Will Rackley, an assistant basketball coach at Lafayette College, paced nervously outside a Capital Centre locker room last Thursday night. His eyes darted from face-face as members of the Suburban All-Star basketball team emerged from the room following their 91-87 loss to the Interhigh All-Stars in the preliminary to the Capital Classic.
Rackley's purpose was the same as a dozen other men from U.S. colleges who also were waiting. Each was searching for a player - in some cases the same player - who felt they could help their basketball program.
All the men were prepared to give a rapid-fire sell of their school and their basketball program. Most were decked out carefully in impressive suits and ties, ready to trade a free college education for basketball talent.
Rackley and at least two other coaches were waiting for Annandale High School's Paul Gracza, a 6-foot-7 forward who was th egames's leading scorer with 18 points, to come out of the locker room.
We've been involved with Paul for most of this year," Rackley said. "He had a nice visit to our school. I came down here with my eye on Paul. I guess he showed why tonight."
To keep from drawing the attention of opposing coaches to "a sleeper" like Gracza, Rackley at first used the familiar tecnique of downplaying Gracza's potential.But asked if Gracza would fit into Lafayette's team as a freshman, Rackley said with a growing smile, "Oh, yes, we think he can play for us. We think he'd be a great player for us!"
When Gracza walked out of the locker room, Rackley quickly strode toward him with his arm extended for a handshake. Gracza responded warmly, but before they could talk, two other coaches came up to Gracza. One from Catholic University broke in on Rackley with a quick "excuse me," complimenting Gracza on his performance in the game, and telling him, "Don't forget, we'll see you on Monday, Paul." Gracza nodded.
The other coach, Nick Macarchuk of Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., then got Gracza's attention. Macarchuk had never seen Gracza paly before, but he was asking hom to consider visiting the campus sometime soon. Gracza indicated he would consider it.
Macarchuk grinned as Rackley finally dragged gracza to a secluded corner. "Would you believe it?" Macarchuk said, "His (Gracza's) father is from Buffalo and went to college in Buffalo. Things like that can help.
"I was very impressed with Paul tonight. He was tough and aggressive against very good competition."
Rackley finished talking with Gracza and seemed even more nervous than eralier. "Well," he said, "he hasn't told us not yet, so there's still hope."
Other coaches zeroed in on other players who impressed them during the game. Coaches are guided by their basketball sense and, in many cases, the judgement of Howard Garfinkel, reputed to be the country's most knowledgeable source of information on high school basketball players.
Garfinkel's quick analysis of players during the game provided to anyone who asks, came in a heavy Phildelphia accent. he was impressed with most ot the Suburban and the Inter-high All-Stars, noting that he "knew most of the good players already."
"Now, see that kid there," he said of one 6-5 player with a high scoring average for the season, "He's good, but he could only play for a low-to middle-major college. He's a step slow and two inches too short for the big time."
Another player made a flashy pass which drew applause from the crowd and Garfinkel nodded knowlingly: "Yeah, move like that might impress some coaches if they didn't see the four passes he threw away earlier."
His opinion of Gracza was just as concise: "He's active and rangly, but only fair in traffic. He could play low-to mid-major - Catholic, Delaware, may be American U."
But the game did not ensure college offers for all.A few players left the locker room without a college coach as an escort. They clutched their trophies - mementos of their All-Star game appearance - and their hopes.
"It was great just getting to play in this game," said Fairfax High's Darien Burkhardt, who has had no college offers and who played well despite a painful ankle injury. "Maybe I'll hear something from some schools after tonight."