During his college basketball career North Carolina's Brad Daugherty has been accused of knocking a man out, breaking up a newpaper stand and throwing candy at cars.

It isn't that Daugherty is one of those trouble cases. In fact, North Carolina's 6-foot-11 center is so smart he skipped eighth grade, he's so polite it's hard to get your hand back when you shake, and he has his head on straighter than the base line at Dean Smith's gym. It's just that he's always getting caught for things he didn't do.

The knockout incident occurred last spring, when he was offering the victim of a fight a handkerchief and was mistaken for one of the brawlers. The candy incident was a simple traffic quarrel his freshman year, like the newspaper incident, when all he was trying to do was get back his money. So he hit the thing, and it just sort of broke, and he was served with a warrant, naturally.

"I've just got an incredible knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

But if Daugherty ever has been in the right place at the right time it is probably now. The Tar Heels are the No. 1 team in the country at 25-1, 9-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They would appear to be virtually unassailable at the top of the polls going into Thursday's game against Maryland at the Dean Smith Student Activities Center at 9 p.m.

He also was in the right place at the right time when he came to North Carolina four years ago, a skinny, big-headed type who hardly had heard of defense. At 16 he was the youngest player ever to appear in an ACC game, and in imminent danger of having the shortest career in league history.

"I used to get tired of all that harping on my age," he said. "But it was true, I was 16 and there were guys 22, 23 years old. I didn't have the same attention span, the same work habits. It hurt me."

That might have been fatal in another system. But since then, thanks to Smith's relentless insistence on role playing, Daugherty has become perhaps one of the league's most consistent players, and the backbone of North Carolina's top-ranked team of no-names. Once a half-intimidated, half-cocky late starter out of Charles D. Owen High in rural Black Mountain, N.C., he has blossomed into the second leading scorer in the ACC, averaging 20 points. Only the 22.6 average of Maryland's Len Bias is better.

Daugherty's development is startling for a player who did not really cone into his own until his senior year as a prep, and who spent his sophomore year as the team manager. It was following his sophomore year that he grew from 6-3 to 6-10, but he doesn't remember much of it, because he spent the time sleeping.

"I thought I had narcolepsy," he said. "It just felt so good to go to sleep. I'd sleep for three hours after school, then go to practice, come home, and go right to bed. I was Rip Van Winkle, a bear in hibernation. I just know my clothes got shorter and I started hitting my head in places I didn't used to. And all of a sudden I got better around the basket."

Daugherty's entrance in the North Carolina regime was troubled. He chafed against Smith's teachings, and a rigid structure that gave first priority to upper-classmen in everything from starting jobs to where to eat dinner.

But spending time with Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan gradually made Daugherty a consummate team player and a passionate admirer of the Smith way of things. While he is far from the flashiest player in the conference, he has come to typify a No. 1 team built on depth rather than a star system. He is the only player averaging 20 points, and only two others are scoring in double figures, Kenny Smith (11.8) and Steve Hale (11.2).

"You come out of high school as an all-American and your head is bigger than a backboard," he said. "I couldn't understand any of that strategy stuff about learning to take charges, blocking shots, trying to be savvy on the court. I thought it was stupid. Then I learned that wasn't right. I look back and I see how ignorant I was. It was all built in the system.

"I know what would have happened to me if I had gone to another program. I'd be terrible. Especially if I had gone to a program that didn't stress defense. When I first got here I thought: 'Who cares who you can and can't guard?' It didn't matter. Now I look at the NBA and I see some great offensive players and they can't guard a tree. That's what would have happened to me."

Daugherty's self-deprecation extends as far as the NBA draft. He is slightly skeptical of the suggestion that he will be a No. 1 pick and perhaps even the first player chosen -- "I don't think of myself as a great player or great athlete." It also apparently gives him a broader view of the game than most college prospects.

"I enjoy playing but it's not the only thing happening in the world. There are a lot of people out there who could care less about it."