For players who are born to run, Engineering and Science High is not exactly basketball heaven. The only tempo coach C.M. Brown likes better than slow is s-l-o-w-e-r.

What's a speed racer to do? Cut the court in half.

It's not too often a player can almost reach double figures in points, yet not top his total number of steals.

Zoom! There goes Nadir Stukes in the other direction.

The occasion yesterday at E&S was a Public B opener vs. Edward Bok Tech. Whenever possible, Stukes, a 5-8 (OK, really 5-7) senior guard turned the hoops contest into his personal track meet. Er, cross country meet.

That's his other sport and he trotted well enough this past season to earn coaches' All-Public honors and recruiting interest from Rosemont. Yesterday, with as many steals as points (nine), along with five assists, the spunky lefty paced what was mostly a 58-41 walk through the park.

"I love to run," Stukes said. "But you have to listen to your coach. He wants us to play smart and take our time to make the right plays. But if the other team is throwing the ball right to you . . . "

Stukes figured his previous lifetime high for steals was four or five. However, Bok is vastly inexperienced - 10 of coach Lloyd Jenkins' 12 players are juniors - and crafty ballhandling, at least at this juncture, is only a rumor.

"I got some of my steals by strippin' guys," Stukes said. "On most of them, I just waited until the right time and picked off the pass. Somebody else would 'D' up their guy, then just when he was ready to pass I'd step off my guy to pick it off. I couldn't believe it was happening so easy."

Easy. That's not the word that would best describe Nadir Stukes' classroom experiences.

This kid defines hard work.

Check this out: Even as a middle-schooler, Stukes knew he wanted to become an engineer - architectural, mechanical, we'll see - and he tried to gain entrance to E&S for ninth grade. Alas, his grades were a shade below par for E&S' standards and he enrolled instead at Parkway Center City.

Freshman year. Going up. Sophomore year. Going up some more.

"My dad was talking to E&S' principal for a long time," Stukes said. "He let them know how hard I was working, and about my progress. After 10th grade they said I could transfer here.

"If you want to be an engineer, I know the best school to come out of is E&S. The classes are more demanding and it takes a lot of work, but I've stuck with it and now I'm on the honor roll. I was so happy to get accepted here. It's a great atmosphere. Plus I had a lot of friends from here before I even became a student."

Lest anyone get the wrong impression, the Engineers did not dominate throughout. In fact, they were locked in a 41-41 tie after Bok's I-Meir Martin (13 points) converted a layup off a strong baseline drive with just under 7 minutes remaining.

At the other end, though, Martin fouled Akeem White, who was attempting a trey, and White hit two of the free throws. Shortly thereafter, Martin was being hit with a tech for mouthing off and the Wildcats wound up being victimized for a 17-0 closing run.

Thanks to three treys (he did miss seven), White finished with 15 points. Frontcourters Brandon Brown (14) and Dijon Eggleton (12) also reached double figures. The latter added 12 rebounds.

With Stukes orchestrating, E&S enjoyed particular high-low success in the third quarter.

"Their defense was playing so wide," Stukes said. "I'd get it in there to Dijon, then he'd dump it low to Brandon."

That strategy succeeded in part because Bok's lone inside force, football star Jihad Ward (seven rebounds, four blocks), finished the first half with three fouls and was somewhat tentative thereafter. Martin (nine) and Sean McLean (eight) also hit the boards for Bok while Marquise Brown, the grid quarterback, had four apiece of points, boards, dishes and thefts.

Stukes lives near Washington Lane and McCallum Street, not far from Germantown High, and would love to hear from basketball coaches.

"I do love cross country," he said, smiling. "But more than basketball? Nah."