A game of movable coaches in the littlest state today keeps the collegiate basketball bouncing: Joe Mullaney making the big crosstown rebound from Brown of the Ivy League to Providence of the Big East and Jack Kraft retiring at URI of the Eastern Eight.

Gary Walters resigned at Providence yesterday, and Mullaney, 55, promptly accepted a return to the post he held from 1955 to 1969, when his Friars compiled a 271-94 record with six trips to the NIT (two championships) and three to the NCAAs. Walters himself came over from the Ivies (Dartmouth) in 1979, only to register a 21-31 in slower company over those two years for a three-year record of 29-49 under Mullaney, but prior to that stint Mullaney enjoyed a lengthy tenure in the pros and as recently as 1974 was American Basketball Association coach of the year (Utah Stars).Now, he gets to match wits regularly with a top Friar star of the halcyon days, John Thompson of Georgetown.

And leaves an opening at Brown that surely must spark the interest of Jack Kvancz, who left staff there to take over at Catholic U. in 1975. . .

At Rhode Island, Kraft cited health and family considerations as he stepped down after finishing the season as adviser to Claude English, a former Ram star ('72), his eight-year aide and interim successor. Kraft, who suffered a coronary following the Nov. 29 season opener, was back on the bench in a limited capacity by Feb. 3. He leaves with a 20-year college coaching record of 361-191 for 12 years (one final-four appearance) at Villanova and eight at Rhode Island. English was named co-Eastern coach of the year after the Rams finished 21-8 overall and first in the conference regular season, so he automatically inherits the job on permanent basis, right? Not for sure. The school merely regards English as an "active candidate". . .

Closer to home, ECC regular-season champion American U. signs its first 1981 recruit: De Matha's sparky sixth man, 5-foot-11 Jay Samonsky. "One of the greatest competitors I ever coached," Morgan Wootten vouches as AU's Gary Williams nods assent. "He didn't start for us because we felt his best role was coming off the bench, but Jay was one of our finishers -- always in at the end, particularly if it was close."

Plus, George Mason's Joe Harrington lands his first recruit for his second season from precisely where, as a Maryland bird dog, he helped reel in Greg Manning: Steelton-Highspire (Pa.). And, glory be, says he, Michael Yohe, a sharpshooting 18.8 scorer at 6 feet 2, shows him "a lot of the same qualities" as Manning. . .