"From the University of Central Arkansas . . . From Southeastern Oklahoma State . . . From Eastern Illinois . . . From the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point . . . From McNeese State . . . From Longwood College . . . "

From where? From the bench to the spotlight in the semifinal round of the NBA playoffs for starters. In the only four gyms still awash with anticipation, public address announcers this week have been plugging these obscure schools during pregame introductions and immediately linking them with their famous alums:

Scottie Pippen, of the Chicago Bulls via Central Arkansas; Dennis Rodman and Joe Dumars, of the Detroit Pistons out of Southeastern Oklahoma and McNeese State respectively; Portland's Terry Porter (Wisconsin-Stevens Point), Kevin Duckworth (Eastern Illinois) and Jerome Kersey (Longwood).

The four coaches still with a measure of immortality possible this season also got their start at colleges rarely seen on the most detailed basketball maps. Bloomsburg (Pa.) State was where Chuck Daly realized he would not make a living as a player.

Of our four most popular games, basketball is the one that gives everybody a chance. No fields, or frozen ponds, required for these dreams, only some empty space and a place to nail a hoop. And if you can play, as the NBA's final four has emphasized, someone at the highest level eventually will come calling.

Still, even decently serious fans are uncomfortable with this penultimate NBA series. Two unfamiliar teams, Portland and Phoenix, are partly why. Plus the unsettling fact that several of the best players on all four teams were never anointed in college by CBS or called a "diaper dandy," or some such, by Dick Vitale.

Questions arise: How did Porter become such a terrific point guard? What's behind the sudden stellar play of Duckworth? Why didn't one of the college basketball factories grab Dumars out of high school?

Truth be known, Porter has been excellent for years, a first-round draftee, the 24th player chosen in 1985. Same with Duckworth, a second-rounder a year later.

"It's tough now," said Gary Fitzsimmons, director of player personnel for the Cleveland Cavaliers, "not to find players." The Legend of Longwood

Even by the NBA's go-anywhere criteria, Longwood College is a stretch. Tucked in southern Virginia, about a three-hour drive from Washington, it has an enrollment of about 3,200 and admitted only women less than 15 years ago.

That Longwood has more former players still going in the NBA playoffs than Nevada-Las Vegas and Duke is because nobody famous paid any attention to Kersey in high school. The only scholarship offers were from his coach's alma mater, Winston-Salem State, and Longwood.

Longwood was only about an hour's drive from Kersey's Clarksville, Va., home and had been to the NCAA Division II Final Four his junior year. The Longwood coach, Cal Luther, was well-connected in basketball, to the point of recently being appointed to ramrod the Egyptian Olympic team.

Kersey had spectacular growth spurts, from about 6 feet 1 to more than 6-4 in high school and then to 6-7 at Longwood. That caused coordination problems -- and Kersey tripped so often during agility drills his high school teammates called him Daffy Duck.

"He always listened and absorbed," said his coach at Bluestone High, Jerome Watson. "You'd see him all the time, dribbling a ball through town, on the way to the playground at the elementary school. He'd call me on snowy days and ask if there still was practice. I'd say there was if I could get my car out of the yard."

In basketball, numbers introduce young men -- and Kersey averaging more than 14 rebounds at the Division II level got the NBA's attention. He was evaluated and then invited to a series of tryout camps after his senior season.

Those sessions are a recent innovation by the NBA. They are extremely valuable for players such as Kersey, offering competition against standouts from the traditionally powerful schools. Kersey went from hardly known to a second-round draftee, the 46th player chosen in 1984.

Pippen's rise was even swifter. Fitzsimmons and some others followed him through the unique NAIA route that includes a postseason tournament with as many as eight games in one day. It's the only event Fitzsimmons knows that offers foot-long chili dogs at 8 a.m.

"At Portsmouth {the oldest of the postseason NBA camps}, Scottie just kept getting better and better," Fitzsimmons said. "He went from a second-round position to the lottery." Sleepers to Superstars

The reasons players choose out-of-the-way colleges are as varied as their styles of play. Many are unable to meet the academic requirements of the traditional basketball powers. Others, such as Kersey, play in rural areas and literally grow late into NBA consideration.

"I wanted a place where I could play immediately," Dumars said in explaining why he chose McNeese State over Louisiana State, Houston and a few other more familiar colleges. "I needed a place where I could make mistakes and get better."

With no special advance notice, Dumars was the 18th player chosen in the 1985 draft. His game might best be called sensational no-frills. He puts the ball in the basket at one end of the court and puts the likes of Michael Jordan in their place at the other.

"I knew I really belonged after my second year," he said. "I made the all-rookie team, but you're still feeling your way through. I guess I knew it then, but it wasn't until after the second year that I really felt it."

Dumars will belong on covers with wider appeal than the NBA's statistical publications if he and the Pistons successfully defend their title. To those who forget, a weary and frustrated Jordan often says: "Hey, he was MVP of the finals {last year}."

The flashier Rodman is even better on defense. Best in the league, by most estimates. In about every way possible, his growth has been as spectacular as anyone ever in the NBA. Through high school, basketball was his sisters' game -- and Debra and Kim played it well enough to become all-Americans in college.

Dennis? The renowned Worm in high school was The Runt.

"And," he adds, "a klutz."

Also irresponsible and unmotivated. Cut from his Dallas high school team as a junior, Rodman quit after spending the first half of his senior season on the bench. After high school, he took a job as an airport janitor -- and nearly landed in jail after lifting some watches from a gift shop.

About the time family and friends thought Rodman was beginning to get his life in order, his body took a Texas-sized growth spurt. From 5-9, he sprung 11 inches in about two years. At 6-8, he was persuaded by his sisters to enroll in Cooke County Junior College in Gainesville, Tex.

After 14 games, he flunked out of school. "I blew it again," he told the Detroit News. "I went back to Dallas and started hanging on the streets with a bad crowd. My mother would give me money to go find a job and I'd spend it at the video arcade. Then my mother kicked me out of the house."

Coaches from Southeastern Oklahoma State remembered Rodman's exploits on the Dallas playgrounds; this time, he was ready for college -- and scored 24 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in his basketball debut.

Coaches of the last four teams contending for the NBA championship may be similarly driven. The Bulls' Phil Jackson played for the University of North Dakota and Portland's Rick Adelman for Loyola Marymount of California.

Cotton Fitzsimmons of the Suns and the Pistons' Daly each played for two colleges. Fitzsimmons started at Hannibal-LaGrange in Missouri and transferred to Mideastern State in Wichita Falls, Tex. Daly began at St. Bonaventure and ended at Bloomsburg State.

Before joining Duke as an assistant, Daly was head coach in the weather-famous town of Punxsutawney, Pa. Grinning, he said the other day after practice: "One of the tough things in life is when you run second in popularity to a groundhog."

The Cavaliers' Gary Fitzsimmons is Cotton's son. Gary was going to pursue a career in law. But circumstances forced him into a position in NBA scouting, for Cotton, that he thought would be temporary but has lasted 12 years. And hundreds of games. And thousands of miles with stops to watch players like Kersey, who a Longwood official said "comes along once every 10 or 20 years to schools such as ours."