"Coach says I'm not dedicated enough to basketball. It's true; I'm not. I get tired of basketball. I hate it sometimes and wish I didn't play it."

Albert King

Albert King's first collegiate season has been a disappointment to his fans, who certainly expected too much, and to King, who may have expected too little.

What the Maryland freshman had expected was to step out of the scorching spotlight of his high school days, blend into a tapestry of talent at Maryland and be just another good player on a winning team.

King certainly showed flashes of brilliance (he averaged 13.6 points a game) during the Terrapins' 15-13 season. But he seemed to turn it on and off like his blaring stereo.

"I think I hurt the team more than I helped them," said King. "If did what I was capable of, without worrying about what my teammates will think of me, things would have turned out differently. If I were to just play ball, get into the games, we would have won more.

"I don't feel great about that."

King has the talent, poise and reputation of man. But he often handles these burdens with the insecurities and apprehensions of a child.

King very much wanted his teammates to like him. He did not want anyone on the club to be jealous of him, and often this wish hurt his play.

"I didn't want to come in here and make them feel like I was going to try to live up to what everybody had said about me, because if I did that I'd be the greatest of all time, in all the world. I didn't want them to think I have that kind of ego," said King.

"It might not sound right, and it might not be right for me to do that. But that's just the way I felt.

"Before I even got here, all you heard was that Al King was coming and he was going to take over Maryland.

"My main problem is that I think too much about what people think about me . . . I came here nervous, and I just worried too much.

"I would never expect them to do this, but if the guys on this team came up and said, 'Al, don't worry what people say. Just go out and play ball, and just play how you play,' then I could see myself playing .

"I would know they're behind me and I wouldn't have to worry.

"I know they want me to play my best, but if I did, it would be taking something away from them.

"I worry about how they feel, and a lot of them feel down.A lot of them are down because I get a lot of publicity and they don't. They don't say that, but I know, because any person would feel that way. I don't look for them to come up and tell me these things but that's the only possible way I could see myself really changing."

People who followed King strictly through the box scores began to wonder if he was overrated. He wasn't Maryland's top scorer this year. But there is no question that King is one of the special talents in basketball.

Pressed on the subject, King said, "It would be very hard, if I put my mind to it, for anybody to stop me.

"But I don't think I'm as good as a lot of people say.I'm 6-6 and I'm skinny, and I can jump and I'm quick. There are some things I can do that people don't understand. I don't understand how I do some things myself."

A typical King performance this year came at North Carolina, where Maryland lost, 85-71. The Terps trailed by only two points at halftime, due primarily to King's 16 points. The crowd was thinking upset. But in the second half, King took only three shots and missed them all. He seemed, it was pointed out, like a different player.

"That's very true," said King. "That game was being televised back to New York, to my home town. At halftime, I looked at the stats, and I average around 13 or 14 points a game, and I already had 16. I said, 'Uh oh, I'm way ahead of myself here.'

In the second half, I didn't mean to think about it but, somewhere inside of me, I did, because I only took three shots.

"If I just didn't think about things, I'd be all right. Isn't that crazy? If I had a big ego, I'd be all right, maybe. But I wouldn't want to be like that."

To an outsider, King's theory sounds like a corny excuse, but insiders saw the problem developing through the season. Coach Lefty Driesell, who constantly urged King to assert himself more, summed up King's season by saying, "I don't think Albert played up to his potential. But all things considered, I think he had a very good year. He worried too much. He had the weight of the world on his shoulders. And I'm not going to blame our problems on Albert."

One theory about King's struggles was that his teammates weren't good enough to play with him. Often, King would cause turnovers by hitting teammates in the stomach with passes so swift and clever the receiver wasn't ready.

"That happens when you're not used to playing with each other," said King. "I just didn't feel comfortable in our offense. I slacked off. I was happier playing defense.

"These players are good enough. It's just that we have too many. Everyone can't share their talent. Everyone has selves, and that just hurts the team. What I'm trying to say it I think everybody's been holding back some. Maybe they feel the same way I do, not for the same reasons. Maybe they're afraid of making mistakes." If he had to play his freshman season over, King says he'd do it differently.

"I would like to have played the way I could," said King. "We could have won that (ACC) tournament. I don't want to start thinking about that again."

He admitted he has had some "terribly depressed" moments, and that he had had second thoughts about choosing Maryland over the hundreds of other schools that courted him.

"I get homesick, we're losing a lot, I'm hurt, so I think about why I did come here," said King. "But the same thing could happen someplace else. Other than basketball, everything is okay. School is nice. The social life is nice.

"I don't enjoy basketball as much as I used to. A couple of years ago, people used to call me ugly and skinny and I'd go home and cry. I thought basketball was the only way to make friends. Sometimes I still cry, but not like before.

"Lefty and I don't agree sometimes. All coaches want basketball to come before everything. I can understand why he'd say that because he wants me to be the best I can be. I have found I have other things, and I don't need basketball, except to help me get an education and, later, when I'm a pro, to help me and my family out financially. I hate it sometimes and I wish I didn't play it. Everybody feels this way sometimes, but reporters don't ask them to talk about it."

King shunned most interview requests this year and generally kept to himself, preferring the privacy of his single room in the dormitory.

"I take the pressure out on my family and my girl friend," said King, who has been continuing a relationship with his high school sweetheart, Jerina McAllister, who attends Cardozo High School in Queens. "I take it out on my girl friend too much. We yell. We have arguments. We were supposed to have been together a year this Saturday but I don't know if we still are.

"She hates basketball and I can understand why. It takes up too much time. But I don't like to hear it. It makes me feel guilty, like it's my fault, but I knew there was no other way I could go to college.

"She doesn't resent it too much, but enough for me to wonder sometimes why I play ball."

When King wonders why, he thinks of his family's impoverished surroundings, of his father, who is a custodian.

"That in itself makes me play ball," said King.

King said he plans to stay at Maryland at least another two years.

He expects things to improve as he gains maturity. The man inside 18-year-old Albert King realizes that the child needs to surface, and grow up.

"I have young problems because I never had them before," said King of his will-they-like-me? dilemma. "I never had time for problems. I put them in the closet. It was ball - morning, noon and night.

"Part of the problem is that I don't know myself. I grew up too fast, and maybe I didn't have time to get to know me. I know I can get right mentally here. It's just that maybe I'm too young to have it all right now."