On Oct. 15, the first day of basketball practice, Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell extracted the preseason top 10 rankings from several magazines and posted them on the locker-room wall.

At the same time, he posted the preseason picks in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Maryland was not listed in anyone's top 10 and no higher than fifth in the ACC. Driesell wanted to be certain his players knew it.

All season, Driesell has made his players aware of almost every slight, every insult, every criticism of the team. He even has gone to great lengths to point out negative statistics from recent seasons: nine straight losses to North Carolina, five straight losses to Virginia, no NCAA appearance since 1975, no 20-win season since 1976.

Since Day One of this 23-6 "Cinderella season," as Driesell calls it, the coach has drilled one thing into his players: you have something to prove; people are putting you down and only you can quiet the critics.

"He's appealed to our pride all season long," said Albert King, who answered that appeal with a superb season, one rewarded today whenhe was named ACC player of the year over North Carolina State's Hawkeye Whitney.

"He reminded us before the Carolina game in Chapel Hill that none of us had ever beaten them. We've known since the beginning that we had something to show people. In a way, being the underdog has worked to our advantage."

Maryland will not be the underdog Saturday when it plays its first NCAA game, a second-round matchup against 18-10 Tennessee (WRC-TV-4, 4 p.m.). N.C. State (20-7) and Iowa (20-8) open the doubleheader at 1:45 p.m.

The image of underdog is one that Driesell worked diligently to create. It also is an image he had, for the most part, tried to avoid since arriving at Maryland 11 years ago.

But his attitude changed last season.

"we were 19-11 and people said we had a rotten year," Driesell said. "That really upset me. We beat six ranked teams, including the No. 1 team in the country (Notre Dame), and people said we were lousy. I decided this year that instead of me talking, I'd let the team talk. If we played well, fine, if not, well..." Driesell shrugged.

As Dean Smith at North Carolina has done for years Driesell drilled his players to speak no evil. Gone were the days when a Lawrence Boston would declare he could whip Mike Gminski on the playground. Suddenly, in the Maryland locker room, Brown and Bucknell were pronounced feared opponents when intruders with notebooks and microphones approached.

"It isn't that any of us are dishonest or holding back," Dutch Morley said. "We're just all aware that what we say is read and heard by a lot of people. I think we all have a responsibility to be careful about what we say. We don't want to be goating over wins or anything because we might play those guys again."

That philosophy was perhaps best exemplified after the euphoric win in Chapel Hill in January, the first for Maryland over North Carolina in five seasons.

When Greg Manning, Morley's best friend, was asked what it meant to the Terps to finally beat the Tar Heels, he said, "It's real important to us because it will give us confidence for the game with (N.C.) State Wednesday."

In the past, Maryland teams had frequently walked on and off the court with a swagger. This year, the Terps were low key. More important, they seemed happy off the court, each player accepting a clearly defined role.

King, with a 22 points-per-game average, was clearly the team leader. Knowing from the beginning that the only senior, John Bilney, was not destined for much playing time, King took the leadership from the start.

Gone was the shy youngster, afraid to shoot because he might offend older teammates. In his place was a man who barked instructions on the court and almost demanded the ball in tight situations.

Buck Williams, Manning and Ernest Graham made certain that King wasn't overplayed by picking the spots to get him the ball. Graham, perhaps more than anyone on the team, came into the season determined to shed the negative labels of his first two college seasons: unabashed chucker and bad apple.

Back at his natural position, the 6-foot-8 forward quickly showed his skills were not limited to shooting, finishing fourth in the ACC in both assists and rebounding.

He still had his share of pushing, shoving and shouting matches, but with the Terps winning, they rarely gotout of hand. Manning, shuffled between point and wing guard his first two seasons, blossomed into a star when left on the wing, shooting 64 percent.

And Williams, forced to play out of position at center, missed a month with a broken finger, then came back with a vengeance, outscoring Gmisnki and Ralph Sampson in his four meetings with them.

Behind the big four were the medium three -- Morley, Reggie Jackson and Taylor Baldwin. All started at times and came off the bench at times. None was ever spectacular, but each made contributions at crucial times. Morley hit critical foul shots down the stretch on three occasions; Jackson came up with steals and Baldwin had a key blocked shot to beat N.C. Sstate at the buzzer.

Finally, there was the little four --Bilney, John Robinson, David Henderson and Mark Fothergill. Each saw scant playing time. In the past, Maryland's benchwarmers, usually talented players in Driesell's doghouse, have sulked. These four, knowing that those ahead of them were better players, were cheerleaders on the bench and worked hard in practice to push the starters.

"I think the most impressive thing about this team to me was to see those substitutes crying after we lost the tournament final," Driesell said this week. "They cared as much as the guys who played. I've never seen that before. That has a lot to do with our success."

But the bottom line is still Driesell's season-long appeal to the players to prove the doubters and detractors wrong. He has not changed tactics this week.

"Coach has told us that this is a liams said."There are still people wondering about us, putting us down because we didn't win the ACC tournament This is our chance to prove to everyonehow good we are."

As Graham put it, "We got a lot of words we want to make people eat. We've done some, but we still have moreto do."