The Bullets knew they had found something special the first day of training camp when rookie free agent Carlos Terry crashed into a Wes Unseld pick.

Some players can't move for two days after such an experience and many a rookie has decided right at that moment to tell the NBA thanks, but no thanks.

Not Carlos Terry, or "Los" as his teammates call him.

Terry stuck to Unseld. Terry grinned and said, "All right. I'm going to like it here."

From that moment on, Terry has been knocking heads with the best the NBA has to offer and he hasn't backed off.

"I've never been in awe of anybody," Terry said. "There are some people you have to give more respect to, but it doesn't matter once you go out on the court."

Terry makes things happen, but he also has the skill to take advantage of the situations he creates.

"The veterans started respecting Carlos quicker than they have any rookie in a long time," said Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff.

"Carlos is the best athlete we have on the team," said Unseld. "He isn't a polished player yet, but he can do everything. His biggest asset is that he's tough. From the very beginning he was willing to stay in and knock heads."

"It's Carlos' hustle and enthusiasm that beats you," said teammate Kevin Grevey. "He's strong, rugged and smart."

Terry says he enjoys the contact under the boards. Under the legendary C. E. (Big House) Gaines at Winston-Salem, he was taught how to play a rough, physical game.

"You talk about aggressive play . . ." Terry said, "You should have seen our college team. At every practice at least one guy would come out bleeding. oThere were no fights or anything, we just played tough, aggressive basketball. tThat's the only way I know how to play."

Coach Gene Shue and Bickerstaff feel Terry is probably the best passer and offensive rebounder on the team. He is the only Bullet who plays both guard and forward and he could even play center, although he is only 6-feet-5. He is also the Bullets' most flamboyant dunker.

With forward Bob Dandridge sidelined indefinitely and guard Austin Carr out at least until the weekend, Terry is splitting his time between guard and forward.

Grevey missed yesterday's practice with bronchitis and, if he can't play tonight against the Kansas City Kings at Capital Centre, Terry will probably get his first start.

Terry's value to the Bullets was most evident in the team's last two victories, over Indiana Thursday and Milwaukee Saturday.

Against Indiana, Terry entered the game with three minutes left in the third quarter and the Bullets trailing, 78-73.

Terry played the rest of the game and the Bullets won, 123-108.

Terry shot five for five from the field and also had six assists, two rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.

Against the Bucks he contributed six assists, six points, five rebounds, a steal, two blocked shots and an outstanding defensive game.

"Carlos makes things happen and you just have to find time and a place to play him," said Shue. "How can you not like Carlos Terry?"

It's easy, if you're playing against the Bullets.

In a recent game against Golden State, Terry outdueled 7-1 Joe Barry Carroll and 6-9 Larry Smith for a rebound, but lost control of it. As the ball was trickling out of bounds, Terry dove headlong after it, but blindly knocked it back in to Carroll. Then he managed somehow to scramble to his feet quickly enough to block Carroll's jump shot.

Against the Bucks, he knocked the ball away from Junior Bridgeman and then dove between Marques Johnson and Bridgeman to retrieve it. While still on the floor on his back, he had the presence of mind to spot Greg Ballard free under the basket and zipped a 12-foot pass to him, which Ballard tossed in for an uncontested layup.

In an earlier game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Terry took off at the foul line on a flying slam dunk that brought gasps from a Spectrum crowd that is used to seeing only their Dr. J. do such things.

"Carlos just has to learn some basics," said Bickerstaff. "What's there is raw talent. Carlos has innate basketball ability. He has to learn not to try and make the great pass every time, but take what's there."

It was a hard road to the Bullets for Terry. Still technically a rookie, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1978 and had tryouts with the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls. He has also played part of a season in the Philippines, and 1 1/2 seasons in the Continental League.

He impressed the Bullets at a three-day tryout camp this summer and was offered a contract. He was told that his future with the team probably depended on the health of Bobby Dandridge.

It didn't take the Bullets long to realize that with or without Dandridge, they still wanted Terry.

As well as he was doing in training camp, Terry said he felt his chances of making the team were slim.

"I can count," he said. "One day I even told K. P. (Kevin Porter) and Grevey that I didn't think I'd be around much longer.

"Grevey told me to just hang in there because in this league anything can happen. Two days later they traded Dave Corzine and I made the team."

Terry's travels have given him a maturity that sets him apart from most rookies, Bickerstaff said.

"Carlos has been out there," Bickerstaff said. "He knows this is his chance and he doesn't want to blow it. He's receptive to coaching and everything. If he doesn't know something, he asks questions. He's just the kind of young player we've needed, the type of player a rebuilding team likes to have."