He has the body of a small forward, but is best at blocking shots. He was an excellent student in high school and comes off as thoughtful and intelligent in conversations, yet reportedly twice has been academically dismissed from college. He appears to be a relaxed individual, but has high blood pressure and hypertension. He has a soft voice and dislikes being a spokesman, but is the captain and clearly the leader of the team.

Derrick Lewis is many things, not the least of which is a paradox.

The University of Maryland basketball team had only one senior in uniform for its first seven games this season and Lewis was the one. He might be the only one for the entire season if Keith Gatlin does not rejoin the active roster.

Lewis is 6-foot-7 and 195 pounds, but, because Maryland did not have a true center, he spent his first three seasons at that position. He never has missed a game and, after coming off the bench in his first three, Lewis has started his last 100. In 1986-87, he decided to stay at Maryland after considering transferring, then led the Terrapins in scoring (19.6 points per game, which was second in the Atlantic Coast Conference) and rebounding (9.5 per game).

What he lacked in bulk and height, he tried to make up for with outstanding leaping ability and an uncanny sense of timing. Last season, Lewis blocked 114 shots, more than any player in the nation except for Navy's 7-1 center David Robinson, who had 144 in six more games.

"It might be in his blood," said American University's Mike Sampson, a friend and former teammate of Lewis' at Archbishop Carroll High School. "He has great instincts. I've never seen anybody with that ability, and his brother possesses the same traits."

Indeed, Lewis' younger brother Cedric is a good shot blocker and has joined him in College Park this year. Cedric Lewis is 6-9 and freshman center Brian Williams is 6-10, which means Derrick Lewis almost never playing center. Often he is the power forward and, in the last two games, he started at small forward.

"He might benefit more this year with better players," Sampson said. "Playing center, he was going up against guys 6-10 and 6-11. Now, he can come from the weak side and block more shots. He might have a better season, especially if the center plays well. Offensively, he's always been a scorer and he always finds a way to score. What people will find out this year is that he can shoot from 18 or 19 feet, which he's never been asked to do before."

Lewis is moving to a more natural position, but the switch demands that Lewis perform new feats, such as guarding opponents away from the basket and making medium- to long-range jumpers. He's never been asked to do that in three years at Maryland. He has shown he can do both, but as one would expect, he still seems more comfortable nudging for position inside and scoring with his little jump hook.

"I'm really going through an adjustment, trying to play outside now that we have more depth and bigger people," Lewis told a group of reporters after the East Carolina victory. "It's not disappointing because I'm helping my team to win. I don't have to score 20 points."

Besides the obvious help it would provide Maryland this year, an effective transition to small forward will help Lewis with any possible career in the National Basketball Association.

"He's a prospect, but if I knew where he was going to be picked, I'd be in Las Vegas," said the NBA's chief scout, Marty Blake. "He's a good athlete and a good rebounder. Certainly, he'll have to work on his shooting. We rate him as a small forward, for whatever that's worth. If he plays there, he'll play bigger than most. But you have look at his ball handling and at his shooting."

Lewis' physical condition and aspects of his personal life also have been looked at in the past several months, something with which neither he nor Coach Bob Wade has been comfortable. Both declined to be interviewed for this story.

On March 2, a Prince George's County judge ordered Lewis to pay child support to Lorna Rollins, who had filed a paternity suit against Lewis. According to court records, she gave birth to Derrick R. Rollins on Feb. 18, 1986. Rollins recently told a Post reporter that child support payments have been made.

Lewis' health has been of recent concern. He was forced to sit out most of Maryland's practice sessions for the first three weeks while doctors evaluated a blood pressure condition that he has had since he was a youngster.

As a freshman, he missed a few days of practice. University officials have said his condition has been monitored by doctors since then. However, this fall, the officials' concern increased to the point of sending Lewis to Milwaukee to see a specialist. Athletic Director Lew Perkins said that the doctors treating Lewis were making the decision, although Chancellor John B. Slaughter is known to have reviewed the final decision to approve the clearance for him to play. Lewis, however, seemed less worried about his physical condition than whether he would get to play.

"It was frustrating because I felt fine," Lewis said at the time. "I felt fine and nothing was wrong, but I was waiting for them to make a decision. It wasn't a flare-up. Everyone thought it was, but we go through the routine every year. It was the same thing as freshman year."

When Lewis arrived in College Park as a freshman in the fall of 1984, it was with solid academic credentials.

"He had over a 3.0 average and scored very well on the {college} boards," said Maus Collins, athletic director and head of the guidance department at Carroll. "He was a hard worker and a good student. He went there with the intent of going into engineering."

Instead, Lewis decided on criminal justice. He certainly wouldn't be the first college student to change majors, but he apparently has struggled in his chosen field. The Maryland school newspaper, The Diamondback, reported in September that Lewis had been dismissed because of poor grades after the spring semester in 1985 and after the spring semester in 1987. Post sources confirmed that Lewis was dismissed twice.

The Diamondback also reported that Lewis was reinstated after completing two internships for grades. One internship was in the law office of Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Femia, and the other was at the Federal National Mortgage Association.

"My impression was that he wasn't just treading water, trying to pick up a C," Femia said. "He really showed interest. He'd do what he'd have to do and then get to the court to see what was happening there. Some people come here for three months and afterward think we produce buggy whips."

Femia added jokingly, "I resent it -- he's the first intern I've ever had that got more press coverage than I've had."

Perkins and Gerald Gurney, the assistant athletic director in charge of academic support, said Lewis' academic situation would be closely monitored. Some might interpret Lewis' academic trouble as a sign that things really haven't improved with Maryland's revenue sports, despite the attempt to upgrade the academic performance of athletes after revelations of academic shortcomings by some athletes following Len Bias' death.

"I would have to disagree, though it is partly true," Perkins said. "After a few months {Perkins started Aug. 1}, we're just getting the academic support unit in place. . . . The system doesn't change overnight. Lew Perkins is not going to walk in, snap his fingers and have everything be perfect. With time -- two or three years -- that's when you need to look at us and see how we've improved. But we've got more than one athlete to be judged upon. There are 500 athletes we're doing things for."

Gatlin is one of three players Wade has held out of either practice or games or both until they reach his academic standards. Some people ask why Lewis is allowed to play and not Gatlin.

"We deal with each individual as an individual," Perkins said.

Through it all, Lewis has led Maryland's basketball team, just as he did a year ago, when he was the only upperclassman. With the Terrapins going 0-14 in the ACC and 9-17 overall, last season was a frustrating one for all concerned.

"He didn't say much," Sampson said of Lewis, "but personally, I think Derrick was upset about last year. He's never been on a losing team and he took it to heart and might have put the blame on himself. He's always had pressure as far as teams depending on him, so that was nothing new. But it was just a little more last year because he didn't have any help. If his stats were less this year and they win more games, he'd be happy. That's the type of guy he is."

Maryland is 5-2 and has enough talent to expect to do better in the conference. And with other players taking more of the shots, Lewis' current scoring average of 15.2 points per game is down slightly from a year ago. Point guard Rudy Archer's 15.7 average is the highest on the team, but Archer is the first to point out that Lewis is still does the leading. Sometimes that's in the midst of a game or practice, sometimes it's in a team meeting.

"Derrick's leadership role is to keep the team together and keep all the attitudes positive," Archer said recently. "As a senior and having been here more years than anyone else, the younger guys will pick up on what he does."

Lewis knows his blocks and his dunks can get his team moving. But he also knows there is more to basketball than just vicious dunks.

For example, against Mississippi, Williams was flush with excitement at having just blocked a shot. Ole Miss set up and inbounded quickly under the Maryland basket, and while the other four Terrapins were set up for a 2-3 zone, Williams was obviously unsure of the defense, so as the ball was thrown in, Lewis gently but firmly took Williams by the arm and guided the freshman to his spot in the middle of the 2-3 zone. It was a little thing, but it prevented an easy basket. And in a two-point game, little things can become important things.

Said Cedric Lewis: "He just does what he has to do."