Most college basketball coaches would rather play hopscotch over snakes than predict wins and losses at the start of the season. First-year George Washington coach Mike Jarvis is no different, but he did promise the school's basketball program would begin a new era on a positive note and end this season with stunning surprises.

Jarvis, who coincidentally succeeded John Kuester at both Boston University and GW, yesterday promised the first monthly luncheon crowd at the Marvin Center that the team would not finish in last place in the Atlantic 10.

Jarvis said his team will fool a lot of people who do not expect much of the Colonials this season, but he was quick to add that his players are not fooling themselves. Jarvis said his team realizes it needs a lot of work to better the .500 mark and contend in the conference.

The Colonials were 14-17 last season, a stunning improvement on their 1-27 mark from the previous season. The next step, however, may be harder to make.

"Progress has been slow but sure. I feel we will eventually have a good team, but it is a day-to-day proposition," said Jarvis, who won 66 percent of his games in five seasons at BU, guiding teams to two NCAA appearances and one NIT berth. "We won't be a Loyola Marymount, but we will try to mix up the open court game with some half court. We don't have the great player, but we have a number of players who bring something special to the table. There's good potential."

Jarvis, known nationally for coaching high school all-Americans and current pros Patrick Ewing and Rumeal Robinson, talked at length about the team and seemed at ease as he told jokes and traded barbs with university officials and alumni.

One weakness Jarvis and his staff have been working on is the Colonials' shooting. The 1989-90 team shot 44 percent from the floor, 29 percent from three-point range and 65 percent from the free throw line.

"Shooting is a weakness, I have to say that. We have a couple of kids who can shoot the three-point shot and we must improve our free throw shooting. If we can shoot 70 percent from the line, that's as good as most teams in the country," Jarvis said. "What we want to do is let every player play to his potential and not ask them to do anything they can't do."

One player Jarvis will ask to do a number of things is senior guard Ellis McKennie. Having been asked to sacrifice points and playing time to accommodate other players much of his career under Kuester, McKennie has been told he might have to sacrifice again.

"I may start, I may come off the bench, I don't know," said McKennie. "Coach Jarvis wants what's best for the team and I want the same. We have never finished above .500 since I've been here and I want to see a winning season. I also want to be remembered for being a good player here. So I'll do what I have to do or what I'm asked."

Like Jarvis, women's head coach Joe McKeown promised a solid effort that could produce surprises by season's end.

"I'm excited because we haven't lost a game yet," McKeown said. "Last year, we were 14-14 and, considering everything, we had a great year. We have a good group back and recruited a great three-point shooter in Jackie Nikzad. She had 120 three-pointers last year and we didn't bring her in to play defense. Her arm will probably fall off before the end of the season."