When Terry Coffey first saw the Maret School, he very nearly turned around and went home.

The 72-year-old school, with seven snow-white buildings of various architectural designs sprawled over seven acres in an affluent section of Northwest Washington, reminded Coffey, 17, of something out of the early 1900s. And for a brief instant, Coffey, who grew up in Northeast near RFK Stadium, wasn't sure he wanted to spend his high school years at Maret.

"This school didn't look like anything I had seen before," said Coffey, who attended Elliott Junior High School and was an average basketball player at best three years ago. "It reminded me of an old college. I didn't know anyone at the school, it was a long way from where I lived and there weren't many blacks. It was certainly a big change from what I was used to. I wasn't sure I could adjust."

Coffey was a good student and was impressed with James (Butch) McAdams, the Maret basketball coach. Coffey, who had not been approached by any high school coaches, talked it over with his parents, and then enrolled after his eighth grade year.

"He (McAdams) told us about the academic opportunities the school offered and how much I could help the basketball program," said Coffey. "I knew it would be the biggest challenge I ever had. But I wanted to improve my academics and I felt I could do that at Maret."

Although the soccer program is as good as any in the Washington area and the football team is beginning to show progress, Maret's basketball team merits the attention now. And to keep that attention, school headmaster Peter Sturtevant believes he has to recruit.

"We know where the players are and we'll try to get them here." Sturtevant said. "But the kids must be able to do the work. As much as I like athletics, academics takes first priority here always."

McAdams and assistant coach Charles Lewis have been fairly successful in recruiting several good athletes to Maret.

"We have to recruit through the junior high school counselors but if a kid isn't a top student, we don't even approach him," said McAdams, in his sixth season as head coach. "He has to be able to do the work here before even thinking about playing basketball. If the counselor says there aren't any students who qualify, we say, 'Fine, we'll check with you next year."

Maret's basketball program has turned the corner. The Fighting Frogs were 16-6 in McAdams' first season, 8-10 the next season and 17-9 the third. McAdam has tried to upgrade the schedule. He added Interhigh schools Eastern and Ballou and out-of-town established basketball teams such as Cardinal Gibbons and Mount St. Joseph's, both in Baltimore, and Rutgers Prep in New Jersey.

Three years ago, Maret (17-5) beat Eastern, St. Anthony's and Ballou. Last year, the team was 22-9 and played in the eight-team postseason Beltway Classic tournament at Dunbar.

Maret is 9-1, losing only to Shadyside of Pittsburgh, 54-52, and is ranked 17th in the area. Among this year's victims were Wilson, Good Counsel, Eastern, Gonzaga and Mount St. Joseph's, all much larger schools.

"Sure, we're small but we look forward to meeting these big teams," said Coffey, a junior and the area's leading scorer with a 27-point average. "I enjoy playing against an Eastern or Gonzaga because they're good and I can prove to them I can play this game, too. It's possible I might not be playing regularly had I gone to one of those schools. At Maret, I got a chance to play all the time and improve my skills."

Other players recruited by McAdams and his assistant, Charles Lewis, include starting forward Tom Chaney, 6-4 sophomore from Jefferson Junior High School, and reserve Jeff Taylor, 6-3 freshman from Brown Junior High School. Starting center Jeff Moore, a 6-6 senior, transferred from St. John's last year. The other starters are Mark Leahy, 5-11 senior, who has been at Maret since ninth grade, and 5-11 senior Adam Land, who came to the school in the eighth grade.

The school, located on the elegant Woodley Estate, has a long history, serving as the summer retreat for four U.S. presidents. The school has a faculty of 70 and 450 students in grades kindergarten through 12. Sturtevant said much of the school's money comes from private donations.

"We have 225 boys and 225 girls and that's no coincidence," said Sturtevant, headmaster since 1973. "The school is about 10 percent black and about 30 percent minorities. Our attendance has doubled in the last eight years and we get more than 500 applicants for 50 spaces each year."

Maret also is expensive, with tuition ranging from $3,400 for kindergarten to $5,000 per year. But about one-tenth of the school population receives either full or partial aid based on need. Sturtevant said 40 students were on financial aid and four of the 14 varsity basketball players receive some financial aid.

"The school is expensive," Sturtevant said, "but each class averages 10-12 students and the teachers are always available for extra help or tutoring. We have very, very few repeaters, maybe one every two years. We don't require a grade point average, but we do insist on the students putting forth a great effort. Only kids who want to work--put in two to three hours each night in homework--will come here."

Sturtevant and Athletic Director Nick Markoff are also proud of the school's athletic progress. The upper school (200 students in grades 9-12) sponsors 26 interscholastic sports.

"Our program has really improved the last few years," said Markoff, who played football at Navy in the Roger Staubach era. "One reason the kids get along so well here is because we don't insist on a lot of rules. No smoking, no drinking and wear shoes at all times. That's about it. The kids feel comfortable here."

The school's biggest booster is Sturtevant, who arrives in his green and white jeep painted in the school colors bearing the license plate "MARET."

" . . . I support the program," said Sturtevant, who also teaches a senior English class. "We're a small school and I don't want us to step up too much. Where we are now is fine with me. I drive around in a jeep bearing the name Maret because it's good advertising. Besides, I'm handsome, the car looks good and I want people to know our name."