The lobby of the Sheraton Lanham Hotel, off the Maryland Beltway and a few miles from Capital Centre, was filled with college basketball coaches and their assistants.

Maryand's Lefty Driesell, Kentucky's Joe B. Hall, Louisville's Denny Crum, Duke's Bill Foster, Georgetown's John Thompson, Wake Forest's Carl Tacy and Detroit's Dave Gaines were only a few of the "big names" in the lobby.

With the bosses were the assistants - in natty three-piece suits - their eyes flashing, their necks always turning.

The reason for the late March gathering was not a coaching clinic, but the Capital Classic all-star game the following night featuring some of the best high school basketball prospects in the country.

And if National Collegiate Athletic Association rules prohibit a coach from "visiting" a recruit more than three times, nothing prevents a coach from "bumping into" one of the coveted teen-agers, or his parents.

After all, a bump here could land a youngster; and a bump there could save one.

Driesell said the recruiting fever prevalent at high school all-star games is a joke.

But recruiting the best high school basketball players in no joke. It's serious business and the coaches who get the best players win and survive. The ones who don't, lose - and are often fired.

"The whole deal here is that everyone watches everyone else. As soon as someone disappears, everyone wants to know where they are," said Maryland assistant Bill Turner. "There's not that much recruiting going on. It's mostly just watching out for the other guy."

"I think it's ridiculous," Driesell said, "that you have to come here and hang around and try and bump 'em. But as long as everyone else does it, you have to do it - to show the kids you're interested.

"Truthfully, you're not even supposed to talk except to say, 'Hello. How are you?' But you watch in the lobby - you'll see coaches off in corners, talking to players."

Driesell's day of bumping starts at Capital Centre, where he watches the U.S.A. All-Stars practice. Back at the Sheraton, he has rented a room, which he will not use except to make a few telephone calls.

After practice, Driesell sits on a couch in the lobby, where he bumps into Janet Taylor, the sister of Vince Taylor, a young man Driesell is recruiting. Taylor was quoted in that morning's paper on how much he is impressed with Duke. Driesell makes pleasant small talk with the prospect's sister.

Later, another recruit - Reggie (Philadelphia) Jackson - walks through the lobby and Driesell gives a friendly greeting. Jackson wants to know where the drug store is. Driesell points it out. Jackson leaves.

The scene is repeated enough times to make Driesell hungry. He and a Maryland assistant, a Kentucky assistant and a writer go to dinner at nearby restaurant, where you can order all the frog legs, fried oysters and shrimp you can eat for a reasonable price. Driesell devours many helpings of frog legs while explaning how frogs are caught, speared and skinned.

Driesell complains that the waitress is not bringing the food fast enough. The Kentucky assistant needs change of a $100 bill. All these problems are taken care of just in time for Driesell to dash off to Capital Centre and make the preliminary game between the District and Suburban all-stars.

"At a game like this, you might pick up a sleeper," said Driesell, who had been joined by his wife Joyce and son Chuck. The seats are up high, behind one of the baskets.

"I thought this was the left-hander's town," said Detroit's Gaines walking by in his maroon suit and matching suede shoes. "They got you up here in the attic."

"Yeah," Driesell said. "This is bad for my image up here."

Hall, whose Kentucky team had just won the NCAA title, is introduced to the crowd and draws stirring applause. He is sitting in a lower section near midcourt, Driesell decides, "These really are sorry seats."

Driesell talks about the game with his family, his assistants and one of his present players seated nearby. "You like that guy?" Driesell asks center Larry Gibson. "He's got good legs, doesn't he?"

Between games Driesell stands in the concourse area, signs autographs and even poses for a picture with Gaines. He scans the crowd for relatives of recruits. He talks with a Rhode Island assistant, who tells him, "Last night I was screaming a player's name in my sleep. I've never done that, but we really need this guy."

Back in the stands for the feature game, a Maryland assistant points out to Driesel where some recruits' parents are sitting. They count rows - one, two, three, etc . . . near the pole, wearing a brown coat.

Driesell complains that he hasn't seen Jerry Eaves' parents all day. No one knows where they are sitting. At halftime, Driesell takes his family, assistants and their guests down the steps to the arena floor, where they say hello to Jackson's parents. Then they all parade back up.

A stranger who appears to be drunk walks by and informs Driesell that what he needs to get is a big, strong center. Gibson, sitting a few seats away with his girlfriend, probably can hear the advice. A few seats farther over is Maryland freshman Al King, signing autographs. A fan urges King to "dominate" next year. King says okay.

After the game, the party heads back to the hotel, where everyone stands around in the lobby until 2 a.m. Finally, it is time to leave. Driesell has had a long day. He asks his assistants whether his car is at the hotel. It's not. Driesell asks for a ride home, then checks out of his hotel room.

His plane leaves for Pittsburgh in six hours, so he can resume the bump at the "Dapper Dan" classic.