The time was preseason and the man speaking was Dave Robbins, the coach at Virginia Union, where A.J. English led the nation in scoring his senior season. The subject was Michael Jordan.

English, Robbins said, would not be afraid of Jordan. He might not be able to stop him, but he would give as good as he got. He would take the ball to the basket. And everyone would see that when the two faced each other.

The Washington Bullets and Chicago Bulls have played twice and the English- Jordan matchup has yet to come to fruition. They will play again tonight at Chicago Stadium and chances are that, sooner or later, English will find himself trying to guard the all-universe talent.

"I guess I've got to approach it just like any other game," English said. "I admire him like everybody else does, but I've got a job to do too. The only thing you can do is try to contain him. Nobody has stopped him yet, and I don't think it's going to start {tonight}."

But English is coming off his best performance as a pro, a 48-minute, 31-point, 10- assist game against Cleveland on Sunday in Baltimore. It was a necessary confidence-builder for the rookie, who had been schooled last week by some of the best guards the Western Conference has to offer.

Playing point guard in place of injured Darrell Walker and Haywoode Workman, English has had to learn the hard way about an unforgiving position. It is not just getting through a pick-and-roll screen, or doubling big men in the post.

It is a feeling.

"He played a lot better," Coach Wes Unseld said of English's performance Sunday. "He's a tough, cocky kid, there's no doubt about that. But there are a lot of tough, cocky kids in this league.

"He played some good people {on the Texas trip}; a lot of really good guards. That was the big thing."

Before Sunday's game, Unseld had one of his impromptu talks.

"Coach just told me that I'm going to make some mistakes, and to forget about them and just go out and play," English said.

"Not having played point guard before, he thought I was trying to do everything perfect. I was trying to do everything a point guard should do."

The Bullets will be hard-pressed to uphold one of their more remarkable records tonight. In the 20-plus times Jordan has played Washington, he has never scored 40 points in a game. Washington is the only non-expansion team that can make that claim.

Unseld was wondering yesterday just who was going to guard Jordan. In the past the task fell to Jeff Malone or Walker, and even Walker couldn't handle him the last time the two met. Jordan hit his first nine shots from the field and had 20 points at the half.

Unseld had not decided yesterday between Ledell Eackles and English, and he did not rule out playing forward Harvey Grant on Jordan for a trip or two, although he wasn't crazy about the idea.

After English scored 30 points against Denver, he didn't see the light of day for several games, as the Bullets tried to work Eackles into shape. English never complained. When Eackles struggled, the coaching staff turned to English, and then, out of necessity, had to play him at the point.

It was a rough week.

Although English doesn't get picked cleanly anymore by opposition screens, against the likes of Houston's Kenny Smith and Dallas's Derek Harper he received an education on stopping penetration toward the basket.

"With Houston, they're a guard-oriented team," English said. "It just so happens that two or three of their best players are guards. We didn't have Darrell. They shot 60 percent. What did we lose by, 11, 12?

"And they had eight or nine three-pointers. When you play the pick-and-roll {as the Rockets did} they can all step back and shoot the three-pointer."