Three University of Maryland basketball players will miss at least some practice time and possibly several games during the fall semester because of restrictions placed on them by Coach Bob Wade.

The three players -- Keith Gatlin, Tony Massenburg and Rodney Walker -- are academically eligible under NCAA and university standards, but won't be in uniform until they meet Wade's criteria. Gatlin and Massenburg could play right away except for the restrictions, while Walker must wait until January to be eligible after transferring from Syracuse last winter.

Gatlin will not be allowed to practice or play in games until Wade has reassessed his progress with an academic support unit, which will be formed shortly. Massenburg will be allowed to practice, but not to play in games. Walker, who could have practiced under NCAA rules, will not do so until he brings his grades in line with what Wade wants.

The three players will study with the academic support unit, which will have a supervisor or director and four or five counselors, according to Athletic Director Lew Perkins. Classes for the fall semester begin Wednesday.

"If we implemented it all the way, they may not be eligible until the last week in December," Wade said, "but then they could be back before hand. Each case is different and each case will be monitored."

The Terrapins open practice Oct. 15, and begin the season Nov. 27. They have seven games scheduled before Christmas.

Wade said, "I wanted to strengthen them as much as I could at this stage. There are Maryland standards, NCAA standards and Bob Wade standards, and I wanted them to address all three."

Gatlin, a 6-foot-5 senior point guard, did not play last year after withdrawing from school because of a sore knee and because he wanted to remove himself from the turmoil after the death of Len Bias. The 6-9 Massenburg, who has three years' eligibility, was suspended from the team last season by the university for allegedly cheating on an exam. Walker, a 6-9, 250-pound junior, will be eligible to play as soon as the first semester is over.

"I just wanted to give them additional time for their books," Wade said.

"In athletics, we get all wrapped up in winning. And yes, I take it seriously. But not so seriously that it's winning at the cost of academic progress.

"As far as on the court, it might throw us off a bit, but in the long run, I think it will be beneficial to the young men and to the entire program. And as for my conscience, I'll feel a lot better that it's done."

Said Perkins, "The coach should be congratulated. And these young men are not being punished. They have done nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of."

Massenburg and Walker could not be reached for comment.

But Gatlin said that he wants his last year at Maryland to be successful with the ball and the books.

"I'm totally for what Coach Wade has decided," Gatlin said yesterday. "It's in my best interests because this is my senior year and I'm looking forward to playing well, and I want to be successful off the court. Coach Wade has been like a father to me."

Gatlin, who played this summer in Washington's Kenner League, doesn't foresee any trouble catching up.

"I've never had a problem in basketball," Gatlin said. "When Len died, a lot of things came out about me and Massenburg. We just said, 'Let's not push anything.' We'll do our workouts and be there in the thick of things."

Gatlin said revelations about basketball players' academic shortcomings following Bias' death stick in his mind.

"I don't think I was headed that way," Gatlin said. "I made up my mind last year to do what I had to do off the court. The way everything happened last year, it made me realize that people respect you a lot more if you're not just an athlete and you can communicate with people.

"Of all the things Maryland's been through, this is nothing. This is in our favor -- to come back as a complete person. This is a drop in the bucket compared to all the other things."