Former Florida basketball star Vernon Maxwell tested positive for drug use three times before his senior season but was allowed to play despite a university policy that calls for a one-year suspension in such cases, a published report says.

Dr. Richard Shaara, the Gators' team physician, was quoted Tuesday in the St. Petersburg Times as saying Maxwell, now with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, was suspended for only three games at the start of the 1987-88 season because the doctor and Athletic Director Bill Arnsparger wanted to help the school's all-time leading scorer.In hindsight, Shaara said, the decision was a mistake.

Maxwell led the Gators to a 23-12 season while averaging 20.2 points per game, but flunked a drug test administered by the NCAA during the national championship tournament.

One reason officials decided not to impose the suspension penalty was that Maxwell by then was submitting to tests two or three times a week to detect traces of cocaine, the physician said.

"We had reason to believe he'd be all right," Shaara said. "If I had to do it over again, I'd do it differently. But at that point in time, Vernon was cooperating and doing pretty good. Hindsight is always good. But my recommendation was to be responsible and go with the (original) suspension and try to help Vernon.

"I think we tried. We didn't succeed. Given the information he (Bill) had and the recommendation I gave, I don't fault Arnsparger."