This is a special athletic week at Evansville University, although thankfully not as maudlin such circumstances often yield, there will be no prolonged, Gilliam-like show of grief, perhaps not even a pregame moment of silent reflection about one of the tragedies of American collegiate sport.

Still, Evansville cares too deeply about its Aces not to be reminded, ever so often and in so many small ways, of the plane crash 11 months ago that took the lives of a gifted coach and his entire 14-member basketball team.

Scores of casual and devoted fans will catch themselves in the same mood as Joe Celania Saturday night during an exhibition against the Polish national team, "When I found myself at times just staring, my mind sort of a blank. But I don't guess that'll ever stop."

Of the nonrelatives, Celania suffered as much as anyone from the crash. One of fate's mysteries, a lecture before a high school government class, kept him off that team flight - for the first time in nine years - and he said yesterday.

"I couldn't imagine ever dropping out (of doing the radio play-by-play he started in 1946) because of one incident. But I have. I simply couldn't see packing that little bag of radio gear and getting on a plane with the club again. A helluva lot is missing for me.

"It's out of my hands, that's all."

At the time of the crash, Evansville was making the transition from occasional dominance of small-college basketball into the risky and rarified air of Division I. Enthusiasm had diminished over the year and the team, under first-year coach Bobby Watson, was 1-3 when it boarded that fight to Nashville.

"As a little kid, every Wednesday and Saturday that there were Aces games at home, you'd go," said the graduate assistant in the sports information department. Stan Blackford. "That was more or less the entertainment in town. It was like if you grew up in Los Angeles with UCLA and those blue uniforms. Purple and white are kind of magic around here."

And red.

That was the color socks coach Arad McCutchan always wore while producing five national championships and such as Jerry Shoan, Don Buse and others less talented but not necessarily less spirited about basketball.

But Watson was rebuilding, a team as well as the sporting spirit of Evansville. New coach Dick Walters, 31, is attacking both matters with equal zest as the pike at Southern Illinois.

"There was one 15-week stretch after I got the job where I was on a plane all but four days," he said. "We're deep, and we keep plugging. I think what folks here want are bright, quick kids, Jerry Sloan personified."

Walters' team include seven freshmen and four transfers, including 6-5 guard Mike Watley from the Arkansas team that made the round of four in the NCAA tournament last season. The attraction for most was a chance to play rather than grabbing some unseen, fallen athletic torch. The NCAA allowed transfers to play immediately at Evansville instead of sitting out a year.

"It's pretty hard breaking into any Division I school," said freshman Eric Harris, from washington, N.C. "Lots of times, a freshman has to watch a long time before he gets his chance. I felt I was able to complete on this level - and here I'd get one of the greatest chances to perform."

Walters won 202 of 258 games as coach at Du-Page Junior College near Chicago, but realizes that rekindling spark in a basketball-daffy area that includes Indiana and Notre Dame, Indiana State, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Purdue and others will not be easy.

"Our booster club is up 200 members, to about 800 at the moment," he said. "We're shooting for 1,000. And we've got the students active now, 1,300 members of what we call the Purple Pride Gang. A store gives 'em free chili and pop every time we win."

How many binges take place this season is uncertain, although Celania and others believe the team has the potential to win half its games. Basketball teams can rebuilt much more quickly than football teams.

"There was a time against Poland, which beat Penn State among others," Walters said, "When we got down a few points and could have quit. But we didn't. We came back and took 'em (by 63-58). We're calling this our season with a reason."

But all the tributes and memorials, the public recollections are finished, although contributions to a fund still trickle in. Celania and others are grateful. As Blackford said: "It's a good feeling to have people on the floor, players in Aces unfiorms again.

"The atmosphere is like people looking for something new," said Harris. "We're trying to put that (the crash) behind. We're trying to bring something back alive, like when you fin something smoldering you try for that spark that'll get it ignited once again."