KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Someday, R.A. Dickey's right arm is going to make him rich. These days, he's thankful for his patience and timing.

Patience, because he didn't sign a pro baseball contract when one was offered. Timing, because being born in 1974 has him at just the right age to make the U.S. Olympic baseball team.

``It's unbelievable. I'm very blessed. My birthday had to fall in this particular year,'' he said. ``Everything's just been a dream come true to be able to do all this, especially the Olympics. I won't be able to describe it in words.''

Robert Allen Dickey, better known by his initials, turned down the pros when he came out of Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville three years ago. On Tuesday, the University of Tennessee pitcher was selected by the Texas Rangers in the first round of the amateur draft.

Through the end of the regular collegiate season, Dickey was the winningest pitcher in Tennessee history with a 38-8 record.

He also tops the school's career list in strikeouts, walks, innings pitched and games started, and his name is somewhere in the top 10 of just about every pitching category.

For the past two summers, Dickey has played for the U.S. National Team, and is considered a very good candidate for one of eight pitching spots on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team.

At least Skip Bertman of LSU thinks so, and that's a pretty good recommendation, since he will manage the Olympic team. In two years with the national team, Dickey is 8-3. He had an ERA of 1.94 last summer in 46 1-3 innings.

``The first thing that must be said about R.A. is that he a quality young man. Wow, what a fine young gentleman,'' Bertman said. ``And of course he has a major league pitching arm that's going to yield him a high round draft pick for sure.

``He is a bona fide, certified, legitimate contender for one of the eight spots on the Olympic team.''

Bertman's goal is to win gold for the United States, home of baseball. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the Americans failed to win a medal.

The Olympic team will try to make up for that this summer in Atlanta, and the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Dickey is anxious to help.

``The enthusiasm and patriotism behind the Olympics is something you can't capture in any other arena,'' he said. ``It's really encouraging to see such an enthusiasm behind the sport. I might make it to a World Series some day, but it will be a different kind of experience all together from being in the Olympics.''

As it was in years past in basketball, the young Americans will be going against seasoned veterans from other countries, essentially pro players.

That doesn't worry Dickey.

``I think the players we have are the same caliber as the guys we'll be playing,'' he said. ``Look at basketball, how lopsided it's been. I think it would probably be the same way if we played baseball with our (pro) guys. I think the college-level guys will be good enough to compete.

``I think there's a sense or responsibility we have as a team that this is our game, and we're playing in on our soil, and we have a responsibility, not only to ourselves and our country, but to the people in it to go out there and take what's rightfully ours.''