ALOT OF FELLOW Utah State students have been surprised to see Jay Goodman on the basketball court these days, playing for the Aggies. "I didn't know you were a player," they tell him. "I just thought you hung around with them."

Well, no need for apologies. That's what a half-dozen coaches thought, too, and they get paid to know better. Like everyone else, they thought Goodman was too short. No way could he be a college basketball player.They were wrong. Put Goodman on a court, pop some gum in his mouth - and in his sock - wind him up and watch him go. He's a player, all right, all 5-foot-101/2-inches of him. Hands of a pickpocket, rapid-fire feet and mouth (the gum), he's a whirlwind of activity. After a year of redshirting at USU - and hanging out with the Aggies but not playing with them - Goodman leads the team in scoring, assists, steals and three-point shooting.

It took him just one game to put his name in the record book. Against BYU in Provo, he made a school-record nine three-point shots (in 15 attempts) and scored 33 points, leaving a lot of people to wonder Who is this guy? Against Utah in the third game, the new guy scored 28 points - 21 in the second half, when he decided to, in his words, "take charge" - along with six assists and four steals.

On the other hand, both of those outings have been followed by another extreme - a 2-for-14 night against BYU, a 4-for-13 night against Boise State. But USU Coach Kohn Smith isn't worried. Goodman, a sophomore, is still rusty from a year's layoff, he says. What's more, defenses are extending to the three-point line to stop him.

"He'll learn consistency," says Smith. "He won't force things as much."

Goodman came to the Aggies in the usual way. He fell into their laps. They didn't recruit him; he recruited them. For that matter, he has never been recruited.

But he should have been. You want bloodlines? Jay, his brother Tommy Jr. and his father all were named first-team all-state in Iowa. Tommy Sr. was captain of the '69 Iowa State team and later coached Jay in high school. You want numbers? As a senior, Jay averaged 25.5 points and eight assists per game, shot 58 percent from the field, 85 percent from the foul line and led his team to the 3A (the largest class) state championship, scoring 36 points in the championship final. You want height? Go talk to Shawn Bradley.

All the Big 10 schools said the same thing: too small. Johnny Orr, the Iowa State coach, said Goodman could walk on, promising him a scholarship if he proved himself. Goodman sat the bench for the first few games but finally got his chance. He scored 23 points late in the second half of a blowout loss to Cal-Santa Barbara in the Cactus Classic tournament, and then, as a starter, scored 12 points in the next game to win a spot on the all-tournament team.

But that was it. He started one more game. The rest was mopup duty. When a scholarship player quit the ISU team, Orr gave his scholarship to Goodman's roommate, the team's only other walkon. When Orr still hedged on a scholarship following the season, Goodman left school. At the suggestion of his uncle, Terrance Goodman, a theater arts teacher at USU, he sent a letter to the Aggie coaches, along with videotape of his prep and Cactus Classic performances. Aggie coaches were sold immediately. They recognized a player when they saw him, even on film.

They were the least surprised of anyone when Goodman came out shooting and scoring this season. They'd already had a year to watch him in practice. "He wasn't one of our best shooters last year, he was our best shooter, period," says Smith. And Goodman, who has quickness that some say belies his complexion, might actually be a better defensive player (12 steals in four games).

All of which you might expect from a coach's kid, right? "People never believe this, but my dad never touched a basketball with me," says Goodman. "Never." On the other hand, he did begin to attend his father's practices when he was 4 years old and didn't quit until he left for college. He went from career ballboy to star guard in a matter of a few years. Surely he absorbed something from all of that.

Say, a work ethic, for instance? For years, beginning at age 12, Jay (and Tommy Jr.) would run up 10 times up and down the 100 stairs in the high school football stadium, then shoot 100 free throws. As a redshirt last season, Jay shot 300 three-point shots daily and put on 15 pounds in the weight room.

There is at least one more thing Goodman acquired from his father: a taste for gum. He chews the stuff from start to finish in each game, keeping three spare sticks in his sock. "When my dad coaches, he chews it like that," he says.

With his crewcut, Goodman looks like a kid of the '50s, which is about when his car was made. He drives an old, brown Ambassador (retail price: $400), with 140,000 miles on it. "It's the ugliest car on campus," says one USU official. "It's a half-block long. You could put the whole team in it."

That seems only fitting. Provided Goodman finds consistency, he'll be called on to carry much of the load for the Aggies anyway.