A bus pulls into the George Mason University gymnasium parking lot at 5 a.m. after a game at Roanoke college. Bleary-eyed players stretch their long legs, stumble out of the bus and drive home to continue the sleep they began nearly five hours earlier.
But head coach John Linn goes to his office and waits for his first class of the day to begin at 8 o'clock.
Linn, 39, is a rarity among area college basketball coaches. He is a full-time physical education teacher, carrying a class load of 150 students in five classes which meet three days a week.
"I tell my classes that if they ever come in and see my propped up in a corner asleep to just go on with the class, says the soft-spoken Linn.
But he doesn't resent the time his teacher duties take from his efforts to develop a competitive basketball program. "Certainly teaching limits me timewise." Linn admits, "but I take care of my classes first and then basketball. Of course, I do my best not to shortchange either one.
In fact, Linn personally developed the curriculum foe each of his rather novel courses - fishing and camping, trap and skeet shooting, outdoor education and basketball.
"In fishing, I teach them how to use different kinds of rods, he explains. "We practice casting in the indoor tennis courts. Precision castings not easy; someone gets the hooks caught in a girder now and then I also teach cleaning and cooking fish.
"But trap and skeet shsooting is my favorite class. We go out to the range at Bull Run Regional Park (in Manassas) regularly and keep a running tournament throughout the semester. At the end of the course, I award a trophy to the top shooter."
When Linn, Virginia's third-ranked trap-shooter last year, established the course at George Mason four years ago, only five other schools in the country offered it. Now, Linn says, over 200 do.
In his outdoor education class, Linn teaches some of what he learned when he spent his boyhood summers in a cabin on a Michigan lake. Fishing and trap and skeet shooting are prerequisites for the course, which includes map reading, hiking weekend fishing trips and more.
Linn's baskerball course draws two tupes of students. "Some of the kids have never played and just want to learn fundamentals," Linn says. "Others use the course as a chance to play three times a week.
Linn feels the basketball class helps "keep my appreciation for my team."
"I think college coaches should see a wider spectrum of game," he says. "If coaches don't see anyone but gifted players all the time, they forget how good their players really are and they don't appreciate them as much as they should."
George Mason basketball has steadily increased its level of competition in Linn's seven years as coach and the team now plays several major college teams as well as the top Division II schools in the East. Linn recruits, coaches and scouts for a $2,400 salary and on a mere $10,000 budget. Last year Linn had no full scholarships and only five tuition scholarships to offer recruits.
Linn directs the same understated comment to his salary and his budget. "It's low." But he adds. "There's a lot more potential for growth here than at other schools.
Linn professes no envy for higher paid colleagues who can concentrate on basketball without the worries of class preparations, grading and faculty meetings."If I can bring this program along, I'll earn those breaks," he saiys. "Besides, my classes are great: I really enjoy them."
Still, Linn implies that his dual dedication to George Mason has a limit. "I'm committed to the basketball program here," he says, "but I'm not a basketball nut. I don't consider George Mason to be a stepping stone, but I don't like to say I'll be here for 17 years either I wouldn't want to get lazy.
Linn also coaches cross-country in the fall and teaches two summer school courses, bringing his combined annual salary to approximately $20,000, of less than half of what Lefty Driesell makes as head coach at Maryland.
Linn admits that his schedule doesn't allow him a lot of free time to spend with his wife three children or on his own ("When you're an old fisherman like I am, that bothers you"). So, if the right offer came along where Linn, last years Alumni Faculty Member of the Year, could just coach and leave the teaching to others, he'd take it, right?
"I don't know," he says thoughtfully. "It would be tough giving up those classes. I enjoy them and they're good from a mental health standpoint. They give me some relief from coaching."