''Whenever I scout a college kid at any level,'' said Jack McMahon, director of player personnel for the Philadelphia 76ers, ''I always ask myself: 'Would I want to play against that guy?' ''
It is a question McMahon does not ask facetiously, since Jack was an extremely heady National Basketball Association guard years ago when he and Slater Martin were the starting backcourt for the old St. Louis Hawks, who once dominated their division.
The first time McMahon watched a 6 ft. 3 in. waterbug named Andrew Toney play guard for Southwest Louisiana, his answer was a resounding no--and Jack didn't have to wait until the end of the game to make up his mind either.
''One reason Toney impressed me so much, I think, is because we were looking for a scoring guard at the time, someone who could maybe take some pressure off Doug Collins, who always seemed to be getting hurt,'' McMahon explained.
''But Andrew wasn't just another good shooter,'' Jack continued. ''He was the kind who could consistently put the ball through the hoop without disturbing the twine. Eventually we made him our No. 1 pick in the 1980 college draft. He still had some things to learn about the pros, and we knew that at the time, but he was never a rookie as a shooter.''
While there is a tendency to say that Toney has single-handedly caused Boston more trouble in the current Eastern Conference finals than an Internal Revenue agent with a knowledge of computers, that really comes under the heading of an exaggeration.
Nevertheless, the 39 points Andrew scored against the Celtics in Game 4 of this best-of-seven series, which resumes tonight in Philadelphia with the 76ers holding a 3-2 edge, may eventually be looked upon as the key to the outcome. He also scored 30 points in Philadelphia's vital Game 2 victory in Boston, and in fact has been his team's top shooter in three of the five games played so far.
The thing about Toney that particularly frustrates opponents is that he never needs much room in which to get his shot off. With his vast arsenal of offensive weapons, he doesn't necessarily require guys to set picks for him; clear out a side of the floor so he can go one-on-one; or make sure that he always gets the ball within 10 feet of the basket.
Andrew is such a pure shooter that he's just as apt to pull up on a drive and bank a 12-footer off the glass as he is to pick his way through a forest of arms and legs to lay the ball in.
The Celtics have tried to stop him by denying him the ball; by double teaming him; and by letting him know that basketball is a contact sport. These tactics, except in Games 1 and 5, have been about as effective as a guy trying to soak up the Pacific Ocean with a Kleenex.
The defensive side of Toney's game, of course, is far from ready for the Hall of Fame. Boston's Tiny Archibald, who went out with a shoulder injury midway through the series and won't be back, was able to go around Andrew and not lose the ball.
There have also been times when Toney has tried to do too much and wound up out of control or simply reduced Philadelphia's fast break to a walk by dribbling the ball into the middle of next week. But anytime this guy drives to the hoop, you're talking all-star.
During the regular season, most of which he played as the team's third guard behind Maurice Cheeks and Lionel Hollins, Toney averaged 16.5 points per game, with a high of 46 on March 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
But the fact is he was more like a third regular, who played almost as many minutes as Cheeks and Hollins, and who Coach Billy Cunningham liked to bring off the bench because of his explosive offense. Last year, in his rookie season, he averaged 12.9 points a game.
Basically this is a quiet young man off the court who seems perfectly content to leave the headlines for others. Most media questions he answers with a simple yes or no, and that's no way to get your name in the papers.
Part of this may be because he still feels in awe of players like Dr. J (Julius Erving) and center Darryl Dawkins, whose glitering array of jewelry alone is worth 800 words of copy anytime.
Questioned about Toney earlier this season by Philadelphia reporters, Erving replied: ''Andrew is the kind of person you like instantly. He's a big talent who works hard and can only get better. I don't like it when people sometimes call him a kid, because he's an adult, a mature person.''
''Maybe some of those qualities haven't been recognized yet by the public, but they are part of Toney nevertheless,'' the Doctor continued. ''However, all most fans ever talk about are his jumpers and moves to the basket. But I know him as a player who never looks the other way when you need a basket and give him the ball in the clutch. I personally feel that he'll someday make All-Pro, and what he's done to the Celtics in only his second year in the league simply underscores what I'm talking about.''