You know Bobby Cremins. You might never have met this recent addition to America's elite basketball coaches, but you know him. Under another name. Or sex.

In school, Cremins is the person in a state of near-panic just before midterms, the one who insists there hasn't been enough time to prepare, that the pressure is too enormous to overcome and, besides, somebody snipped five major wires leading to the brain about 20 minutes ago.

With a gentleman's C several days later, you wonder if this hopeless soul survived.

"Matter of fact I was lucky," comes the reply, usually with a sheepish grin. "Don't know how it happened, but I got every question right."

Though Cremins might not know which end of a golf club to grip, his type often arrives at the first tee with every noncrippling ailment in the book.

He's running a temperature and has a touchy back. Also, he can't possibly concentrate because his mother-in-law, who had promised not to stay more than two days, just arrived with eight suitcases and a pianoforte.

You give the pathetic creature three shots a side -- and he opens par-birdie-par, whistling merrily.

Cremins is the Georgia Tech coach who by a benevolent conspiracy of hoop gods and Houdini just happens to have the top-seeded team in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

That's his version. Words of woe limp from his mouth, tears all but swim out of his eyes as Cremins says he really doesn't know how tepid Tech managed a 21-7 record that included a sweep of North Carolina.

"I look in the papers and see us in the top 10," he bleated this afternoon, "and I don't believe that's my team."

Once we endured Billy Ball.

Meet Bobby Bawl.

Honestly, Cremins is flogging familiar folly, though harder than anyone in recent memory. Nearly everyone is more comfortable as the put-upon underdog: generals, businessmen and politicians, who are coaches minus the sweat socks.

Most coaches are more insecure than politicians up for reelection. And if the Gipper in the White House doesn't bray when his second-term match is Georgetown vs. The Little Sisters of the Poor, should a coach be held to a higher standard?

"We can do things (this season) I really didn't expect," Cremins insisted. "I thought we might be one of those teams on the fence (for an NCAA bid), that we might have to win (the ACC tournament) to get in."

You could lift Cremins by that mop of steel-gray hair, shake him till the sun sets and rises and he still won't publicly admit Tech is assured an NCAA invitation.

He qualifies every peek into the future with "if we get an NCAA bid." Tech could lose to Virginia in the first round Friday, which is more possible than many believe, and still make the NCAAs.

Bobby, this check's in the mail.

Cremins must be a terrific coach; ACC watchers say his whine list is even more impressive than Dean Smith's.

His team also has more talent. Or at least as much.

Quickly, but properly, Cremins really has accomplished what lots of deep thinkers figured was close to impossible. Basketball at Tech in the late '70s was a ramblin' wreck, close to desperate for a hell of an engineer.

Tech went this way the three years before Cremins: 17-9 (as an independent), 8-18, 4-23. It made seven coaches happy by going 1-27 the first two years in the ACC.

Tech went this way the four years with Cremins: 10-16, 13-15, 18-11, 21-5. It finished in a three-way tie for the regular-season ACC title this year, at 9-5.

Crying all the way, Cremins has rebuilt Tech the traditional way: get one or two quality players a year and make certain they improve. The players Cremins recruited did not make all the all-star teams; they surely can play.

The player to his right at a press conference today happened to be John Salley, so Cremins used him to illustrate how he evaluates talent.

"I saw him on a break in camp," Cremins said. "In the outside lane, he grabbed the ball and laid it in with his left hand. This from a guy 6-9."

At such a time, coaches usually see flashes of their past. For Cremins, Salley suddenly was the image of another obscure player he had signed while coaching at Appalachian State after one stunning burst of athletic ability.

"He asked me if I was willing to give up six hours a day (for basketball)," Salley said. For a kid from Brooklyn, that was a lot of socializing to sacrifice, he admitted, Salley's study habits already having been cemented.

Mark Price has been his guiding light for three-plus years, but Salley was the first fine player Cremins signed. His improvement has mirrored Tech's.

Salley was asked today to explain how he progressed from "hamburger to surloin sirloin."

Eyes twinkling, Salley sallied: "Does that mean I'll be filet next season?"

Tech's session with the press lasted perhaps a half hour, and one weary witness figured the face Cremins featured had to be more sour than the one the players see.

"I'm pessimistic all the time," he said.

Not quite.

Isn't it possible that Cremins, like all wily coaches, tells his players to tune out the trash he's about to shovel at the press?

"Yeah," Price said.

The way Cremins has been slingin' it lately, soon everybody will stop paying attention.