Same Bowie, 7-foot-1 center from Lebanon, Pa., who is one of the two high-school basketball players most coveted by Maryland and every other major university, is leaning toward Kentucky, a number of college recruiters told The Washington Post yesterday.

In Lebanon, where his team was eliminated from the state playoffs over the weekend, Bowie's high-school coach, Chic Hess, said his star player did not plan to make a decision until late spring, but attributed some validity to the recruiters' scuttlebutt.

"He could be leaning that way," Hess said. "He might well end up at the University of Kentucky. The rumors that you hear seem to indicate that."

Asked if he meant rumors he heard from recruiters or in Lebanon, Hess replied:

"On the street. People talking."

Hess said that Bowie hasn't ruled out Maryland, which has been the favorite to land one of the two considered the best big men available to college recruiters this season. The other is 7-3 Ralph Sampson of Harrisonburg, Va.

"He (Bowie) likes the University of Maryland," Hess said. "It's close to home. It's in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which he has a great deal of respect for. He likes the players there and he hasn't ruled it out."

A Maryland source said: ",the biggest thing we have going for us is our closeness to his home."

However, if his track record is any indication, Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell is not out of a recruiting battle until the day classes start in the fall. Tom McMillen, a former Mansfield, Pa., star, decided on Maryland a few days before he was due to enroll at the University of North Carolina. Albert King, current sophomore forward, was considered lost to Arizona State. But Driesell won that recruiting war, also.

The first day for signing the national letter of intent is April 11. Hess said he does not expect Bowie to sign that early because of all-star game commitments and because he wants to visit UCLA.

"He still has an interest in visiting UCLA," Hess said. "I would be surprised he would sign or commit himself before he visits that place."

The same recruiters who say Bowie is leaning toward Kentucky also say there is strong possibilty Sampson will join him there.

"If that happens," said one big-time coach, "Kentucky can join the NBA."

The two players are complementary in that Sampson is considered to be a defensive force and a true center while Bowie could be comfortable as a power forward facing the basket. He has excellent range with his jump shot.

However, Roger Bergy, Sampson's high-school coach, said from Harrisonburg yesterday that he had talked to his star player earlier in the day and that he is not close to a decision.

"Ralph doesn't know if he's going to Kentucky," Bergey said. "Ralph doesn't know where he's going. He's still undecided."

The listed favorites for Sampson have been in-state schools -- Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Meanwhile, Maryland freshman guard Reggie Jackson denied reports that he was dissatisfied at College Park.

"It's (the rumor)a mistake," Jackson said yesterday from his Philadelphia home. "I'm staying at Maryland."