During the first five months of this year -- before their coach had turned down an offer to become general manager of the Denver Nuggets -- three athletes left Georgetown University's highly acclaimed basketball program. In tightly worded news releases Coach John Thompson said only that he and the players agreed it was in their best interests to leave.

But why did they go?

"That's personal," Thompson said recently. "But I feel damn good about one thing: All these kids were academically eligible when they left."

In recent interviews, the former Georgetown athletes discussed their decisions. David Edwards, 5-foot-11 guard, averaged 5.4 points per game last season, now a sophomore at Texas A&M:

"I just woke up one morning and read in the newspaper that Coach Thompson had signed three more guards. I really felt that after all I'd tried to contribute to the team, there was no gratitude for how hard I'd worked.

"I guess I wasn't needed.

"Coach Thompson did what he had to do because that's his team. I just feel he could have asked me how did I feel about it. It was like he didn't care about my future.

" . . . I don't really think Coach Thompson was happy with the way I played last season. Because if he had that much confidence in me, he wouldn't have done what he did." Michael Venson (formerly Michael Tate), 6-6 forward, 3.2 points per game, sophomore at James Madison:

"I wasn't fitting into Coach Thompson's program. I like the run-and-gun type of game. Georgetown's game isn't really like that. So Coach Thompson agreed it'd be a good move for me to transfer.

" . . . I also thought I needed to get out of the D.C. area because I grew up there and had a lot of distractions there. My friends were coming around to the campus, wanting me to hang out all the time. At Georgetown, you really couldn't do that because you're not supposed to leave the campus on weekdays.

"A couple of times I went out with my friends or went home when I should have been on campus. Coach Thompson found out -- I don't know how -- and the next day at practice, he said, 'Why did you leave campus? . . . We've got rules up here.' " Milton Bell, 6-7 forward, 4.2 points per game, junior at Richmond:

"When I talked to Coach Thompson about transferring, I mentioned playing time. I went to Georgetown with high expectations of playing. But I also told him I had a little bit of homesickness.

"You know, my father died when I was 11. So now it's just my mother and myself. My mom has to take care of everything, including the house. So I felt that by coming home to Richmond, where I grew up, I could help her more.

" . . . Some people have a bad image of John Thompson. I'd like to make it clear that Coach Thompson showed me nothing but the utmost respect when I was there. He did everything he could to make my transfer possible. He was like a father to me. And he's still one of my biggest role models."