It's 7 o'clock on a Friday night and the 12 members of the Washington Mets Basketball team have shed their three-piece suits and wing-tip shoes for gym shorts and Converse Allstars basketball sneakers. The 12 have gathered in a tiny gym at the Hebrew Academy in Silver Spring to play the Walter Reed Army Hospital team.
But there are no cheerleaders, no pep bands and no pro scouts in the bleachers. In fact, there is hardly anybody in the stands. The three women spectators are all players' girlfriends -- one of whom doubles as scorekeeper.
The Mets play something akin to schoolyard basketball for grownups -- a kind of "graduate school" for former college stars whose glimmer of light in life had been the hope of one day playing in the pros.
Today these stars must find their twinkle outside of the pro universe.
Take Tom Scates, for example.
Two years ago he was a starting center on a full athletic scholarship at Georgetown University. A 6-foot-10-inch hulk known affectionately as Mount Scates.
Last year he played professionally for $1,500 a month tax free in the South American nation of Columbia.
Now Scates, 24, works in Arlington as a travel agent.
But there's still a lot of basketball in his blood. "It's like a need," said Scates, who attended St. Anthony's High School in the District and now lives in Alexandria. "It's like being on drugs and needing a fix. You just want to keep playing. You know what I mean?"
Felix Yeoman, 23, of Brooklyn in Northeast has traveled the same road as Scates as a classmate at St. Anthony's and Georgetown, and as teammate-roommate in Columbia.
But now he's come down to earth and no longer has dreams of making it big in the pros. Yeoman became a victim of circumstances when he broke his leg during his first year in college. The fact that he could no longer play basketball forced Yeoman to turn to the books. "This is the real world and my parents pushed me to study," said the 6-6 forward who now is working on an MBA at American University. "I had dreams but it's not my aim any more."
Yeoman, who describes himself as a very eligible bachelor, says, "I know it sounds corny but I just love the game."
So too does Larry Herron.
Now a Xerox sales representative on Capitol Hill with a 9 to 5 job, Herron was an All Met forward at Mackin High School in Northwest who went on to Villanova in Pennsylvania on an athletic scholarship.
Herron, 26, now gets his basketball fix playing on five different teams.
"I just figured out that I would make the NBA (National Basketball Association) money in a different way," said Herron. "I put my playing energy into selling too."
But on weekends he joins his teammates for away games anywhere from New York to South Carolina. Or he joins the White Shadow travelling team that does benefit games while publicizing the television show of the same name. For that he gets anywhere from $250 to $500 a game.
Members of the Washington Mets are not paid for the 50 games they play from October through April. The team plays primarily against community colleges such as Frederick or Essex in Maryland. Most members play, they say, because they're hooked on the game. And the biggest basketball junkie of them all is their coach and sponsor, George Trotter.
"It's a sacrifice for all of us in time and effort," said Trotter, who estimates he spends $15,000 a year supporting the team. Trotter, a former assistant coach at St. Francis College in Pennsylvania, lives in Northwest and operates the Guarantee Temporary Service which has 300 employes available to hotels for conventions and special events.
Trotter started the Mets seven years ago "as an alternative to recreation association basketball for those who don't want to argue and fuss." This season 80 men tried out for the 12-man squad.
Trotter also serves as coach -- the only man in the gym in a three-piece suit -- buys the uniforms, foots the bill for all travel expenses and pays for the gym and referee services.
"I haven't figured it out yet why he does it," said Scates, "but I guess most people would like to be in his position, sort of like owning your own little team."
Trotter says, "My profit comes from watching good ball."
Another player that Trotter can enjoy watching is Anthony "Cricket" Williams, an All Met point guard from McKinley High School in Northeast who went on full athletic scholarship to Jacksonville (Fla.) University.
Now living in Northeast and working at Republican headquarters, Williams, 24, began dreaming about pro basketball in the ninth grade: "I was only 5-7 and the coach told me I couldn't make the team."
That didn't stop Williams: "I tried out and made the starting five."
Four years later offers from 250 colleges jammed his mailbox. After college he was drafted by the Phoenix Suns but was not signed by the team. Instead Williams, who by his senior year in high school grew to six foot, opted for the pros by Hong Kong and Madrid, and then returned to try out for the Dallas Mavericks.
"I needed the money so when I didn't make the Dallas team, I took the job in Washington," said Williams. "I didn't want to sit around and get fat so I joined the Mets."
Lamar Butler, 28, of Southeast didn't want to sit around either. A graduate of Bowie State compliments of an athletic scholarship, he is now on the staff of the architect of the Capitol.
"I still have ambitions to play pro," says Butler who plays as a guard, and then cites Charlie Criss of the Atlanta Hawks as an example of a player who at age 28 jumped from the Mets level of competition to the NBA.
What he doesn't say is that Criss was a zillion-to-1 shot.
But what does Butler, who plays guard, really think of his chances?: "Really? Slim and none. I guess I'll have to settle for the trophies to show my daughter."
Indeed, even the Mets have not come up with an unbeaten record. The team is now 15-3 for this year following last week's 104-78 rout over Walter Reed.
What does all the effort prove?
"It proves that there's life after basketball," says Scates.