The first team to score 10 wins, and Fred Savage's outsized teammates had nine points, plus possession of the basketball. Lunch was winding down on the set of "The Wonder Years," where Kevin Arnold's real-life alter ego was engaged in a sweaty game of hoops against some of the bigger, taller crew members.

Fred tossed the ball in bounds to his geeky friend on the show, Paul Pfeiffer, played by Josh Saviano. Gone were the dork eyeglasses and awkward manner, as Saviano eyed the court with sharp eyes, smoothly dribbled between two defenders and whipped the basketball back to a wide-open Fred. From 15 feet out, Fred launched the ball from his chest and swished it through the rim for the game-winner."That's all she wrote!" the 13-year-old shouted, high-fiving the players.

A crew member poked his head onto the court, dampening the celebration. "Fred, they want you on the set for makeup."

"I got to go, guys," Fred said. "We'll play again tomorrow. That was fun."

Fun. An innocent three-letter word that is not often associated with anyone who works in the entertainment industry these days. But it seems to be the key word in Fred's life, and his favorite word in interviews. Try to ask Fred a driving question, and he is more likely to buckle over in laughter than buckle under the pressure.

Fred, you are so young. Why do you work so hard? Who do you do it for?

"I do it for fun," he said with a wide-eyed smile that served as a punctuation mark. "I mean, my parents don't force me to act. As soon as it stops being fun, then I'll stop acting."

There is a common belief that kid actors sprout too fast and skip the nourishment of childhood.

If childhood is supposed to be a good time, then Fred is not missing out on anything. His life is a fun zone.

Whether he is bounding across stage to accept a People's Choice award, jiving with Arsenio Hall or scrunching his face as the niece of Dana Carvey's "Church Lady" on "Saturday Night Live," Fred is having the time of his life.

"You know, everything that I'm doing, whether it's Jay Leno or an awards show, it's all fun," Fred reiterated from inside his cramped dressing room, where he spoke in between large mouthfuls of tortilla chips and spicy guacamole.

"That's the whole reason I got into acting. I don't do this like some grown-ups have to do it, because they have families, and they have to make money.

"It's not my job. My dad works to support our family.

"So I just do it for fun. When I'm asked to do something, I have to think, `Well, will that be fun?' Because if it's fun, then I'll do it.

"I make most of my decisions on the basis of . . . " he paused for a moment to fight down some guacamole that was working its way back up his windpipe, and burped out the last word "fun." He turned red and started laughing. "Sorry. Mexican."

"The Wonder Years," in its third year now, has been a consistent top-10 ratings hit for ABC.

The series shot 23 original episodes this season, the last one airing earlier this month.

Seen on Tuesday nights at 7:30 p.m. this past season, "The Wonder Years" will be leading off ABC Wednesday-night schedule this fall in the 7 p.m. slot.

In each nostalgic episode, Fred serves as a pre-adolescent tour guide for adults, grab-

bing their hands and hearts and leading them through the joys and sorrows of growing up in the '60s.

"A school dance, your first pimple, your first kiss _ those are pretty real experiences," Fred said. "That's what makes the show so popular. Adults come up to me all the time and say, `You know that show, that's exactly what happened to me.'

"And then the kids are watching, because they're going through it now. Whether it's 1970, 1990 or 2010, kids will be going through the same experiences."

Of course, not all kids go through the experiences Fred does. Instead of schoolchildren teasing him about a girl he might like, Fred receives his barbs from national tabloids and teen magazines.

"I was on `Arsenio Hall' and he asked me who my favorite musicians were," Fred said. "Paula Abdul was the only girl I listed. So the tabloids started writing about my love affair with Paula Abdul; that I was contemplating suicide because she wouldn't go out with me."

Fred suddenly grew serious. "I've gotten over her, though. I'm moving on now."

He smiled.

Joanne Savage, Fred's mother, tries to keep her son's growing popularity in check. She recently turned down a cover story for Newsweek because she believed it was just too much publicity for the young Savage.

"If they ever start a class on mothering an actor, I'll be the first to sign up," she said. "Fred gets requests all the time to do parades, schools, talk shows and interviews.

"He's extremely giving with his time, but you have to be realistic."

After an exhaustive nine-month shooting schedule, which often involved 10 to 12 hours a day on the set, Fred has a brief three-month window to enjoy the summer before production begins next season. Last summer, Fred filmed a starring role in "The Wizard," a sort of adolescent version of "Rain Man" that didn't do well in theaters.

This summer, he is taking a break.

"Since he worked so hard this season, he's going to take this summer off," his mother said. "He just wants to spend time with the family."

Fred has a younger brother, Ben, who was a regular on the just-canceled Robert Mitchum sitcom, "A Family for Joe," and a younger sister who also acts.

When asked what he planned to do over the summer, Fred smiled brightly and raised his eyebrows without missing a beat.

"I'm going to have fun."