"Maybe it is the Celtics mystique," gloated Red Auerbach, lighting another victory cigar after beating rival executive Frank Layden of the Utah Jazz in the coin flip for No. 1 pick in the June 30 NBA draft.

Now the Boston bossman has until April 25 to see if Ralph Sampson -- the player he wants -- decides to run for the money after one year at the University of Virginia.

"I'd say our needs are primarily for a center," said Auerbach -- in Commissioner Larry O'Brien's New York office, where he participated first-hand while Layden, via telephone from Salt Lake City, called "heads" and the 1883 silver dollar (bought by the league Monday for $50) came up tails.

Auerbach is going to take Sampson if he can -- with the 7-foot-4 Virginian, chosen MVP of the NIT, keeping quiet in Charlottesville.

UVa's sports information director, Todd Turner, remarked, "Ralph said he will be at Virginia another year and we fully believe it." He said Sampson "told me he didn't want to comment."

Unlike the Larry Bird situation two years ago, the Celtics cannot pick Sampson and reserve him for a year. But Auerbach, who snookered with the Bob McAdoo trade, noted that if Sampson is unavailable, there is plenty of talent available in the senior class -- Joe Barry Carroll, for instance; Mike Gminski . . . Kevin McHale . . .

Utah, picking second, would take Purdue's 7-1 Carroll if it had its druthers. Otherwise, said Layden, Louisville's jumping-jack guard Darrell Griffith -- over any center other than Carroll. Even Sampson? "Except Sampson" . . .

In blind draws to determine other first-round placings for teams with identical records, the Knicks beat the Bullets for the 12th selection . . .

Clay Regazzoni, the Formula 1 driver injured in the Long Beach Grand Prix, probably won't know for months if he ever will walk, much less race-drive, again.

There were no complications from spinal surgery Monday night, the hospital said, but, "There is a possibility of (permanent paralysis. He had no movement in his legs when he arrived and there is no change in that condition" . . .

George Mason U. has narrowed its search for a basketball coach to six men to be interviewed this week: Catholic's Jack Kvancz; Dunbar High's Joe Dean Davidson; Wake Forest assistant Ed Hall; Roanoke College's head coach, Ed Green; the coach at Jackson (Mich.) Community College, Allen Van Winkle, and Tulane assistant Jim Lewis, erstwhile Groveton High athlete.

Steve Rivers, the 6-3 guard fron Long Island Luthern H.S. reported in Saturday's Post as coming to Maryland, has made it official with an ACC letter-of-intent to attend UM.

Judge Jack Dishman, who died suddenly Monday, probably was George Washington U.'s most avid -- certainly one of its longest-time -- sports boosters, according to GW spokesman Doug Gould. He backed the Colonials since graduating GW law school in 1925 and was instrumental in getting South Center built. A memorial service for him is scheduled Friday noon in the center; Lettermen's Room. . . .

Well, anyway, there's big-league baseball at Tyson Corner, fans: today through Friday, the traveling Hall of Fame exhibit, starring Babe Ruth's locker from Yankee Stadium, 12 world championship rings, the bat with which Stan Musial registered his 3,431st hit, the one Mickey Mantle used to belt a 565-foot home run off the Yankee Stadium facade and Hank Aaron's 715th-homer bat. And lots more artifacts, on the 13th and final stop of a national tour before they all return to their permanent home in the Hall museum at Cooperstown, N.Y. Catch it anytime during mall hours at the Tysons shopping center.

The lure of clay has overcome Chris Evert Lloyd, and she's set to return to competitive tennis; sent her entries yesterday to next month's Italian and French championship on "her" surface. Wimbledon? She will "leave the door open" . . .

The visit of Louisville's NCAA champs to the capital comes Thursday; capped by 2:15 p.m. White House reception.