Mike Gminski, already 6-foot-6 when he turned 13, was a towering presence on any court, an A student and an only child. The only problem is that he never had to fight for a thing. Not even a drumstick.

In last Friday's [WORD ILLEGIBLE] regional game against Penn, the Duke center was described by Sports Illustrated as playing "in an irreversible coma" before he turned the game around with a flurry of blocked shots.

The talented introvert came to grips with his problem two days later in the final aginst Villanova. And when Duke takes on Notre Dame today (2:15 p.m. WRC-TV-4) in the first NCAA semifinal, Gminski will take the court with a new understanding of himself and his role.

"I never had to play intense in high school. I could do anything I wanted," said Gminski, who was graduated one year early, second in his class.

"What I have to learn is to be intense for 40 minutes. I did it for the first time ever in the Villanova game."

When Gminski shifts into high gear, he is an intimidsting pivotman.

But Gminski is the first to admit that, as much as he loves the game, its aggressive nature rubs aginst the grain of his personality.

"I guess you could best describe me as gentle secluded," said Gminski. "That's the way I'm happiest.

"Some of my problem is that my emotions on the court and off the court would conflict. We have a team in which the responsibilities are spread out, but when it comes right down to it, I'm the key. I guess maybe I was a little scared to take on that responsibility.

"Toward the end of the season, especially now, the coaches have told me that I'm the key to our wins. I hadn't really realized it. I reflected on it and I like being the key. I enjoy it now.

"Being intense was something I wasn't used to, something I hadn't learned yet. I just have to go out and play excited, with a lot of emotion, talk the whole game, rather than just drifting through."

In Gminski's two years at Duke, there had been hours of gentle prodding from the coaching staff. But it took an opposing coach - Bob Wienhauer - to make Gminski turn the corner. The Penn coach took a verbal swipe at Duke after Penn lost to the Blue Devils in the East regionals. Among other things, Weinhauer said that Duke was slow and would lose to Villanova.

Gminski and his teammates ran against Villanova like a herd of crazed deer.

"The answer to a problem like mine has to come from within yourself," said Gminski. "I found out in the Villanova game how to do it. You have to psych our slowness, I played excited. I ran up and down with a lot of emotion.

"I don't know if you could call it a turning point in my career. But it was a very valuable lesson for me to learn. For the rest of our games. I'll know what to do - go around in the locker room clapping, yelling, encouraging the team. I used to prefer getting ready quietly, but I found out this is a lot better."

Gminski will be put to the test to day by a huge and rough Notre Dame front line that will be keying beating on him. The Blue Devils have a slew of other fine players. Guard Jim Spanarkel won the East Regional most outstanding player award despite a swollen ankle. But Duke counts on Spanarkel to get his 20, dead or alive, win or lose. It is Gminski the coaches will watch as a 6-foot-11 indicator of how the game is going.

"We're going to have to go out and knock heads," said Gminski. "I'd rather have it that way, where the guys inside get to play."

Lest you thingk Gminski has strayed too far from his natural habitat, he pointed out that the day before a game he likes to relax, get his mind off the game.

so, yesterday his plans were to study.

"I brought a lot of books," said Gminski, whose average has dropped to 3.2 in college. "The only thing I don't like is English."