LODGE GRASS, MONT. -- Elvis Old Bull is a legend in Montana basketball circles. By next year he might be just a memory.

Old Bull, a high school senior on the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana, scored 1,948 points in four seasons, almost 20 a game.

"In my 13 years of coaching, there's been nobody better than Elvis, anywhere," Lodge Grass Coach Gordon Real Bird said. "He's the best."

Old Bull holds 16 school records and led Lodge Grass to three consecutive state Class B titles, winning tournament MVP each time.

But his teachers say too many missed classes threaten Old Bull's graduation. Real Bird says he hopes Old Bull might attend college -- but it doesn't look promising.

And another Indian legend may stop at the high school level.

Edgar Pretty On Top played in Old Bull's shadow on the reservation, averaging 12 points. But he has a 3.8 grade-point average.

"I want to study psychology," said Pretty On Top, who like Old Bull has a traditional Crow name. "I want to set a good example by doing good in classes and playing ball."

He's been accepted by Western Montana College, eligible for an academic scholarship.

"There's not much here for me on the reservation," Pretty On Top said. "You have to go out and just do it for yourself."

Indian basketball is an enigma. It often dominates Montana prep ranks; this season Indian teams won two of four state class titles.

But its star players seldom use the game as a route to an education and a brighter future.

Once the glory days of high school end, the players fade away, most never to be heard from again. A few try college, only to wind up back on the reservation.

Jonathan Takes Enemy, a 1984 Hardin High graduate, was recruited by virtually every college in Montana. He attended Sheridan Community College in Wyoming, but dropped out.

He is the rules rather than the exceptions, and coaches and community leaders on and off the reservation admit frustration.

"We've isolated the Indian with reservations," Lodge Grass Athletic Director Rocky Eggart said. "Once you're in one, it's tough to get out."

The problems of the reservation are well-documented: poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, drug abuse, teen pregnancy. Still, similar hardships are found in urban inner cities, and players there try to use basketball as a way out.

"The kids in the ghetto, they have a tremendous desire to leave," Eastern Montana Coach Ernie Wheeler said. "But the Indian kids seem to be drawn back to the reservation. In my three years here, not one has made it {out}."

For instance, the last Indian to play at Montana State on a scholarship was Gil Birdinground in 1974, Coach Mick Durham said.

Some Indian players from the high school class of '90 say they'll try to change things.

"You have some of your Indian ballplayers who have great high school years, but after that some have screwed it up for the rest of us," said Steven Falls Down, a Crow at Billings Central who earned a full athletic scholarship to Rocky Mountain College in Billings.

"I had the last name, so I knew I would have to be two times better than the next guy," Falls Down said. " . . . There's always going to be people out there who want to see you fall flat on your face. But I want to prove them wrong. I want the kids to look up to me."

What sets Falls Down and Pretty On Top apart from the others are their relatives graduated from college. Old Bull has none.

Coach Real Bird said he fears the example set for reservation youngsters if Old Bull does not go on to college.

"They all look up to Elvis," he said. "He's a hero. I told him to go to college and do what he does best, then these kids will follow him.

"I just hope Elvis makes it."