EMMITSBURG, MD., OCT. 3 -- The name is out of Michel Bonebo's mouth before it can get out of yours: Manute Bol. Seems as if this line of questioning has come up before, and the Washington Bullets' free-agent center has ready-made responses.

"Even my teammates, they always ask me if I went through the same thing Manute went through," Bonebo said after practice today. "When I see how people were asking me the same questions, I wonder. I come from a very modern place. Why are they asking me these kind of questions?"

You see, Bonebo is 7 feet 3 and thin. Bol is 7-6 and thin. Bonebo plays basketball. Bol plays basketball. Both are from Africa and both played at small, New England schools. From such superficial similarities come a world of generalizations, even if Bonebo is from Abidjan, in the southern part of the Ivory Coast, and Bol is from the Sudan -- about 2,000 miles away.

He doesn't know Manute Bol.

"I started making fun of the thing," Bonebo said. "People ask me my favorite food and I say 'zebra steak.' "

Another obvious question: How did Bonebo, who played for his country's national team in the World Cup in 1985, get to St. Michael's College, an ECAC Division II school in Winooski, Vt.?

"I like to joke about that," he said. "How do you say it? Swim."

Even more obvious: How did Bonebo, who averaged 12.8 points and 10.8 rebounds his senior season at St. Michael's and owns every school blocked-shots record, not get drafted? Answer: He is a big-time project from a small, small program who weighs 225 pounds. That's more than Bol weighed when he arrived in Washington in 1985, but still not nearly enough for someone with Bonebo's height.

Guards occasionally have pushed him out of the lane in practice here at Mount St. Mary's. His offense is limited to dunks, but he's gone up and grabbed a rebound or two in traffic. Still, an NBA camp is good experience.

"I know it's a lot of work," Bonebo said. "Nothing is given easily. You have to really work hard to get a shot. I'm trying to work hard. I think for me the only way to make it is to work hard."

He's a very long shot. To make the team he'd have to beat out draft pick Greg Foster and maybe a veteran. But Bonebo's done well enough to make it through rookie camp and precamp games in Detroit.

"He hasn't looked that bad," Bullets Coach Wes Unseld said. "To make a comparison, I would say he's got better hands than Manute. He probably can't block shots as well, but a lot of the other things basketball-wise he's probably just as good."

"He's got a long way to go," guard Darrell Walker said. "I don't really know a lot about the guy. This is my first time seeing him, period. He's real raw; you can tell. But he's got some shot-blocking ability."

That ability caught the eye of Jim Casciano, the former coach at St. Michael's who is now at Temple. He had heard of Bonebo through countrymen of Bonebo's in nearby Burlington, Vt., liked what he saw and invited him to play basketball right away.

"It was a small school, and I didn't speak English then, so it was the right place for me," said Bonebo, who speaks four languages. "I had a friend who played Division I in Houston and their coach called me when I was home. I said, 'Let me go to Vermont and choose.' I came to Vermont and I loved the place."

Unfortunately for Bonebo, who weighed about 205 at the time, he was to meet with the uniquely American experience of great expectations.

The year was 1985; Bol had just wowed people at the University of Bridgeport and the United States Basketball League, and the Bullets took him in the second round of the draft. Bonebo sat out a year to learn English, and when he was ready to play people were impatient.

"People in Burlington expected him to be the next Manute Bol, which was very unfair," said Barry Parkhill, who coached Bonebo his last year before moving to an assistantship at Navy.

"Things were blown out of proportion. People just equated a big kid from Africa {with Bol}. When he became eligible, St. Mike's was ranked preseason number one and Sports Illustrated did a story on him. But he had a broken foot and couldn't play and things just didn't work out."

Said Bonebo: "I just came to America and I sat out for a year and I didn't play basketball. They called and said, 'We need you.' I said, 'I'm not playing, I'm not in shape.' They said, 'Just come by and stand up.' I didn't do that much because I wasn't active. I had to sit out and learn English. It was just like a vacation for me."

His numbers were respectable if unspectacular, but when Parkhill came aboard for Casciano, he had to do some ego boosting.

"Most of the things I'd heard about him weren't negative, but they weren't really positive," Parkhill said. "But I looked at some film of him and he did a lot of good things. My biggest goal was to give him some confidence. I said, 'You're going to be my man in the middle and I'm not going to yank you out.' "

Bonebo had a tryout with the Nets this summer, but after comparing the two, he decided to give the Bullets a try.

"I like it here better," he said. "I just like the place. I love working with {Unseld}. He makes you work hard but in the end it pays off, that's for sure. . . . I hope that everything works out well for me. I want to make the team. That's my dream."