There was a period in Dwight Freeman's life when he could have employed a full-time travel agent. But now that he's the head basketball coach at Marshall University at the tender age of 31, he's hoping to stay in one place for a while. Maybe even two years.

"I had been looking for one head coaching job the last couple of years," said Freeman, an Anacostia High School graduate. "Once I got into coaching, this was always a goal of mine. I knew I wanted to stay with the game."

He stayed with the game, but rarely stayed in one place. But the planes, trains and automobiles finally landed him in Huntington, W.Va. And so far, he's had success, guiding the Thundering Herd to a 5-4 record entering Thursday's game against Virginia in Charlottesville.

But no matter how successful Freeman is this season, it will end early. Marshall is serving two years' NCAA probation for recruiting violations (that occurred before he got there) and is ineligible for the 1991 NCAA tournament. Nevertheless, the combination of guard John Tate and forward Andre Cunningham has made playing the Thundering Herd a difficult task.

Freeman's roundabout path to Marshall originated at Southeast (Neb.) Community College, where he began his playing career. He also attended Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College and Southern Methodist before earning a marketing degree at Western State (Colo.) College in 1982.

Although Freeman always wanted to coach, he was prepared to play abroad after college. But he got some advice from Georgetown Coach John Thompson that changed the shape of his career.

"I saw him one day, and just being concerned, he asked me what I planned to do with my life," Freeman said. "I told him I wanted to coach, but that I was going to play abroad for awhile. He told me: 'You need to get in {coaching} now and pay your dues and give up playing basketball. If you play five, six, seven years over there and come back when you're 28 or 30 years old, trying to get back into the business is tough.' "

So Freeman scrapped his international plans and took a job as an assistant under Dana Altman at Moberly (Mo.) Junior College. After one year, he went back to Hutchinson as a volunteer assistant. In 1985 he became an assistant at Delaware State. From Freeman's standpoint, it was a long-term job -- he stayed three years. In 1988 he went to Colgate as an assistant.

By last May, Altman -- the first head coach Freeman had worked under -- was coaching at Marshall, and he asked Freeman to join him. After the Thundering Herd went 15-12 in his first season, Altman was hired to take over for Lon Kruger at Kansas State.

It took less than 24 hours for Marshall Athletic Director Lee Moon to hire Freeman, who became the first black coach in Southern Conference history.

"I wanted to stay within the program to keep some stability," said Moon, who has hired two basketball coaches and a football coach in just less than three years as athletic director. "I felt like he had a good relationship with the players. He got what he was trying to teach across."

Moon said Freeman's success in recruiting and his connection with the high school-rich Washington area were also factors. He said Freeman's age was not. "I don't think age has anything to do with it," he said. "What is the age to be a head coach? Dana Altman wasn't very old either."

While Freeman prefers an up-tempo style, he's seen so many different systems as a player and coach he sometimes gets confused. "I've learned a lot of different things, and the thing that would be the negative is that you learn a little too much and you try to figure out which is the best to use," he said.

But because of the NCAA violations -- which were committed when Rick Huckabay was coach -- Freeman will have some time to try whatever he wants without fear of spoiling his postseason hopes. But he denies that will make his job easier.

"People have been saying that, but I think you put pressure on yourself," he said. "Some of the pressure's gone from the media and the fans, but you still feel self-motivation."

Though Marshall will not play in the Southern Conference tournament this season, it is expected to finish in the upper part of the standings. The Thundering Herd -- a loser to Pittsburgh, Penn State, Wyoming and Colorado State -- has defeated rival West Virginia by 17 points and generally been competitive within its national schedule.

Marshall is almost seven hours from Washington by car, but Freeman often makes the trip to visit his mother and father, who is pastor of New Hope Freewill Baptist Church in Southeast. Freeman's upcoming schedule may make those trips home more sporadic, but he knows his parents understand.

"I'm just happy for my family and blessed to get an opportunity to be a head coach at this age," Freeman said. "I feel honored to be the head coach and I'll do the best I can."