To a casual observer, the locker room looks the same as any other dressing area in the Ft. Meade Recreation Center. But don't ask a Bullet rookie to go inside, not as long as he thinks it may be cutting day.
On cutting day, general manager Bob Ferry and coach Dick Motta withdraw into that locker room, call in players individually and drop the ax as gently as possible. Even for those who survive, it's not a pleasant moment.
"Even Larry Wright was scared of the place last year." said assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff. "You couldn't get him to go near it."
Nor can you get Pat McKInley to chance a glance into it this year. When a couple of players were cut earlier in training camp, McKinley positioned himself on a bench far from the room. Then he waited for a summons that never came.
McKinley has every right to be nervous on any cutting day. He realizes he's defying the odds just being in a Bullet uniform this long. And considering he is trying to win a spot at forward, the deepesting to win a spot at forward, the deepest positions on the team, he has little reason to be confident about a lengthy career with the club.
Yet, when you are the 165th player (out of 169) chosen in the NBA draft - behind such notables as Lusia Harris and Bruce Jenner - every day in a pro camp is as much as a treat as having steak for breakfast.
McKinley is accustomed to long shots. He already had developed into a better college player (at Towson State) tan anyone figured, and he performed better in this summer's Urban Coalition League than any Bullet official had expected.
He quick enough to have Ferry call him "th qeuickest forward we've ever had in training camp." If he only had a more refined outside shot, his future in the NBA probably would be a lot brighter.
"He's a good leaper, he's fast, he hustles and he's good performer." said Ferry. "He's an active player and that catches your eye."
Ferry and McKinley's college coach, Vince Angotti, are longtime friends. That relationship, along with Ferry's philosophy of taking local players in the late rounds of the draft, helped to get McKinley picked. He was just glad to get the chance to come to a pro camp.
"It's something you hope for," he said, 'but nobody had ever talked to me about playing pro ball so I didn't know if I would be chosen. I was in Venezuela, playing in a summer league, when the draft happened. I was happy about it." - TR FOR ADD TWO . . .
So were the people at Towson State. McKinley is Mr. Basketball there, the holder of all the major career scoring and rebounding records and the pivotal figure on the Tigers' 27-3 team last year. Towson ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II.
He went to Towson on a partial scholarship after playing at Baltimore City College High School, where he was not even the best player on the team. By the time he left Towson he was considered the best college player in the Baltimore area.
Despite his slender frame (6-foot-7,200 pounds) he was a fearsome shot blocker who once swatted away nine shot in a game. But against the likes of Elvin Ha'yes and Co., his major goal is survival.
"I have to use my quickness," he said. "They are all stronger and bigger than I am, but I 'm quicker. I've done O.K. so far, just by going out and playing as hard as I can every day and just hoping it's enough."
If it isn't, and he gets a call on cutting day, he may play in the Eastern League or return to school. Either way, he's proven something to himself.
"I always thought I could play on this level," he said, "Now in my own mind, I'm sure. That's good to know."
The Bullets and WDCA-TV-20 are close to announcing the signing of a television contract for this season. WDCA already has signed to telecast Washington Capital games. Both had contracts with WTOP that were terminated after last season . . . Bullet players are still buzzing about Larry Wright's dunk shot over Elvin Hayes during a serimmage Tuesday night. Wright is liste at 6-1; Hayes is 6-9. Wright has had an outstanding training camp.