It's true that Manute Bol can touch both sides of the backboard while flatfooted and dunk without leaving his feet. It's also true that anyone 7 feet 6 should be able to perform both feats.

But Bol is more than a giant who happens to play basketball at the University of Bridgeport. He's a basketball player who happens to be very tall, taller than anyone else playing in college today.

"You can't even imagine 7-6 until you see it," teammate John Mullin said. "You think people are exaggerating. But he's for real."

Bol is from Gogrial, a remote area of Sudan, about 600 hundred miles from the capital city of Khartoum. He has been playing basketball for about five years.

After learning the game on Gogrial's one court, he moved on to a spot on the Sudanese national team, where he was observed in 1982 by former Fairleigh Dickinson coach Don Feeley. Let go by Fairleigh Dickinson, Feeley hoped to land the assistant's job at Cleveland State -- a Division I school -- by bringing in Bol and Deng Nhial, anther Sudanese player.

Excited by the prospect of playing competitive basketball year round, Bol left his family, his fellow Dinka tribesmen and his 150 cattle in Gogrial and came with Nhial to Cleveland.

But Feeley didn't get the job at Cleveland State. Nhial didn't make the team (as the ultimate insult, he was asked to stay on as the team's manager). Moreover, Cleveland State had no special program to help Bol learn English.

Feeley, who lives in Fairfield, Conn., suggested to his two prize Sudanese that they come east where a friend, Bruce Webster, was coaching in his 20th year at Division II Bridgeport. They followed his suggestion.

Under NCAA Division I rules, Bol, 21, would have lost two years of eligibility. Since Division II schools have no age limit, Bol can play the full four years at Bridgeport, one of 21 schools in the country with a special English language program.

Nhial has had to sit out a year because he enrolled at Cleveland State. Bol, who took English courses at nearby Case Western but never enrolled in college, suited up immediately, creating a furor wherever he went and transforming the Purple Knights from mediocrity to contenders for the Division II national championship.

Last season, they were 12-16. Bridgeport currently is 24-6, good for 13th in the latest Division II poll. Bol is averaging 22.9 points (10th in the country), 13.4 rebounds and 7.5 blocked shots per game.

Last Saturday, Bridgeport defeated intracity rival Sacred Heart, 73-59, in the final of the New England Collegiate Conference tournament and will play the Pioneers again in the NCAA New England regional Friday at Springfield, Mass. Bol had 32 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots in Saturday's final.

Practice at Bridgeport's Harvey Hubbell Gymnasium is for the most part unspectacular. Bridgeport is tuning up for its second regular season game with Sacred Heart (a game Bridgeport would lose, 65-51). Webster stands apprehensively at midcourt, pleading with his team not to become complacent.

"This game with the Heart is going to be the most important game of your life, so let's play like it," Webster says.

The scrimmage -- white versus purple -- begins. Bol, who weighs only 195 pounds, moves almost soundlessly up and down the court with easy strides. With two hands, he gets every defensive rebound within an arm's reach -- his arm reaches most anything. On the other end, he dunks two times in a row on offensive rebounds, then misses a sky hook. Back on defense, he blocks a layup, then a base-line jumper. Finally, the white team scores. Frustrated, Bol slowly sets up on offense.

"Manute is the hardest-working kid in practice," Webster said. "He's a perfectionist, so he gets mad when I don't call fouls and when people don't get him the ball when he's open or if he makes a mistake on defense. He gets upset because he wants to win so badly. I never question that approach."

Before the conclusion of practice, Bol would block three more shots, get eight more rebounds and score four more field goals -- three on offensive rebounds that he dunked while on tiptoes.

He is triple-teamed, pushed and shoved constantly. But the tallest men guarding him in practice and in most games are 6-8. He gets frustrated at times, but, according to Webster, "He doesn't have a mean streak in him. He's got that frail smile . . . you just can't get mad at the kid."

Why get mad with the franchise? Last season, Bridgeport's Warren Harding High School, the school that produced such top collegiate players as John Bagley, John Garris, Wes Matthews and Mike McKay, drew more fans than the university. This year, Bridgeport has sold out every game, home and away.

"He put UB basketball on the map," said Mullin, who shares celebrity billing with Bol because his brother happens to be all-America Chris Mullin of St. John's.

Bol says he is happy. "I like it here because I'm enjoying basketball and my friends," he said. "And we've been playing pretty well. I've learned a lot since I've been here.

"I miss home sometimes, but I can go home and then come back." Bol stresses coming back because he is from an area of Sudan that experiences civil strife on a daily basis. According to Webster, going back could be akin to committing suicide.

"The Dinka tribe is in the middle of a 17-year rebellion, and his family is blacklisted," Webster said. "The way he's been going to class and for extra help every day, it's like someone told him to never miss a class and work hard and make a million dollars or they'll send him back permanently."

It remains to be seen how far Bol will take his talents. Most NBA scouts -- six have seen him play -- believe he needs much more bulk and basketball experience. "Right now, he's making an adjustment just living in this country," said Al Menendez, an assistant coach with the New Jersey Nets. "From my accounts, he's nowhere near ready to play Division I, much less in the NBA. He should just take his time and go step by step."

Webster thinks Bol can measure up in the NBA now, strictly on defense. "I would guess that he would make Mark Eaton (Utah's 7-3 shot-blocking center) look like a neophyte," he said.

He is a natural target for those who jeer at his height, but he has helped win enough basketball games to turn skeptics into believers. "I have helped win many games, but I always want to win more," Bol said. "I think I've been doing well." If nothing else, he has generated interest.

"I can go 0-26 or 26-0 and I won't get a nickel more or less," Webster said. "But now when we lose, people say, 'How the hell can you lose with a 7-6 center?'

"You always hear that you need a big man to go all the way. Well, I couldn't find anybody bigger."