Don't speak too loudly around Kevin Grevey. You might wake him up from a dream that he hopes will last a long time.
This is the same Kevin Grevey who couldn't satisfy the Washington Bullets last year as a small forward, who said before this season he was expendable and who admitted only last week that he had all but choked during games in the past.
Now Grevey is starting again, as a guard, a position he had never tried before during a successful basketball career that began in seventh grade. But his coach thinks the switch should mean a lengthy NBA career for the former Kentucky sharpshooters.
Don't tell Grevey about that prediction. He's having problems enough believing that he is handling the ball against Earl Monroe or that he is holding his own defensively against stars who have played guard for years.
The Bullets have won three of the four games since Grevey moved to the backcourt and, alhough he is not the only reason for their improvement, his presence has helped stablize the club, especially on defense.
That too has Grevey shaking his head. Before, he's always been known as an offensive player who would toss up a bundle of swishing 20-feet jump shots before retiring to the bench. Now he finds himself getting more game minutes because coach Dick Motta likes the way he plays defense.
"I'm dreaming. I know I am, and one of these days this is probably going to end," said Grevey, "like when Phil Chenier starts playing up to par. But I'm no hurry to see this end. You want to play, that's what this is all about."
Grevey got his chance Nov. 13 against the New York Knicks after Motta reached what he called "a tough decision" regarding his guards.
The Bullets were having trouble on defense, mainly because both Tom Henderson and Larry Wright are best suited to oppose ballhandlers. Neither is that adept at taking on so-called big, or shooting, guards, a duty that normally falls to Chenier.
Chenier is struggling to regain his form after recovering from a back injury. Motta felt he couldn't wait on him any longer, nor could he continue to watch John Williamson. Earl Monroe, Otis Birdsong and Eric Money have big scoring nights against his team.
"Kevin gives his guy a problem becuase he is big (6-foot-5) and he can keep a hand in his face," said Motta. "He's been surprisingly good out there. The first time he guarded Doug Collins (of Philadelphia) he was burned a little but then he picked it up real fast.
"He's really smart out there. He does the little things well, making sure the court is balanced and crashing the boards only when he's sure Tommy is back to protect against fast breaks."
So Motta benched Wright and put in Grevey.That allowed Henderson to switch from guarding shooters to ballhandlers - "he's more comfortable when he's going against the ball," said Motta - and gave Grevey an unexpected break.
It also enabled the Bullets to use a platoon system in the backcourt. In the second and fourth quarters. Motta now is replacing Grevey with Chenier and Henderson with Wright, a strategy he feels keeps everyone fresh.
Grevey has made the most of his unexpected opportunity. He has scored 65 points in his four starts, shooting 47 per cent from the field. He's committed only seven turnovers in that span and grabbed 18 rebounds.
"That's what they want from me," he said."Solid defense, go to the boards for rebounds, run the fast break and hit the open shot. I feel comfortable doing all those things."
Being comfortable is important to him. Last year, he pressed as a small forward and admits he left his best games on the practice floor.
"I was always taught that you play like you practice," he said, "but it wasn't working out that way for me. I'd drill shots during practice but in games, I'd get butterflies. I wasn't comfortable and I couldn't control my play."
Grevey said it also didn't help "when I'd get pulled out after missing a few shots or when I knew I'd never play 30 minutes. I began pressing and making every game a big game. NOw, I know that's wrong. This is the NBA, not college. I'm thinking more like an NBA player."
He's also shooting more like a pro. His once-deft college touch (he shot 53 per cent as a senior) has returned after a 42 per cent effort last year, when even his foul shooting fell off. And no longer is he calling it quits aftter a hot first quarter, satisfied to let those 12 minutes stand as his night's effort.
"My shooting is a sign that everything else is working," said Grevey. "It's the final touch of my whole game. But I've found I don't have to work as hard at guard to get open as I did at forward. I also don't get as tired. You run from foul line to foul line as a guard, but from baseline to baseline as a forward - and you don't have to block out bigger guys underneath all game."
Grevey resembles a little kid with a new toy. Now, every night is an experiment, as he tests different ways to handle this new and strange position.
And he's clearly enjoying these moments.The unstructured life of the NBA was made for Grevey, a frank, outgoing, friendly conversationalist and one of the league's most eligible bachelors. He wants to go on mixing hoops, night life and listening to Linda Ronstadt as long as possible, instead of fretting about his career as he did in preseason training camp.
When the Bullets signed Bob Dandridge during to offseason, Grevey figured he was either going to be traded or used infrequently. So he was happy to go along with Motta's suggestion to become a swingman during the exhibition season.
"I saw guard as perhaps the only way I could play," he said. "Then Phil was hurt and I got more playing time than I expected. I came into camp with my head together and in good shape and I didn't get hurt. I thought I played well and figured I had earned time during the regular season."
The the emotional roller coaster began. First, he read that Motta wanted to use a three-guard rotation - and he wasn't one of the guards. Then he had a couple of decent showings off the bench, and his hopes rose. But 10 days ago, he played only one minute against Philadelphia.
"I was ticked off after that game," he said. "I didn't even shower.I just got out of there. I didn't know what was going on."
He soon found out. He scored 11 points in 21 minutes against Detroit, and then 20 points in 23 minutes against Seattle on a night the team, as a whole, played poorly. Those performances were enough to convince Motta to start him.
Now Grevey says he doesn't feel naked anymore at his new spot. He's survived by not trying to "do anything I'm not capable of doing" and by handing the ball much better than expected.
"I'm still getting used to playing away from the basket and fighting picks and screens out front, and sometimes I'm glad to let Tommy bring the ball up the court, although I used to break presses at Kentucky."
If he eventually does return to the bench. Grevey hopes his performance at guard will at least remind Motta "that I'm available at the end of the bench.
"I don't want them to forget about me now. With the league going to 11-man rosters, you've got to have swingmen. At least, that's how I hope the Bullets are looking at it."