Brian Magid understands the loneliness of the long distance shooter. The George Washington University backetball team guard is unique: a college legend before his time.

Many athletes have coped with stardom. Magid has endured being a celebrity bench-warmer.

Magid has inadvertently created for himself what must be a new category. He is not a star, a failure or even -- that broad area between -- a "disappointment."

In his fourth college year Magid, 21, is still a mystery.

Throughout his career, the boy with the brain-bending jump shot has stoically waited his turn, watching the heroics of his boyhood bombardiering evaporate into tissue-thin myth.

First, he rode the Maryland bench for two years. Then, he sat out a season after transferring to GW. Finally, this year, he found himself a third guard who specialized in "zone busting."

Now, at last -- but under circumstances he would never choose -- Magid has received those orders that both his fans and detractors have long awaited: "Fire at will."

With two GW starters injured, the blond 6-foot-2 guard will have a four- to six-week chance to show his skills.

As usual with Magid, his starting debut against Dickinson College at 8 tonight at Smith Center probably is anticipated with unfair interest.

"Sometimes I feel sorry for him," said GW Coach Bob Tallent.

"He's just not that good a player that people should talk so much about him and expect so much from him.

"All the attention has hurt Brian, no question," said Tallent. "Every TV crew in town has come out to interview him. Coming off the bench in our first two games, he was unbelievably tight.

"Brian knows his limits. He hasn't fooled himself or pretended to be what he's not. He's just a normal young man... not always sure of himself."

Nevertheless, the spotlight follows Magid. Part of the reason has to do with daydreams.

Perhaps every person who has shot a basketball has dreamed of mastering the Unstoppable Jumper, the Bomb, the Shot From the Street.

Magid was the kid who almost did. Like a solitary distance runner or a young pool shark, he practiced his art as much as nine hours a day, constantly extending his range until he launched 25-footers with the smooth release and confidence that other players showed on free throws.

"I've spent 10 years of my life working on my shot," said Magid, who frequently was accosted on the Maryland campus by students gleefully yelling, "Shoot, shoot!"

"Sometimes when I think of the days when I'd do nothing but shoot for eight hours, I wonder why I did it. Was it worth it?" Then Magid brightens.

"I guess it was, because I sure had a lot of fun doing it. If it had been the least bit like work, I'd have to say, 'No, it wasn't worth it.' I know one thing. I couldn't shoot for even two hours now. I'd get too bored."

Just as Magid's name was one letter away from being Magic, so his talents, other than shooting, have always been just one level shy of major college standards.

No type of basketball player is more prone to unpopularity than the bomber who is weak on defense, gets the ball stolen from him occasionally and only gets rebounds when they roll out to him. That, too, was Magid's reputation.

"From what I'd seen of him at Maryland, I figured all he could do was shoot," said GW captain Tom Tate. "I thought, 'Oh, so one of Maryland's rejects is going to come and be our star.'" Now Tate calls Magid "just about my best friend."

Magid's bright, almost shy personality has won over his other new teammates' friendship, too.

"Brian's very coachable, a pleasure to work with," said Tallent. "But just because his teammates like him personally doesn't mean they can't be jealous of him, too.

"Yes, I definitely think some of them have resented his notoriety. I think that may be one reason we just stood around and looked at each other in our first two games."

Magid understands that "show us how great you are" syndrome.

"I've never been able to understand what's happened around me," said Magid. "I'll never understand why I get all this attention. I hope that everybody on the team understands that it's not my fault that all this is happening to me.

"I can't say I don't enjoy it, but really it hasn't affected me very much... I'm just going to have a real full scrapbook when I'm an old man."

Magid's most unusual characteristic is his maturity.

"It sure seems like more than five years since I was in high school," he said, forgetting that it was only four. "I've sure had the good and the bad. But I've enjoyed myself, contrary to what people might think.

"I'd do it exactly the same way again. You have to recognize your limitations. Maybe I'm luckier than somebody who was a star throughout college and then crashed when he ran into the real world.

"Basketball isn't a life or death thing to me anymore. It's been a long time since I thought I was going to be a pro. At Maryland it really killed me to have a bad shooting night. I'd have a knot in my stomach," said Magid, as he searched for just the right explanation. "I would have been grieving over it," he said, smiling at the word.

Now Magid is living a simpler basketball life, a sort of hoop afterlife.

"These last two years at GW I'm going to play for fun," he said. "I never sulked at Maryland and I never will. That's not me. If I'm the sixth man or if they send me in to mop up with one second to play, I'll never complain. I just want to contribute and find out what I can do as a complete player."

"I'm proud of Brian," said his father, Joseph. "He's learned that you can't live in a dream world. He's not going to handle too many things in life that are harder than what he's already been through. He's met the ups and downs in a remarkably adult way. Probably better than I would have."

At Smith Center yesterday, with starters Bob Lindsay and Tom Glenn in casts with knee and hand injuries, respectively, Tallent looked over his depleted roster.

"I feel like I'm in a foxhole," the coach laughed sardonically. "I better drag some sandbags up around the door and turn my office into a bomb shelter until we get healthy.

"We're going to have to rely on a freshman forward, Dave Thornton, and on Brian at guard," said Tallent. "It's not going to be easy. Magid's not going to be able to sneak up on anybody, not with his reputation."

In the statistics it will look as if GW has replaced its star guard, Lindsay, with a transfer named Magid who has averaged 10 points and shot 45 percent in his first four games for his new school.

To Brian Magid it means much more. A legend before his time is finally going to get to play.