SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. Va. -- Four years ago, Rudy Archer said he felt "like my whole world had come to an end."
Before what would have been his senior year at Maryland, the talented point guard from Southwestern High in Baltimore became a cause celebre on the College Park campus.
An NCAA investigation ruled that assistant coaches were guilty of transporting Archer to summer classes at Prince George's Community College, where he was making up grades to remain eligible for basketball.
Ultimately, the NCAA would place the Terps basketball program on probation, with coach Bob Wade forced to resign and athletic director Lew Perkins soon following in his wake.
Since he left Maryland after the 1988-89 season, Wade, who helped build Dunbar High into a high school basketball dynasty in the 1980s, has declined to discuss the circumstances that led to his dismissal. But last week, when a reporter informed him that Archer was a free-agent candidate at the Washington Bullets training camp, Wade talked emotionally about the "whole Maryland episode."
"Rudy Archer was the forgotten man in the whole situation. I was fortunate to get a very good job with the city," said Wade, now the superintendent of recreation. "And Perkins became the athletic director at UConn.
"A lot of people involved experienced mental anguish. But Rudy, he was just left out in the cold."
Last week, Archer looked back without anger on his traumatic year at Maryland. He was sitting in the West Baltimore home of his attorney-agent, Jean Fugett, a former Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins tight end.
"At the time it happened, I didn't really understand why," Archer said. "I thought coaches were supposed to help athletes on and off the court, and they were just trying to keep me in school."
He would go on to complete his degree in communications at St. Mary's College in San Antonio while leading the basketball team to the 1990 NAIA finals.
"During that time, I got a lot of counseling from my parents and coaches I got to know growing up in Baltimore, like [Towson Catholic's] Mike Daniel," Archer said. "I just tried to go on with my life and put the Maryland thing behind me."
But his dream of playing professional basketball never abated. Two years ago, Archer had tryouts with the San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Hornets that led to encouraging words, but no NBA contract. And there was a four-game tour last winter with the Rapid City Thrillers of the Continental Basketball Association.
"That was total chaos," he said. "The coach couldn't control the team."
Out of sight, out of mind, but Archer persisted. This summer, he played recreation ball three or four nights a week, and was a teammate of Bullets forward Larry Stewart in a Woodlawn
Stewart, who made the NBA as a free agent out of Coppin State last season, was impressed by Archer's court savvy and ball-handling ability, and made a strong recommendation to Bullets coach Wes Unseld.
Unseld was impressed after scouting several games, but also made a thorough check into Archer's background.
"You worry what happens when a star athlete drops out of school and doesn't play anywhere for two or three years," Unseld said. "But all the people I talked to said that Rudy never got in a bit of trouble and was holding down a regular job besides playing a lot of ball. That impressed me more than his basketball ability."
For the past two years, Archer, 25, has been working as a counselor for a local organization that helps prepare developmentally disabled persons for the job market.
"Rudy could have gone back to the streets and become a flash in the pan," Fugett said. "But without a lot of direction, he made it on his own. That's why I first got interested in him."
With last season's backcourt reserves, Andre Turner and A. J. English, playing in Europe, and veterans David Wingate and Ledell Eackles unsigned, Archer has a real chance of making the Bullets as a backup to playmaker Michael Adams.
"Wes Unseld has stuck his neck out for me," Archer said. "Now all I can do is try and pay him back by playing as hard and well as possible."
Rudy Archer is back, no longer the forgotten man.