As a new season approaches, Ellis McKennie has had to reflect on four turbulent years at George Washington University -- the ulcer, the foot injury, the suspension, the disappointing results, the checkered relationship with the former coach.

Sure, there have been high notes. He loves the city. He was an intern for Rep. William Gray (D-Pa.) last summer. He's considering a graduate degree, maybe followed by law school. No doubt, the smart kid from Philadelphia's rough streets has a bright future.

"It's been interesting," he said with a coy smile. "I kind of got off on the wrong foot here with {former} Coach {John} Kuester. . . . But all in all, GW is a wonderful school. For my {political science} major, it's the best place for me. I probably could have gotten a few more wins if I had gone to other schools, but, you know . . . "

He pauses, then laughs.

A black cloud drifts into the already murky picture: "I was about to say I'd make the same decision, but then Kuester jumps back inside my head."

He says things are different now. He says this is his rebirth, a season for redemption. But is it? In the Colonials' 97-91 exhibition victory over Marathon Oil last Friday, McKennie was in uniform but did not play. His new coach, Mike Jarvis, called it a "team matter" and declined to elaborate, saying he expected the fifth-year senior to "play many more quality games for us."

The intrigue about McKennie goes beyond his seemingly limitless physical ability, beyond his importance to a rebuilding program that has been stuck in the Atlantic 10's lower half for four years. It points to an imperfect and often painful past, to the labor of overcoming and moving on.

"That's old and done," McKennie said before the benching. "It's four years gone in my career that I can't get back. I'm just going to enjoy this one year with Coach Jarvis. As far as Coach Kuester is concerned, that's old news. I leave it behind me. He's gone and I have one year left."

McKennie, a third-team all-Atlantic 10 selection last season, doesn't deny there were problems between him and Kuester, who was forced to resign last spring after five seasons and a 50-94 record. Kuester is now a video coordinator and scout for the Boston Celtics.

But as he prepares for his final season, the 6-foot-3 guard says he is more at ease and more mentally prepared than ever.

"I had heard he was a talented player and my opinion certainly has not changed" in the preseason, said Jarvis, who was lured last spring from Boston University after five years there. "Basically, I heard he hadn't played to his full potential, for one reason or another."

McKennie has shown all-around ability since his sophomore season. Last season as a point guard on a seventh-place team (14-17), he was eighth in the conference in scoring (16.3), third in assists (5.8) and first in steals (2.65). He set a conference tournament record with 15 assists against St. Bonaventure and had five steals in a game four times.

In his first season, he thought he should have played more than 17 minutes per game. He suppressed his feelings and the result was an ulcer.

As a sophomore, his playing time increased and he averaged 13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game. His biggest moment that season was making the crucial shot in an upset at Michigan State.

In 1988 he was averaging 17.8 points and 5.2 assists through five games when he suffered a stress fracture in his foot and was redshirted. Later, he and two teammates were suspended from the team and required to perform community service for using additional food allowances. To make matters worse, the team finished 1-27.

McKennie said he just "tried to play through" the disagreements with Kuester last season. After the season, Kuester announced he was leaving.

"I don't want to play like a second-year player, or a third- or fourth-year player," he said. "I don't want to make some of those plays I made in the past. I want to make sure my game has grown as I have in age. I want to do what it takes to win, be it shutting a guy down, making steals or getting some points. I'm comfortable with any role."

Jarvis says McKennie will play off-guard to utilize his ability as a "slasher." McKennie says he worked hard during the summer on his outside shot, and that he's also prepared, if necessary, to play small forward.

McKennie greatly admires Jarvis.

"I know where I stand with Coach Jarvis," he said. "He respects me and he commands respect. He doesn't demand it. He commands it. It's a big difference you know, when you show somebody respect. That's commanding respect. You can't tell someone to give you respect. You can't demand respect.

"That's what I like the most about him. He doesn't go out of his way. He's Coach Jarvis. He's Mike Jarvis. He's no one else. He doesn't try to be Mike Jarvis to somebody and a different Mike Jarvis to another. . . . It makes things so much easier because you don't have to figure out your coach. You don't have to figure out if you're in the doghouse or you're not in the doghouse. If I'm not playing, he's going to tell me why I'm not playing."

McKennie believes his problems are behind him, and now he is looking toward one final, glorious season.

"Things are more relaxed, not as much tension in the air," he said. "I'm more relaxed. I have nothing else on my mind except going out there and playing."