He was an athletic shooting star, leaping to a level most players reach only in their dreams and then fading almost as swiftly, part of a basketball team that gave Maryland some of its proudest and saddest moments. From Great Falls, Mont., though, Brad Davis seemed happy.

"The main thing is it's a chance to play (after being cut by the Los Angeles Lakers Oct. 27), to burn off energy," he said, "to have another shot at the NBA. I'm making the best of it, whatever that may be."

He is making the best of it with the Montana Sky of the Western Basketball Association, which dribbles through six other towns in the Northwest, Southwest and California when the snow allows. He also is searching, for a jump shot and for players he can help and who in turn can help him.

Davis is fascinating because for parts of two years he played point guard as well as anyone, college or pro. Red Auerbach included him in basketball textbook. In the finals of the 1975 NCAA Midwest Regionals, Maryland built its attack around Davis, a freshman.

What Davis does -- or did -- is the second most valued gift in basketball, behind the inside dominance of somebody 6-foot-9 or above. Basketball devotees still recall him on fast breaks, blond hair flowing, either inventing some from-the-hip pass in full-stride or moving for a layup himself.

So what went wrong? Is there a Fidrychlike sense of gloom about Davis or a chance to regain past glory? Should he have stayed another year at Maryland or was he wise to grab the Lakers' money after his junior year?

The major answer will not be known for several months -- or longer. If Davis has solved the other puzzles, he also has chosen to play keep-away with the public, saying: "I told myself I wouldn't look back with regrets if it didn't turn out.

"I've learned a lot. This hasn't crushed me. I'm still positive and I've matured as a person (he will be married in June). All my years at Maryland were special, but the first was the best."

That also offers clues about his later down-hill slide, for while the role of a point guard is to make everyone else a little better, the point guard also needs help. And every player on that '74-75 Maryland team played to Davis' strength.

There were Owen Brown and Tom Roy, both obsessed with overcoming the loss of Moses Malone to the pros, to provide the outlet passes that got Davis moving. And two swift and smart guards, John Lucas and Mo Howard, to anticipate Davis's moves and passes.

The prevailing theory now is that Lucas and Howard gave Davis more than Davis gave them, that later Maryland guards could not play with him and later Maryland giants could not control enough rebounds to start fast breaks.

Still, after some junior-year frustration, Davis was good enough to be the 15th player chosen in the NBA draft, by the Lakers. That seemed the ideal team for him, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to get him the ball and a stable of forwards and guards to run with him.

Circumstances proved otherwise.

Whispers throughout the NBA insist that Davis was exposed as the ultimate specialist, a feeder unsuited to any game played at less than a sprint, with no jumper to keep defenders honest in a half-court game and no flair for penetration.

"He's just good enough to fail," one general manager said.

But Davis suffered a broken finger and was idle for nearly seven weeks. And a player the Lakers chose just after Davis, the nationally ignored Norm Nixon, provided exactly the sort of all-around floor leadership so many expecred from Davis.

And the reason the Lakers gave for waiving Davis was neither shooting nor penetration. They said they needed a better defensive guard when they signed Jim Price and Davis became a Montana Sky.

"We felt the team needed more defense -- and that was his biggest problem," Laker General Manager Bill Sharman said. "He needs experience and he'll get it in the WBA. We hope to give him a real good shot next season."

Although he will collect his Laker salary, Davis is not in hoop heaven at the moment, playing in high-school gyms much of the time and waiting on small planes in small airports.

He is unselfish in a selfish league, though, and that will be useful against such as the Reno Bighorns, Tucson Gunners and Las Vegas Dealers. But the Sky was 0-8 going into weekend play, in great need of a power forward.

Davis has become aware of the often-cold aspects of the NBA, although he says his cutting was as dignified as possible. He also knows the curious chemistry of the NBA and the histroy of some guards having trouble adjusting quickly.

To examine Davis is to recall that two of the players on his Maryland teams, Brown and Chris Patton, died and that an assistant coach, Dave Pritchett, suffered a nervous breakdown.

"I was 14 for 18 before I got waived," Davis said, as much to alert the other NBA teams as anything. With the phone to his ear, he could see 18 inches of snow outside. But he obviously was smiling.

"The town reminds me a lot of my hometown (Monaca, Pa.)," he said. "Shops and some movies. I've only been here a little more than a week. Right now, I'm depending on some breaks, maybe an injury here and there, to get back in the NBA.

"I can't downgrade my ability as a guard. But I realize now this is a business -- and also not the end of the world. This is a pretty wide-open league, lots of running, which I like. I'm trying now to roll with the punches."