STORRS, CONN. -- Marvin Saddler is a 6-foot-7, 240-pound package of attitude stuffed into a Providence College uniform. He gets the ball down low, spins as if he is wearing high-top ballet shoes, and finds nothing but blue heaven between himself and showtime. The Incredible Bulk is about to take advantage of this opportunity for rim-rattling humiliation when University of Connecticut forward Scott Burrell greets him somewhere amid the ozone. They hang nose to nose for an instant before Burrell -- say ahhhhh, Marvin -- slams Saddler's attempt down his throat. The whistle blows and a foul is called. But it ain't.

A few plays later Burrell, 20, a 6-7, 210-pound sophomore from Hamden, Conn., is stride for stride with Chris Smith and John Gwynn on a break. Next he is flashing out of nowhere to steal a pass at midcourt. Then he is taking a long jumper that is so perfect in its form style points should be awarded.

If 1989-90 was "The Dream Season" for UConn, then this season might best be titled "The Awakening." After a 12-1 start, the Huskies have lost six consecutive Big East games and their national ranking. Watching the team is now more frustrating than fun. Burrell's athletic play is one of the few treats fans can count on.

Despite nagging leg injuries, including a chronically inflamed Achilles' tendon, Burrell is second in the nation in steals with 75, and is averaging 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 33.5 minutes.

Those familiar with Burrell's fierce competitive nature have not been surprised by his performance.

"Scott is the 'Boys of Summer' in the sense that he loves games," UConn Coach Jim Calhoun says. "We could roll out marbles on the locker room floor and he would start seeing if he could beat you at that. He has a true love of competition."

Providence Coach Rick Barnes says Burrell is the most improved player on the Connecticut team. What is striking about this assessment is that Burrell has made the gain without the pain. At the conclusion of last season, he didn't pick up a basketball until he returned to Storrs in September.

Burrell signed with the Toronto Blue Jays last July, and played for St. Catharines in the Class A New York-Penn League.

"When Scott came to us he hadn't pitched for over a year," St. Catharines Manager Doug Ault says, "and for someone who hadn't pitched in that long a time, his performance was remarkable. He really improved as he went along, especially the last two or three games."

A strong case can be made that Burrell is the best all-around athlete the state of Connecticut has produced.

The Blue Jays think his 90-plus mph fastball is certain to propel him into the major leagues.

Calhoun says there is no question his star forward can play in the NBA.

And as for football, what NFL team wouldn't take a shot at a mobile, 6-7 guy who can throw the ball 80 yards?

"Scott BO-rell," read a handmade sign at a recent Huskies game.

"Scott is a great athlete, but he also has the heart of a lion," says Hamden football coach Ron Carbone. "It's a rare combination."

"Our pitchers shag a lot of balls in batting practice," Ault says, "and they play this game where you get so many points for a catch. Scott is out there running after balls like it was the World Series or something."

Burrell's competitiveness is part genetic, part environmental. His father, Sam, was a three-sport athlete in high school, his older brother Abbott was a defensive back and tri-captain of the 1989 UConn football team, and his sister Evelyn was a track star at Yale. His mother, Gertrude, played softball.

"I think my competitiveness comes from my brother," Burrell says. "He's four years older than me and when we were young his friends would come over and play football and stuff. I always wanted to play with them, and I guess that had something to do with it." Talk About Precocious

Sam Burrell says he could see Scott might be gifted when he watched him playing in the yard with Abbott and the older kids. His early impressions were confirmed when Scott was 6. The family was at one of Abbott's Little League games, when for some long-forgotten reason, the coach allowed Scott to play. Competing against kids ages 8 to 12, Scott hit a double to win the game. The losing team's coach -- apparently not saddled with an overabundance of pride -- protested. It may be one of the few times a game was forfeited because the ineligible player was too young.

Burrell graduated from the playground to high school, where he became a three-sport highlight film.

"I'll never forget this one pass he completed," Carbone says. "The ball traveled over 70 yards in the air. I think it had frost on it when it finally came down."

Burrell's powerful arm was both blessing and curse. Everything he threw he drilled, and Carbone says his receivers probably dropped as many balls as they caught. Still, his junior year, Burrell threw for 12 touchdowns and more than 900 yards.

Although he had letters of interest from such schools as Notre Dame, Miami and Penn State, Burrell decided to skip football his senior year to concentrate on basketball, baseball and scholastics.

Burrell finished his basketball career at Hamden with 1,326 points and 1,002 rebounds. His senior year he averaged 23.7 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 4.5 blocks.

"We were playing Hillhouse in a game for the district championship," says Hamden basketball coach Clem Batchelder. "They had the ball out with less than two minutes to go and us up three. Scotty stole the inbound pass and with their best player hanging on his back, dunked it. It fouled the guy out and he made the free throw to put us up six."

Hamden baseball coach Vin Virgulto recalls his favorite moment.

"This kid lays down a perfect bunt along the first-base line," Virgulto says. "Scotty charges the ball, picks it up barehanded and throws it behind his back to get the guy out. After that I thought, my God, this kid is really something special."

The first time Calhoun saw Burrell play basketball, he was not impressed.

"You could see he could play a little but he was more of an athlete," Calhoun says. "I made a mental note that he was a kid we should watch, but no more, no less."No Hurry to Leave

Calhoun's tune has since changed.

"Scott Burrell not only could be a good NBA player but a great NBA player," Calhoun says. "If he wanted to become a big guard in the NBA all he would have to do is work on his skills."

Burrell will be back at UConn for his junior year. "I'm definitely going to play here next season," Burrell says. "After that I'll have to wait and see what happens."

If Burrell is elevated to Triple A, or the major leagues, basketball will have to be sacrificed. "You can't tell how long it will take him to get to the major leagues," Ault says. "Two, three years, maybe a year. You just don't know. There aren't a lot of guys who can throw in the nineties {mph}, and there are fewer who can do it, like Scott, with control."

The Burrell family places great emphasis on education, and would like to see Scott graduate from UConn. Sam and Gertrude Burrell each hold a master's degree. Sam works for the New Haven Board of Education, coaches freshman football at Yale, and is in his sixth term on the Hamden City Council. Gertrude teaches nursing at Eli Whitney Technical School.

Burrell is a liberal arts major and an average student. He doesn't admit to much interest in his studies beyond maintaining eligibility. But ask him what he would do if he could no longer participate in athletics and he quickly responds: "Make the dean's list."

Gertrude Burrell laughs when told of her son's answer. "You know, the funny thing is, he could make the dean's list if he wanted to."

Just make it a game.