It is the equivalent of North Carolina basketball star J.R. Reid transferring to Idaho State. Several months ago, rumors began circulating that Troy Dalbey, one of the brightest American hopes for gold in Olympic swimming, was going to transfer from Florida to BYU.

Now it is more than a rumor. Last week Dalbey admitted publicly that he will attend BYU after the Olympics. He spent a year swimming at Florida - one of the five best programs in the country - and another year training for the Olympics. But after joining the LDS Church 10 months ago, and being influenced by a girlfriend who attends BYU, he decided to move to the Provo campus.The switch shocked the swimming world. BYU is a relative lightweight, having won just two WAC titles, the latest being in 1979. Dalbey was regarded by some to be the nation's top prep swimming recruit when he left his San Jose, Calif., high school in 1986. His 100-meter high school times were equal to the existing Western Athletic Conference record.

Neither BYU, nor even WAC swimming power Utah, bothered to recruit him. Dalbey was out of their league.

"Everybody big was after him. We didn't recruit him because we knew we couldn't get him," said Utah Assistant Coach Jim Wilson.

"In a home program like this, that caters to a general area, you see a swimmer like Troy once in a coach's lifetime," said interim San Jose Aquatics Coach Steve Witcher.

Before swimming so much as a stroke at BYU, Dalbey is already being characterized as one of the best - if not the best - ever to attend a WAC school. "Well, he's already one of the best swimmers the world has ever had so, yeah, you could say he's in that category," said BYU Coach Tim Powers.

Dalbey made headlines a week ago when he beat legendary Matt Biondi in the 200-meter freestyle finals at the Olympic Trials in Austin, Texas, with a 1:48.35 time. Biondi had set an American record in the prelims. Dalbey finished fourth in the 100 freestyle - an event claimed by Biondi - but his 49.91 time was still the fourth fastest in the world this year. He qualified for the Summer Games in the 200-freestyle and the 400 and 800 freestyle relays.

"Some people may have thought I'm crazy," said Dalbey, "but they don't know Tim

owers the way I do. I think it will work out really well. If I swim for him, maybe a lot more top swimmers will come to BYU."

Apparently that has already taken place. Dalbey has been telling friends and associates for months that he would attend BYU. He wrote and telephoned Powers about his plans. When word got out that Dalbey was moving to Provo, it was an immediate boost to the program. Last spring the Cougars signed 10 swimmers, and all were either prep or junior college All-Americas. Several said they chose BYU because of the possibility of swimming with Dalbey.

In more ways than one, Dalbey's move to BYU may be a shocker. Though he says he has toned down his act considerably, he has been known to wear a diamond stud in his ear and his blond hair spiked high. "I guess it looked like Billy Idol's hair," he said.

Said Powers, "Those will be gone when he gets here."

Dalbey said he was not a troublemaker, but added, "I was, like, a little party boy. I was pretty wild."

Jonty Skinner, who coached Dalbey at San Jose Aquatics, told the Kansas City Star and Times: "He can be a little boy. He has a smile that's like a 10-year-old who is getting his first Tonka toy."

Along with a change in lifestyle came the decision to attend BYU. He said the environment at Florida would tempt him to go back to his old habits.

"I'm only human," he said. "I just don't want to do anything that could possibly affect me. If I went back to Florida, I'd have to start all over again, anyway. I could not go back to hanging out with the friends I had before."

Dalbey's reputation is that of a swimmer who wants to know all the whys and wherefores of his training schedule. "I can tell you he is very good to get along with," said interim San Jose Aquatics Coach Steve Witcher, who worked with Dalbey for a year. "He works hard when it's necessary. He knows a lot aout himself and about swimming. He's very coachable. But he is a very typical swimmer. He's high-strung and he knows what he wants and he's not afraid to go after it."

Dalbey is expected to be eligible for two WAC swimming seasons, beginning in January of 1990. Despite the glamour and glitz of the Olympics, he says he won't have a problem getting motivated for WAC swimming.

"There is no lack of competition. I enjoy swimming by myself and swimming my own races. I really look forward to swimming at altitude. It gives you an advantage."

Meanwhile, Powers is taking a wait-and-see attitude, since a verbal committment does not bind an athlete to a school. "It's kind of one of those nice things that kind of falls into your lap - although this sort of thing hasn't really happened to us ever before. It's hard to believe. If it happens, it's going to be a tremendous thing for the WAC."