Clem Haskins knew his long, productive professional basketball career was nearing the end. But as he sat at the end of the Washington Bullets' bench in 1975 and 1976, Haskins found a new challenge. A challenge that would prepare him for his second career -- as coach of tradition-filled Western Kentucky, which plays Georgetown tonight at 8 at Capital Centre.

"My last two years of pro basketball, with the Bullets, I was the third or fourth guard," Haskins remembered during a conversation last night.

"I had a lot of time to sit and analyze. So I found a new challenge -- second-guessing. I would just sit there and think to myself, 'Who would I put in here? What play would I run in this situation?' It's what prepared me for becoming a head coach."

Haskins began his coaching career last year by taking Western Kentucky to a 21-7 record, an Ohio Valley Conference championship and the NCAA tournament. "It was gratifying," Haskins said. "I walked in confident, perhaps cocky, in my ability. And it caught on after a few games. I had the players believing in me."

Haskins took advantage of the nonbelievers. "I really believe that a lot of opposing coaches and teams said to themselves, 'Clem's just an ex-pro player. He doesn't know anything about bench coaching or preparing a team. He can be outcoached.' But I did know. I didn't have the actual experience, but I began trying to think as a coach those last two years with the Bullets, and I believed in myself."

The skeptics are disappearing. "Now," he says, "everybody knows Clem Haskins can coach. The challenge will be different this year. People know I can prepare a team and make quick, important decisions from the bench. It will be tougher to win 20 games. But without trying to sound conceited, I think I'm a good coach."

Haskins' voice almost always sounds exc Haskins Back at Centre Facing Hoyas as Coach -By Michael Wilbon Washington Post Staff Writer

Clem Haskins knew his long, productive professional basketball career was nearing the end. But as he sat at the end of the Washington Bullets' bench in 1975 and 1976, Haskins found a new challenge. A challenge that would prepare him for his second career -- as coach of tradition-filled Western Kentucky, which plays Georgetown tonight at 8 at Capital Centre.

"My last two years of pro basketball, with the Bullets, I was the third or fourth guard," Haskins remembered during a conversation last night.

"I had a lot of time to sit and analyze. So I found a new challenge -- second-guessing. I would just sit there and think to myself, 'Who would I put in here? What play would I run in this situation?' It's what prepared me for becoming a head coach."

Haskins began his coaching career last year by taking Western Kentucky to a 21-7 record, an Ohio Valley Conference championship and the NCAA tournament. "It was gratifying," Haskins said. "I walked in confident, perhaps cocky, in my ability. And it caught on after a few games. I had the players believing in me."

Haskins took advantage of the nonbelievers. "I really believe that a lot of opposing coaches and teams said to themselves, 'Clem's just an ex-pro player. He doesn't know anything about bench coaching or preparing a team. He can be outcoached.' But I did know. I didn't have the actual experience, but I began trying to think as a coach those last two years with the Bullets, and I believed in myself."

The skeptics are disappearing. "Now," he says, "everybody knows Clem Haskins can coach. The challenge will be different this year. People know I can prepare a team and make quick, important decisions from the bench. It will be tougher to win 20 games. But without trying to sound conceited, I think I'm a good coach."

Haskins' voice almost always sounds excited. He says the novelty of coaching still excites him. "Practices, games, interviews . . . I get excited about it all."

His Hilltoppers are 4-3 this year, but two of those defeats were by third-ranked Louisville and a solid Reno-Nevada team. How will he play No. 17 Georgetown tonight?

"Talent-wise, man for man, we aren't in the same ballpark with Georgetown," Haskins said. "We need to keep the score in the high 50s or low 60s and stay away from a transition game. If we play a good half-court game, we might have a chance."