While trying to sleep Friday night, Phil Chenier felt like a rookie on the eve of his first pro basketball training camp. In between tossing and turning, he began wondering if his back really was ready for the rigors of the NBA.
"I worried myself finally into a little achiness by the time I get up," the said. "Then I said to forget the second thoughts. I had committed myself to showing up."
So Chenier walked into the gymnasium at Bowie State yesterday and participated in his first workout with the Bulets in more than a year. He was even surprised by how good he felt afterward.
"I got loose and it was good to get out here with the guys again," he said. "I felt pretty good about it. I moved okay and my back loosened up.
"No question about it, this was an exciting thing for me."
It was exciting because even Chenier wasn't sure if he would ever play again after back surgery in September. But there he was once more, in a Bullet practice uniform, tossing that picture-perfect jump shot with the fluied motion that made him a three-time all-star.
"He still has a beautiful wrist (action)," said Coach Dick Motta. "It's like riding a bike, you never forget how. He probably will be able to shoot like that when he is 80.
"I was surprised by how good he looked. He's in better shape than I thought. I think he'll be back quicker than we had anticipated.
"He knows we won't activate him until he can help. He main thing for him now is to get into top condition. He is at thestage of maybe the first day of training camp."
Arriving at the proper level of physical condition will be a difficult challenge for Chenier. The Bullets expect to work out only a handful of times over the next month. Chenier will be searching for competition at local colleges.
"Maybe when I come closer to getting into shape, not practicing with them (his teammates) will hold me back," he said. "Down the road it might take its effect. But right now, I am feeling my way to get back into top condition."
Whatever apprehensions Chenier had yesterday disappeared soon after he arrived at the gym.
He was 45 minutes early -- "Maybe I also can change my habit of cutting things so close time-wise" -- and spent almost an hour nervously doing stretching exerciese.
By the tiem warm-up drills began, he was laughing and joking with his teammates. His first jumper in a four-on-four drill swished through the net, as did the second and the third.
"It wasn't quite like my first year," he said, "because I am familiar with the pros now. But I am starting all over again as far as getting a feel for the spirit of the team and becoming part of it again.
"When you are used to a team, you take things for granted. But I've been away from everything for a year, the practices, the routine. But at least this is a positive step toward me playing again."
Chenier has too much pride to have come back before he was confident he would not be embar-rassed on the court. He wants to be an active member of the Bullets during workouts. Yesterday, he practiced at the same pace as his teammates and was still running with them at the end.
Some things were new, however, Charles Johnson, his back-court mate in college, and rookies Roger Phegley and Dave Corzine have been added to the club since he went on the injured list. And Motta has added a few wrinkles to the offense that he will have to learn.
"C.J. was giving me some pointers," said Chenier, "but mainly he was helping my spirits. They've been working together for a year and I've been away from it.Now I've got to refresh myself on what is going on."
By the time Chenier walked off the court, the rest of the Bullets had departed. When he was healthy, he said, workouts had been a drag, something he never relished.
"But after what I've been through," he said with a smile, "even practicing is fun now. That's something I didn't think I'd ever say."