WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Clarence Gaines, who has won more college basketball games than any coach still upright, eases his Lincoln onto the campus of Wake Forest University. This is not his school. That is tiny, predominantly black, nationally unknown Winston-Salem State University, which is across town in Winston-Salem, N.C. But before settling in there, before kicking back in a cluttered office in a fieldhouse that bears his name, the man known as Big House is conducting a tour of the city where he has spent every moment of his 45-year career.

Now his car is passing a parking lot filled with modern models attesting to the wealth at this Atlantic Coast Conference school, and then suddenly, stretching out to his left, is a string of pristine lacrosse fields. The artificial turf covering them literally sparkles in this day's sun, and when he spots them, Gaines can only chuckle. "Two different worlds, Division I and Division II," he says.

Winston-Salem State, his Division II school, has no facility that even remotely resembles this, and he is about to enter a basketball year in which his total budget, scholarships included, is a paltry $60,000.

Coaches who will never approach the 806 victories he has accumulated nor attain the status he has achieved, spend more than that annually on mailings to recruits. He is asked, "Do you ever get envious when you see something like this?"

Again the 67-year-old Gaines chuckles, and then he says: "Not really. No one forced me to stay. But as far as being a sociological experiment, why go and be someone's assistant?"

He is now on the front edge of a brief soliloquy, an educating and edifying dissertation that is part history lesson, part sociology lesson, part a lesson on the development of race relations in this country. These pop up frequently in conversation with him, and then -- in soft tones, in tones never tinged with rancor -- he offers up a moment from a career that began when World War II ended and has seen nine men sit in the Oval Office.

"When I was younger" in the early to mid-1970s, he says major colleges "didn't hire many blacks, and when they did, you had certain roles: Recruiting and to keep the animals you recruited in check. I had people back then who would ask me the difference between white kids and black kids."

You mean people asking you how to handle black kids?

"Oh, yeah. I guess I was looked at as something of a pioneer, and I remember at a tournament once, a coach took me aside, he wanted to pick my brain."

Gaines recalls the coach saying that he had ordered a training-table meal for his team that included rare roast beef and baked potatoes, but none of his black players had eaten it; they merely nibbled and then hurried off to buy themselves hot dogs and fries. The perplexed coached asked Gaines, "What do you feed your guys?"

Gaines said the coach did not understand that it was not a difference between black and white youngsters, just a difference of socioeconomic upbringings.

"I didn't care. I've had kids eat chili dogs before they played. We don't have a structured meal pattern," Gaines answered the coach. "Now I don't know what the dominant Polish food is, but give a black kid rare roast beef, and he won't eat it. When we eat roast beef, any of us, it has to be well done. We don't eat baked potatoes. We eat fried potatoes.

"But he thought black kids were different than white kids. He didn't realize if you took {black} kids from the same socioeconomic background, they would eat the same as their white counterparts."

Gaines's office in the C.E. Gaines Center is comfortably chaotic, and as soon as he enters it, he ducks behind a bookcase to change into clothes appropriate for the television interview he must do.

"What was your recruiting budget when you started out here?" he is asked.

"What?" Gaines shouts back.

"What was your . . . "

"I heard you," he says as he reappears. There is now a smile on his face that leaves him, at 6 feet 5, beaming down bemusedly on the questioner as he continues, "Boy, I have to educate you about Division II.

"Recruiting budget? Shoot. We were a teacher's college then. The only reason we picked up enough athletes that first year was the war was over, they had GI Bills, and they wanted to go to college. You got in your car, drove up to a kid, asked him if he wanted to go to college. Recruiting budget? We didn't spend but $8,000 {recruiting} all of last year.

"I go to two, three major tournaments a year to see if I still speak the language. But it would be hard for me to talk to you of a recruiting budget. Small-college budgets are like what your grandparents had when they came over from Poland. Everything goes into the pot. When something breaks down, that's in the budget. The wheel that squeaks most gets fixed."

It is harder now for Gaines to keep his team's wheels rolling, has been harder for him since Southern universities discovered their consciences (and their dismal records) in the '70s and started recruiting black athletes as well as white.

Gaines still got some topflight kids back then because those same universities were working yet on a quota system ("What was the old saying? Play one at home, two on the road, three when you're behind?"), but then came the '80s, television and opportunities from countless pinpoints on the basketball map.

So now Gaines, no matter his stature, is no longer a siren able to attract top recruits to his campus, and no longer does it matter to those recruits that he is a man who has run up more victories than Dean Smith, Bob Knight, John Wooden, or any man who ever coached the game other than Kentucky's late Adolph Rupp.

He thinks it has been at least five years since a Top 200 recruit has enrolled at a predominantly black university, and that leaves him looking for more victories with a bevy of junior college transfers and no player taller than 6-7.

The newcomers he will treat the same as he has treated all the others who have come his way over the decades. He will discipline them. He will make certain they go to class. He even will correct them, in the middle of practice, if their nouns and verbs don't agree.

"Some years ago, there was a play called '{To Be} Young, Gifted and Black,' said Gaines. "I've always felt if you're young, gifted, black -- and can't read or write -- all you can say is you're in trouble.

"So I think my role is to guide and direct. Basketball is really a minor part of it. I guess I've been more of a sociologist and an adopted parent and done a better job of that than I've done as a coach. But many kids come from single-parent families, and I have an agreement with that parent: Send me your son, I'll take care of him.

"I don't have many rules. I just want them to act as reasonably prudent persons should act. And when you're 6-5, 290, you don't have much trouble reaching that understanding. They just have to accept that the situation is, 'I'm man. You're boy.' " Career Goal Was Dentistry

He spent his boyhood in Paducah, Ky., where he was raised by a mom intent on giving her son a chance for success. These were the late '20s and the '30s, when a depression was ravaging the country and opportunities for blacks were rare. Yet, by the time he entered high school, Gaines could read and write, play the piano and trumpet and make himself a presence in football and basketball.

He was already huge, a hulking 6-3, 265 pounds, when he graduated. He drove onto the campus of Morgan State University to enroll and his size did not go unnoticed by one of the first people he met there. That was Jimmy Carter, then the school's business manager, who leaned into Gaines' car to help with directions, he took one look and declared, "I've never seen anything bigger than you but a house, boy."

Big House, during his days at Morgan, was best known as a football player. When he graduated in May 1945 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry, he appeared headed toward a career not in sports, but in dentistry.

He had been accepted to dental school, but he couldn't afford it and so hired on at Winston-Salem Teachers College as football, basketball and boxing assistant. He was 22 and intended to stay a year, just long enough to earn the tuition money he needed.

The next year, 1946, his boss resigned, and just like that Gaines was a head coach and on his way toward successes he had never imagined.

Gaines was 15-7 that first season. Through the mid-'50s, there were five straight seasons with 21 victories or more. Cleo Hill, brilliant and flashy, then arrived to weave his magic, and three years after he departed came the performer who will forever be linked to Gaines and Winston-Salem.

He was Earl Monroe -- The Pearl -- a guard so cunning and charismatic that he was referred to by many as Black Jesus. The crowds Winston-Salem attracted with Monroe were so big dogs were needed to control the fans in Norfolk, Va. Crowds were so big that the school had to play its home games during Monroe's years not in its campus gym, but in the city's coliseum.

Monroe left in 1967 and went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NBA, but even now, Gaines lights up when he talks of him.

"I miss {those days} a lot," Gaines said. "But you know the great thing about Earl's time. Those were the days when we were having civil rights demonstrations down here, but a lot of our audience was white. That's what I remember most about Earl's years. He did a lot to improve race relations." Still Winning Through Perseverance

Those demonstrations, ironically enough, heralded the changes that opened up Southern college doors and ultimately robbed Gaines of the talent that once flowed his way. Never again would he coach another like Monroe, nor would he again enjoy heady days like those the Pearl delivered him. But he carried on, persevered and continued to win.

Last year, Gaines joined Adolph Rupp as one of only two college coaches to run up 800 victories (Rupp has 875).

He is still a professor of physical education and is now in six halls of fame. He is the former athletic director of his school and a past president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He has a building named for him, and former players have named their children after him. He has a son who works for the Chicago Bulls and an office filled with plaques, mementos and other testaments to his greatness.

He started when hot dogs were a nickel, bus rides were six cents and races had separate water faucets. In the years that have passed, he has been much more than a basketball coach. He has been a pioneer, a ballast, a beacon of civility in a business sorely in need of that virtue.

Legend. A great man. Those words have been cheapened by overuse, but here they fit the man as snugly as the red sweater he wears.

He will have none of this, of course. His record says he is a legend. His character says he is a legend. Some plaques on his wall even carry the word "legend."

"But," he says, "I don't like legend. {When} I think of a legendary character, I think of some S.O.B. who's dead with a tombstone over his head.

"So I'm not necessarily proud of it. But it doesn't make me uncomfortable. It's just one of those facts of life."