Basketball was Deborah Temple's ticket out of the small Mississippi delta town of Clarksdale.

There were seven children, a single parent, and not enough money to pay for a college education. Her playground talents got her that education at the University of Mississippi, travel and the kind of exposure she never dreamed of.

And when it was over, she accepted the fact it was over. There is not much room for a woman to play professional basketball, even one who led the nation in scoring in 1984.

That is why the first four days of this week are so important to 20 of the country's best former women's collegians who are competing in a tryout camp to win a spot playing alongside the men with the Harlem Globetrotters.

It's not the National Basketball Association. But it is a big-time salary in a sport where those opportunities don't exist for women unless they leave the country. The only U.S. women's league, the fledgling Dallas-based Women's Professional League, is holding on for dear life.

Temple was working in a Memphis social services office a month ago when the Globetrotters called. "At first, I thought it was a publicity stunt," she said. "I got a call and they said they were going to send a few things to me. They sent a packet on the Trotters . . . the history and what they were all about. It was really kind of shocking. I feel like this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

"I'm the kind of person who always knew basketball wouldn't be my life. When that part of my life was over, I felt good about it. I felt I had accomplished the things I set out to do," she said as she sat watching other women scrimmage to the refrain of "Sweet Georgia Brown."

"I'd love to do this. It's a pro team in one respect, but the best part is playing with a group known as 'The Wizards of Basketball.' That gives me goose bumps."

Her attitude was shared by others at the camp, where the pounding of basketballs was the sound of opportunity knocking.

Globetrotters player-coach Larry Rivers, a veteran of 12 seasons with the team, acknowledged the club is basking in the light of a lot of favorable publicity on this one. But he also said the woman chosen as the "clown princess of basketball" is going to get the chance to strut her stuff.

"We're looking for a fundamentally sound basketball player," he said. "The way we'll use a girl is to come in and clinch plays . . . to pull up short and shoot . . . and on defense. As it stands, this is going to be a helluva thing."

From here, the Globetrotters will pick six to eight candidates to attend training camp beginning Sept. 3 in Los Angeles. From that group, the Globetrotters will pick one, possibly two, women to help fill four vacancies on the team. They open their 60th season Oct. 16 in Brisbane, Australia.

Among the field is Kansas' Lynette Woodard, captain of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal. Woodard, now an assistant coach at Kansas, is a big name in women's basketball and considered a leading contender to make the team.

Gold medalist Pam McGee and her twin sister Paula are hoping to make it a package deal. They led Southern California to NCAA titles in 1983 and 1984.

Sheryl Cook, the all-time leading scorer at the University of Cincinnati, is trying to make up for missing the Olympics because of an ankle injury.

Yrene Asalde, a native Peruvian and former basketball consultant to the U.S. Olympic Committee, organized the tryout field based on recommendations from a panel of college coaches. She said the Globetrotters are looking for a lot more than basketball skills.

"They will have to have the personality to adapt. They will have to be good with children and crowds," said Asalde, who played professionally in Peru. "They'll have to have the stamina for playing 180 games and traveling just about every day from October to April."

Asalde said she sympathizes with U.S. women who don't have a forum like the NBA for their skills. She said adding a woman to the Globetrotters won't change that, but it will be a step in that direction.

"Maybe we will change the attitude of some people in this country," she said. "Basketball is the second-most popular sport in the world next to soccer. In other countries . . . the women basketball players are stars."