zagardo is the key to the game, as a center should be in any important basketball game. He is GW's best player. The 19-4 Hoyas are weakest at center and this keeps them from truly being a national power.

Yet, Zagardo, a pre-med major who wants to be an orthopedic surgeon, is not epitome of a consistent player despite his work.

He can be taken out of a game mentally, as James Bailey of Rutgers and Mark Haymore of Massachusetts both accomplised last week.

"Sometimes," Zagardo said, "if the opposing center does a good job in the first half of getting me out of the offense, it affects the way I play the rest of the game.

"If I'm not playing well, I get flustered easily and it has an adverse effect on my game. That's really bad, something I have to work on. But if I can keep getting rebounds, I'm okay. I'd rather get 14-15 rebounds a game than score 20 points. The last two game I didn't get any rebounds either."

And that is likely to get Zagardo out running. His favorite route is the jogging path around the Reflecting Pool near Lincoln Memorial.

"Running to me is a way of getting anxiety," Zagardo said. It's enjoyable and you're out alone and cruising along. Some people who want to get rid of anxiety do it by pounding a racquetball."

In the only college game on the tap among area teams tonight, George Mason plays at Millersville State.