Bending over strangers' feet and selling tennis shoes is Mo Howard.

People remember the way Howard played basketball at Maryland a few years ago. They remember the way he didn't complain when he was benched, the way he always came up with something funny and crazy to say, and they still love him.

"A lot of people won't let anyone else wait on 'em," said Howard, selling athletic footwear at the Foot Locker at Tyson's Corner after being cut by three professional teams and playing for a prio league team that went broke.

"I fit people in shoes. I do a pretty good job, matter of fact. This is the first opportunity I've had to experience what kind of impact my time at Maryland has had on people.

"They like me to work on weekends, and I know people come in to see me. They still recognize me.

"This affords me an opportunity to really see what people are like. The other day, a kid took his boots off and he had a big wad of chewing gum tied up in his sock. I said, 'Are you saving that for dinner?' The father was all embarrassed, and the kid say, "But Dad. I just put clean socks on this morning.'

"I enjoy people. This is just something I'm into right now because I don't know what my niche is."

Like many basketball players who glimpsed a patch of glory in college, Howard thought his niche was professional basketball. He is not sure he will ever again give it a try.

Howard was drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1976. He was one of the last two players cut 48 hours before the pay-all-year deadline. He finished the final 2 1/2 months of the season with the New Orleans Jazz, averaging about 15 minutes, five points and four assists per game. The next fall, in training camp, he was cut long before any deadlines.

His next stint was the shortest - five days with the Atlanta Hawks. They cut him in the Atlanta airport and left him there.

"That's when I decided that the basketball I played so lovingly at Maryland might not be worth it on the next level," said Howard, "I faced up to the reality that I may not be one of the guys to make it. It's not a question of ability. I feel even today I'm as qualified as some of the guys in the league with no-cut contracts. But I didn't have a no-cut contract.

"I have friends in the NBA who know I can play there. Brad Davis tells me; Joe Bryant of the 76ers tells me all the time that if I could find the right place, I'd be in "about 64 people."

"I felt that since basketball was my acknowledged strength, I might as well make some money at it. At that point I was just playing for money, and I never got paid."

The team folded, and Howard left for his hometown, Philadelphia. He soon received a $200 hotel bill that the team was supposed to have paid.

Howard returned to the Washington area, and in February began almost full-time work at the Foot Locker. In between, he does volunteer work with the Special Olympics and speaks at banquets.

"I'm not playing but I've still got my smile, a few bucks, and I can say I had my chance," said Howard, slipping a newly-lit pipe into his grin.

Recently, Howard returned to the Maryland campus to visit friends, do an interview, play some ball and engage in a little springtime hand-holding with his new girl friend.

"I love this campus," said Howard, scanning a spread of brick buildings, but apparently seeing much more. The memories here never die. At the time I was playing ball, our games were the thing, the social event of the week. People took off work to see us and cheer for us. I don't know if the fans are as sincere now as they were then.

"Of all the things I've ever done, Maryland basketball has been the best. Coach (Lefty) Driesell, his fanaticism. It's nice to say I went through the same amount of bull - as Tom McMillen, John Lucas and Brad Davis.

"The least games I won here was 22 and the most games I lost was seven. Everywhere I go, people remember me as a winner. We came in and put the top on the foundation, and now Maryland can get guys like Al King and Reggie Jackson. Had it not been for guys like Luke (Lucas), Bear (Steve Shepherd) and me, would Reggie even have considered coming here? Would Albert?

Do the fans remember Howard? He answers with a story.

"I went to an awards banquet for handicapped kids in Woodsboro, Md.," said Howard. "I had never been to Woodsboro, and I've been to some pretty remate parts of Maryland. For some reason, they wanted me to come talk to these kids. About 100 people were there, and they told me it was the biggest thing that's ever happened in Woodsboro. But if anybody was honored, it was me. Here I am, a foreigner, really, from Philadelphia. It was overwhelming to me. But the people of Maryland are grateful for what we did."

Howard never attained his college degree, But he's determined to finished up the final three hours, only because "I started something and didn't finish it. I don't know that it will make a difference in my life."

Basketball Avenues are open to Howard.Penn State and George Mason talked to him about assistant coaching jobs, and should Driesell lose an assistant, Howard would surely be considered. High schools have offered him jobs. He loves working with the handicapped. "They're so limited," said Howard. "They make me with all my talent feel so insignificant."

The big question for Howard now is, what about pro ball?

"I don't know if I want to just try out," said Howard. "I think I've proven myself. I don't know if I could stick my neck out again. If I am not offered some kind of security, I may og elsewhere.

"Once you've been rejected, once you've been put down, it's always in the back of your mind - could I have made it?"