When the University of Pennsylvania basketball team left Raleigh after beating North Carolina a week ago, the airline clerk said, "The Penn State basketball team can board now."

And when the Quakers came here for the NCAA East Regional basketball semifinals Friday night, they were greeted at Greensboro Coliseum by vendors selling Penn State banners.

Matt White, the Penn center from Bethesda, Md., who will be a key figure in Sunday's 1 p.m. regional championship game against St. John's (WRC-TV-4), is about as well known in the Washington area as his team is here in ACC country.

And for good reason. Although his father is a chemist at the National Bureau of Standards and the family has lived in the Washington area a number of years, White is a walk-on at Penn via Choate in Connecticut. His father even pays $8,000 for his son's tuition, room and board.

That White, the 6-foot-10, 230-pounder in the middle of the quick, veteran Quaker team, is playing college basketball at all is a result of being in the right place at the right time with the right size body. He does not even particularly like basketball and says he despises the attention the Quakers' success is bringing him.

Despite his success in college, he hardly ever on the Washington playgrounds during the summer when he does come home.

"I do it three-quarters of the year," he said. "I figure that's enough. When I get done in the spring -- after the season's over we usually play in the Palestra -- you get pretty basketballed out after a while. Some kids eat and sleep it, but I don't. It's not a natural love of mine. It's just something I happen to fit in really well with."

His father, Howard, a wrestler at Princeton, wanted White to wrestle at Choate. But he grew and took up basketball in his junior year at the Wallingford, Conn., school.

"How good was I?" he said. "I wasn't very good. Those were the coach's words anyhow."

A psychology major, White narrowed his choice of colleges to five schools -- Penn, Duke, North Carolina, Princeton and Georgetown. Though he visited the Penn basketball office when he toured the campus, he was not recruited by the Quakers. That was his last contact with Penn basketball until two weeks into his freshman year.

The starting center on the freshman team -- the Ivy League made freshmen eligible for varsity play only this year -- quit to become an actor. Penn needed a freshman center.

So Bobby Weinhauer, then an assistant coach, called White.

"I started out being physical and nothing else at all," White said.

"He didn't have a lot of basketball instincts," said Weinhauer, now coach of the Quakers. "But that makes it easy for him to learn because he didn't have bad habits to break."

In this 24-5 season, White is averaging 12 points a game on 66.3 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds, second best on the team.

"I know my limitations," he said.

"Some people enjoy attention, I don't," White insisted. "I like being anonymous."

That may explain why during the summer he enjoys camping out or working, as a janitor or a road worker on the New Jersey Turnpike.

"I certainly want to win, but I don't like the pressure," White said. "I don't think of it as fun out there. I've bitten my nails to the core, to the quick.

"The tournament is really throwing off my academic schedule. It's going to make it a big mess. I miss class."

He has maintained a 2.75 gradepoint average on a 4.0 scale, which he says could be at least 50 percent better without the basketball.

But he will not back off now.

"We've made a committment," he said.