Phil Walker finds it difficult to sleep some nights. Coniel Norman suddenly loses his usually automatic shooting touch. The symptoms may be different but these two aspiring Bullet guards are suffering from the same malady: exhibition excitement.
Exhibition excitement strikes only selected victims. They must be trying to make a pro team and they have to be aware that exhibition games represent their only opportunities to show the head coach they are worthy of surviving the final cut.
Norman and Walker meet both criteria - with ease.
Since the opening of rookie camp 16 days ago, they've been dueling for the last guard position. Both have played well, with Walker emerging as the more well-rounded performer and Norman the more accurate shooter.
And they realize that their rate with the team could well be decided by how they play during a three-game trip that starts tonight with a contest against Boston in Madison Square Garden.
"I've got to play well up there," said Walker. "It wouldn't be a good time to mess up," said Norman.
Norman would seem to have the edge in this confrontation, as long as Phil Chenier's status for the start of the season remains in doubt.
Chenier is the Bullets' premier shooting guard, which is a role Norman can fill. Norman has two years of NBA experience while Walker is a rookie out of a small school. Millersville (Pa.) State.
"If Chenier can't make it, we can keep both of them for a longer time," said Motta. "I know I don't want to come to the time where I may have to cut one. They both are playing too well for that."
Yet the usually steady Norman made only two of 11 shots in the exhibition opener against Buffalo, hardly a performance to calm a coach's ulcer. And Walker was so tight for the game that he played more like a mechanical man rather than the gifted athlete he is.
"Sure I was mad at myself," said Norman. "But they know I can shoot.I thought I had a good floor game otherwise, I played some good defense, and that's supposed to be my weakness." Included among those defensive plays was a block of a dunk try by forward Gus Gerard.
"Sure I was tense," said Walker. "I was trying to be so perfect that I didn't react to anything. I was trying to do it all right away and nothing felt right."
Norman, who was the final man cut by Philadelphia last year, has been through this exhibition before. But it's a whole new world for Walker, the Tom Henderson look-alike who may be in the best shape of anyone in camp.
"I'm having trouble sleeping," he said. "I toss and turn. But now, with that first game out of the way, I think I'm more relaxed.
"I know many of the Nets and Knicks because I've played against them in the summer. I'll be a lot more familiar with what they do. But it's tough to make an impression. You only have eight to 10 minutes and that puts a lot of pressure on you to be good."
Both Norman and Walker say they are trying to do the same thing: fit in with the current Bullet cast. "I'm trying to learn they system and be part of the team," said Norman.
But Walker wonders sometimes if that is good enough. One day, Motta asked him if his leg was hurting. "No," replied Walker. "Then you aren't hustling," said Motta.
"I was shocked," said Walker. "I thought I had been hustling all the time. So I said to myself, that's it, now I'have to go out and break my neck. I've put it in full gear now until I collapse."