Steve Black is a hard-working rookie but wonders when -- and if -- the fruits of his labors will blossom. Perry Moss would love to be in the position to impart some of his experience on the subject but is too busy trying to win a job with the Washington Bullets himself.

On a team with each of the 12 roster positions virtually sealed, guards Black and Moss are prime examples of both the competitive nature of the NBA and man's unshakeable hope.

In a league with an infinite number of applicants but only 276 openings, many talented players are left riding a shuttle from training camp to training camp, with stopovers in the Continental Basketball Association.

The Boston Celtics drafted Moss, 6 feet 2, in the third round in 1982 but cut him. The next year he missed the boat with the New Jersey Nets. Lacking an agent to get him another tryout, he went straight into the CBA last season, averaging 16.7 points with Tampa Bay.

That he played well in the Bullets' 85-78 victory over the New York Knicks Friday, scoring eight points in 14 minutes on four-of-five shooting from the field, only underscored his reasons for continuing the chase.

"I just don't think you should quit just because everyone else wants you to," he said. "Nobody feels it but you, 10 years down the line. I don't want to be one of those 'I could've, I should've, what-if-I-had-given-it-one-more-shot' people."

When he graduated from Northeastern, he didn't envision himself in such unattractive environs. He was highly rated after his collegiate career but his stock plummeted at the NBA's pre-draft camp in Chicago that spring.

"Chicago took me from sky-high to rock bottom," he said. "I didn't play well; no question. But you do what people say they want you to do, and then they make their judgments and there's nothing you can do about them."

Black, 6 feet 4, graduated from La Salle in 1985. Although he didn't know it at the time, his performance in Chicago would turn out to be a boon. A third-round selection by Philadelphia, he was cut during the team's summer rookie-free agent camp, despite an injured right elbow from summer league play in Princeton, N.J.

"I think they only drafted me because they had been getting some bad press about not taking any players from the area," he said. "My elbow wasn't an excuse to them. They didn't give me any reason (for cutting me)."

When his agent inquired around the league, the Bullets responded quickly. Coach Gene Shue remembered Black from last June's camp in Chicago.

"I had seen him play before a couple of times on television, but he really impressed me there," Shue said. "I just thought he was a fabulous, fabulous shooter."

Although unable to play against the Knicks because of back spasms, Black has shot more than adquately during training camp at Fort Meade. Time and time again he has burned some of the Bullets, eliciting applause and cheers from players and fans.

However impressive his shooting, his prowess can't change the odds against him. "I think about it subconsciously, but I try not to think about it," he said. "All I can do is play hard enough, long enough to make them think."

Shue has done plenty of that through his 19 years as a pro coach. "It's just so tough to make a team when you haven't been around," he said. "Things are really very much against any person in that position, but you never know what could happen. Injuries could occur. That's why you keep players around longer, so that, if you do need them, they have a grasp for the system."

On the Bullets' roster, there's already one player, forward Charles Jones, who has beaten those odds. Who knows, thinks Moss, perhaps it could happen again.

"Unless you're a No. 1 draft pick, you know you're going against the odds coming in," he said. "It's logical to think about doing something else, but, if you go with logic, you shouldn't be here in the first place."