Can you believe a national Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament for children 8 and under in Memphis where the top players are actually ranked? It's true, and one of the coaches in the tournament told The Post's Eric Prisbell last week that a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old on his team would be "all-Americans" by the time they are 12.

This information comes during the time 15-year-old Freddy Adu complains about a lack of playing time for D.C. United, 14-year-old Michelle Wie battles for her place in the professional golfing ranks, 17-year-old Maria Sharapova of Sarasota, Fla., by way of Siberia, wins Wimbledon and the very best high school basketball players have replaced the SAT with the NBA.

New faces on the scene are as fascinating as watching Tigers Woods and Andre Agassi try to retain their dominant positions in their respective sports. But when the lure of fame and money results in parents and adults who run AAU tournaments to showcase kids barely beyond potty-training, it's time to reassess.

"It's not good for the kids or parents," Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams said. "Way too early. I don't see the point, since kids change so much as they get older. But the whole business starts so soon nowadays. When I was coming up [in the 1960s], you were recruited in your senior year in high school, and that was that."

Of pre-teen tournaments, WTEM commentator and former Georgetown coach John Thompson said, "This is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Let them have fun, let them mature. What we have are adults using these kids as toys."

Pre-teen stars? "Let's draft 'em for the NBA," suggested Thompson, tongue-in-cheek.

U.S. national soccer coach Bruce Arena said recently Adu might be under too much pressure for his age, although United Coach Peter Nowak seems to be managing him just right. Wie would be better off playing in amateur tournaments for young women and maybe winning a few before agreeing to boost crowds at pro events. And shall we not crown Sharapova as the next Chris Evert quite yet?

The extraordinary few kids are so special their personal development isn't likely to be affected, but think about the number of parents who dream of a day in the "family" box at some big event. "I don't think it's healthy for kids to get such notoriety," said Mike Stutz, a Rockville clinical psychologist specializing in sports. "You also see problems with parents getting too involved and pressuring their children. Very often the kid loses interest in sports."

Expos Mania Grips D.C. Area

Figured this week was as good a week as any to begin siphoning off the Orioles' television grip in the area, what with Our Expos playing three games against Atlanta in lovely San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium. On Monday, there was ESPN's Dave O'Brien and Buck "I cut my ball-playing teeth here" Martinez behind the mike, with the Braves' TV team headed by Skip Caray doing the Tuesday and Wednesday night duties.

Sad to report that Our Expos were swept by 11-4, 1-0 and 14-2. But even though I do not believe Our Expos ever led in any of the three games, they did show promise. Second baseman Jose Vidro is a star, shortstop Orlando Cabrera is smooth, and pitcher Zach Day, at 6 feet 4, was physically imposing and would be a great headline in his first start here ("It's a New Day") even though he gave up six runs in the first inning and was lifted in the second inning on Monday.

Enjoyed seeing open-stanced former Oriole Tony Batista playing for the Expos, as he was one reason thousands of us trooped up I-95 to Baltimore nightly these past three years. Also, former Red Sox slugger Carl Everett, in a season-long slump, homered. Our Expos do not have a very good record (29-55), but they're spunky, and GM Omar Minaya has kept them respectable until this year with his canny moves. It will be interesting to see how Minaya would fare with D.C. or Virginia money behind him. Whenever MLB Commissioner Bud Selig decides to announce where -- or if -- Our Expos are moving.

Meanwhile, if D.C. or Virginia doesn't get the Expos, I hope San Juan does, even though crowds there number fewer than 10,000 a game for the barnstorming stops. San Juan is a prime "scuba-diving site,'' according to ESPN's O'Brien, and "Old Town" sizzles. And how do you not love a ballpark in which all the fans wear Tommy Bahama shirts?

Short Hops

Alan Webb, a four-time All-Met distance runner from Reston's South Lakes High School, has shaken off a two-year slump big time and Thursday seeks to make the U.S. Olympic team when he competes in the 1,500-meter trials in Sacramento.

Last month, Webb, who went to Michigan for one year before turning professional, ran the fastest mile ever by a U.S. runner in this country in the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. -- 3 minutes 50.85 seconds. That broke the record of 3:51.1 set 37 years ago by one of my favorites, Jim Ryun. Webb's time in the mile was the best in the world this year.

"It's been long journey for me," Webb said in a telephone interview this week when asked about fighting through injuries and disappointments these past two years. "I put in lots of miles and hard work to get in the best shape of my life."

Hope Webb makes it while the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency decides which sprinters the U.S. can send to Athens. . . .

Do my eyes deceive me, or is that D.C. United sitting near the top of the Eastern Division of Major League Soccer's standings with 20 points and a 5-6-5 record? Nice job by Nowak and his guys, especially veteran Jaime Moreno. . . .

Do my eyes deceive me, or are the Washington Mystics, at 8-9, only two games out of first in the East? . . .

Do my eyes deceive me, or are the Washington Wizards hot in summer league play? . . .

If Peter Angelos is claiming all the territory from Atlanta to Philadelphia for his Orioles, can't he at least find a pitcher in one of those states? . . .

When Redskins' training camp begins in three weeks, I don't want to see or hear any pouting from LaVar over that $6.5 million roster bonus discrepancy between him and the team. Let's get this fixed. What's $6.5 million among friends, when everyone is fine with the eight-year, $68 million extension LaVar signed last December that keeps him here until he's eligible for AARP? I thought LaVar and owner Dan Snyder were tight? I'll send a pledge; and how about Deion? He ought to contribute something.

Have a question or comment, reach me at Talkback@washpost.com. And how should I react to my exercise instructor telling me I should avoid her aerobics class because "I don't seem like a mambo guy"?

Bruce Arena thinks 15-year-old Freddy Adu, above, is being managed just right by United Coach Peter Nowak despite the teenager's recent complaints over lack of playing time.