Last August was an expensive month for George Washington University's basketball program.

"You should have seen our August phone bill," said Mike Cohen, an associate coach, rolling his eyes and knowing it's tough to get a good rate when you're calling Israel.

Moti Daniel answered most of those calls, and now is playing a large role for Coach John Kuester's team. Daniel, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward, is one of three Israelis on the GW team; fellow freshmen Menachem Atlas and Gilad Simhony are reserves.

Cohen started the chain of events that brought Daniel and Atlas to GW. He was an assistant coach of the U.S. team in last summer's Maccabiah Games in Israel.

"I saw Moti when I was scouting the Canada-Israel game," he said. "I was really impressed. I told a friend of mine, who is an Israeli, that Moti was the type of player who could really help our team. I talked to some more people, and later my friend came back and said Moti had an interest in coming to the United States.

"Menachem wasn't playing," Cohen said of the 6-9, 205-pound center who has played sparingly in eight games this season. " . . . But Menachem was a really good prospect."

Simhony is a walk-on. He has lived in the United States the last two years because his father works in the Israeli embassy here.

"Since I was 15, I have planned on coming [to the United States] after I finished in the army," said Daniel, who also considered going to West Virginia. "I was almost there when Coach Cohen said I might like the idea of a big city rather than the middle of nowhere [Morgantown, W.Va.]."

Of basketball in the states, Atlas said: "It's a different system. There are no high school or college teams [in Israel]. We have club teams.

"I didn't have any idea what to expect. I was surprised when I got here and saw the level of play, the professionalism of the coaches . . . the practices and attitude toward basketball is very high."

"I can explain the difference very easily," Daniel said. "When the players you're playing with are 30 years old, you can't deal with them the same way you deal with college players. The discipline is different. Here, the coach can have you practice for three hours and have a meeting and watch film. But you can't do that with 30-year-olds."

Daniel and Atlas are 22. Israel has three years of compulsary military service, and Atlas completed his in August 1984. Daniel finished last February. Simhony, 18, will fulfill his obligation when he returns to Israel with his family.

There is a question of how long Daniel and Atlas will be eligible to play because the NCAA restricts the number of years an athlete can play after his 20th birthday if he or she has competed in other organized activity in that sport. Both players have played on club teams, and Daniel was in the last two Maccabiah Games, which counts as organized play, according to Rick Evrard of the NCAA.

"We knew they had at least two years," said Steve Bilsky, GW's athletic director, "and it seemed premature to do it [bring the question to the NCAA] on the front end because after a year they might not be happy in the U.S. and might want to go home or whatever.

"We figured we would see how it went, and sit down with them at the end of the season. If they wanted to continue, we could then ask for a clarification from the NCAA, probably sometime in April. The thing that makes it confusing is their mandatory military service, which isn't required in some other countries."

With the three newcomers, GW finished its regular season 12-15 overall and 7-11 in the Atlantic 10. The team will play its first league tournament game at 7 p.m. Thursday at Temple.

Neither Atlas nor Daniel had been to America before. All three said they would return to Israel when finished with basketball or their educations. But all want to see this country.

"My parents both wanted me to come," Atlas said. "My father lived here for one year when he was 25 or 26 and he told me to go for it. He told me this was the No. 1 country. He said to do what they expect and to be good."

"He sounds like a commercial," Daniel, who was sitting nearby, said jokingly.