The time Maryland players had their pictures in the newspaper for being in trouble with grades, the fans at Duke wore dunce hats to see the cursed Terps. At Virginia, they held up blow-up photos of Lefty Driesell with a gas guage reading "E" printed on his balding head. The last time Maryland visited Clemson, the thousands of fans made not a single noise. Nothing. Silence -- until the last Clemson player was introduced.

"And then the place erupted!" said Greg Manning.

He loved it.

And he plays for Maryland.

"There's the time, too, when everybody wore skin-heads like the Coach's," Manning said.

Doesn't that ever become irritating?

"It's fun," Manning said.

There came a little-boy smile then.

"Especially when you're winning," he added.

Of the many reasons the University of Maryland is having its best season statistically in the last five -- and may, in fact, have have its best team ever -- the performance of Greg Manning ranks near the top. From afar, from twisting, drives, from the free throw line, the junior has been astonishing all season. For a 6-foot-2 guard whose primary shot is the 15-foot jumper, his shooting percentage of 63.8 is unheard of.

And yet Manning is invisible.

Have you noticed him this year?

Maybe no streak shooter ever did it with so little flash. You look at a Maryland game. You see Manning. Nice little guard. A half-step slow, maybe, but he works at defense. Handles the ball all right. Doesn't do silly things. You watch him shoot. Wonderful touch on the fall-away jumper. The kid can drive, too, and he takes it to those giants inside. You look at Greg Manning and you say, well, he's all right.

And then you look at the statistics.

The guy was 12 for 15 against Duke, eight for nine against North Carolina, 10 for 12 against Clemson.

When Albert King created his masterpiece against Clemson in the ACC tournament, he had 22 points at halftime and there was a motion to send him directly to the Hall of Fame. What nobody noticed until the statistics came up was that Greg Manning, in the same half, made seven of eight shots and had 17 points himself.

You don't notice Manning because he scores his baskets impassively. That baby face carries a fixed mask of determination, a determination certified in the ACC tournament championship game last week when he played in a brace supporting an injured back. The determination is nothing new for this invisible man.

Nobody wanted the skinny kid out of high school.

Shippensburg State College wanted him.

So did Bloomsburg State.

And Millersville, too.

Nobody wanted Greg Manning.

Nobody wanted this skinny invisible kid out Highspire, Pa., who had averaged 24 points his senior year for Steelton High in the top class of Pennsylvania high school ball.

"It scared me," Manning said. "I didn't want to end up at some little state school. All my friends were going to those places. I wanted to go to someplace big. I didn't want Shippenburg or Millersville. I wanted to play big-time basketball.

"I'd worked over since I was so young, playing in summer leagues, in the YMCA, in every kind of league. I'd worked on the idea, 'Why not go as high as you can go?' And the only schools that were interested in me were the little ones."

That changed in the Pennsylvania playoffs. Howard White, then a Maryland assistant coach, saw Manning in the first playoff game.

"That was it," Manning said. "Finally I had got a big school to come see me."

Manning scored 47 that night.

He averaged 36 in 10 games of the playoffs, once scoring 57, leading his team to a runnerup finish.

And then the world wanted him.

But Manning wanted only Lefty Driesell.

This was before skinheads and "E" on the gas guage and dunce caps and the silent treatment.

This was when Greg Manning thought of Lefty as a movie star.

"He came to my second playoff game," Manning said. "It was great, talking to somebody you see on the tube and read about. It was sort of like he was a movie star. Here was this movie star coming to my small town. Everybody knew he was there."

Manning said he didn't have all that good a scoring night the night Lefty saw him.

"Only in the 30's," he said with a shrug.

Driesell's gas tank has enough fuel for him to love guards who score in the 30s on off-nights and so he asked Manning to Maryland. The offer quickly was accepted because the campus is only a two-hour drive from Highspire and, besides, Manning had seen the ACC and Maryland on television and it wasn't anything like Shippensburg.

"It's been a great learning experience here," he said. "It's been lots of fun, especially the basketball part. I'd tell any high school player to go as high as you can. The ACC has been unbelievable."

What has been most unbelievable, it says here, is the transformation of Maryland from a willy-nilly-silly outfit into a genuine basketball team of discipline, control and talent so large it makes your heart go pitter-pat.

Not only is Manning fabulous with a basketball in hand, he also is all-ACC academically in political science. He hasn't commissioned a poll on the subject, but he has a theory on why the Terps -- "J-E-R-K-S," the Duke fans spelled out -- are capable of winning this year's national championship.

"Three of us -- me, Albert, and Ernest (Graham) -- are in our third year together here and we're maturing together," he said. "We're getting along much better on the court and off the court. We hang around together a lot more than we used to, playing cards, backgammon, listening to music in somebody's room.

"That didn't happen before. We've gotten to like each other a lot better. We get along, I think because everybody is so different. You have Albert, who is quiet, and you have Ernest, who is outspoken. Like, Ernest, you never know what he's going to say."

Last month, when the Maryland bus broke down in Charlotte, Driesell told his players, "Y'all get out of the way and I'll flag down a car, 'cause people might recognize me faster."

To which Ernest Graham said, "Right Coach, ain't nobody else around here with a head shaped like yours."

Everyone, including Lefty, liked that one.