Turk Tillman sometimes talks in his sleep, waking his wife with hi panic-stricken yells.
"I'm open," pleads the Eastern Kentucky forward whose 30.5-point average has him third in the race for the NCAA scoring title. "Gimmie the ball."
These are days of sweet dreams for the once melancholy Tillman. His only nightmare is not getting his baksetball.
The major questions in his life are whether he will finish first, second or third in the country in scoring. And whether he will be picked in the first, second or third round of the 1980 NBA draft.
Since Tillman was fourth in the nation in scoring last season for EKU (26.9) and was drafted in the fifth round by Milwaukee, he has hopes that his answers this year will be, "No. 1 and No. 1."
Tillman personifies one of college baksetball's ongoing dramas -- the trails of the transfer. He is the rare case -- a high school hotshot who fails terribly at one school, then succeeds spectacularly at another.
Can this be the same James Tillman, all-Met star at Eastern High, who transferred from Maryland just three years ago with both his personal and his athletic reputation at a nadir?
In two Maryland seasons, Tillman started just two games. He was suspended once for insubordination. Worse, he was convicted of petty larceny for purse-snatching on campus. He came to Maryland in glory. He left in disgrace.
There is no statute of limitations of a bad reputation. It is a cloud that only time, not wind, can blow away.
For Tillman, the sky is clear again, the sun shining. He is the respected leader of the best Colonel team in EKU history, one which went to the NCAA tournament last season and may repeat as Ohio Valley Conference champions.
Here, in the Kentucky blue grass, among ambling hills and grazing horses, The Turk has started his basketball life over and finished rehabilitating his good name.
"A bad experience can teach you, or it can destory you," said A. B. Williamson, Tillman's high school coach and now the coach at Howard University. "It made a man out of Turk."
"Maryland was years ago," says Tillman. "Kentucky is now."
The lean 6-foot-4 leaper with the classic jump-shooting form, the splendid reflexes and the acrobatic inside scoring touch, has done everything possible to make a total break between then and now.
His hair has gone from long to short. He has grown a mustache and sideburns that were forbidden at Maryland. He has changed his uniform number. "I was No. 5 at Eastern (High) and now I'm No. 5 at Eastern again."
Tillman has even changed his nickname. At Maryland, he was "Turkey." Now, he is just "Turk."
"Sometimes," he says with pleasure, "people from Washington don't even recognize me when they first see me."
Tillman wants one thing clear -- his new act is together.
"The past did nothing but help me," he says. "It made me hungry.
"A lot of guys, if they'd gone through what I did, would never have been heard from again, I decided that whatever it took to make it back, I'd hack it."
The Eastern Kentucky campus is an ideal place for starting fresh -- for cleaning the slate and clearing the mind.
In all, four members of the Eastern High team that was city champion in 1974 finished their college careers at Eastern Kentucky. EKU might as well be Second Chance U.
In clean air, open and rolling land, and slow-paced blue grass life, "things just fall into place," says Tillman, 23, who lives in a trailer on campus with his wife Denise and their sons, Jovelle and Jeynard.
"Eastern Kentucky is just what Turk needed," said Williamson, "growing up in D.C. was a struggle for him. I admired his mother, but she had to take care of eight kids.There were always older ones and younger ones all around Turk.
"He needed a coach who'd care for him, not one who'd yell at him," Williamson said.
The gardener who has cultivated Tillman, using equal measures of fertile criticism and gentle concern, has been EKU's 34-year-old coach, Ed Byhre, a specialist in nurturing transfers.
"This country is full of confused and frustrated kids who are desperately transfering from one school to another," said Byhre.
"They go from high schools where everything revolves around them to big colleges, which indiscriminately recruit all the pure talent they can get their hands on, where nothing revolves around them.
"Their college signing is regarded as a second coming. But, the first day of practice, they find out that it's sink or swim. These kids pay no attention to finding a team that matches their style of play. They think the world will bend to them. Then, they find out the world won't bend at all.
"No wonder their self-concept is distorted."
Byhre, who has built his program around transfers -- those supposed hired guns of the college hoop world -- has a double-edged method of reviving these discarded talents. He mixes relentless criticism with constant attention.
"You prove to them that you care enough to tell them the truth," says Byhre.
Even when Tillman was in high school, Byhre sent him a constant stream of personal notes. "Even if it was no more than 'We won. We lost. It's raining,' he was always in touch," recalled Williamson.
Yet when Byhre first met Tillman, the first thing he said was, "Son, your ball-handling is terrible. Wherever you go to school, even if it isn't Eastern Kentucky, it's got to improve."
Perhaps this is no more than elementary psychology -- basic John Wooden. But sincerity cannot always be separated from method.
"I tell Turk often that he is nothing special," said Byhre. "Other people also have gifts. They just happen to be other kinds of gifts. I want to keep him down to earth, and able to accept criticism. A star athlete needs to learn that doing the dirty work is not beneath his dignity."
It is a nice symmetry that the other person in Tillman's life who uses a similar instinctive approach is his wife.
"Turk is used to people breaking their necks for him," said Denise, who works in the EKU bookstore. "I have to tell him when he's getting too big for himself. I tell him, 'You're home now. This isn't the basketball court. Fix it yourself.'"
Tillman not only does all the dishes and ironing, but will take a spare hour during the day to rush home to clean their neat-as-a-pin trailer. He is a natural homebody and father.
It is central to Tillman's personality that he not be judged primarily as a basketball player.
"I never knew who he was or that he was at Eastern," said Williamson, "until the first day of practice his sophomore year when I saw some guy jump head and shoulders above everybody else. I said, 'Good Lord, who's that?'"
"We were going together nearly three months at Maryland before he told me that he played on the basketball team," said Denise. "In fact, I don't think he ever did tell me. He just kept bringing me fruit from the training table until I figured it out."
Eastern Kentucky fans have discovered the quiet Tillman in just the same way, making him a local celebrity without his ever having to say a word.
At a Richmond restaurant, a succession of people come to the Tillman's table, muttering, "great" and "super" without even saying specifically what they are refering to.
"Thanks," says Tillman, somewhat shyly.
"Can we buy y'all a round of drinks?" a fan asks.
"No thanks," says Tillman.
"We don't even keep coffee in the house," adds his wife.
In the midst of his short, blissful years here, with a university of 14,000 praising his every move, Tillman knows that, for the second time, he will have to leave stardom at "Eastern" for an uncertain future.
"I'll leave my guts on the floor to play in the NBA," he says. "I watch the pro games on TV and take notes. I want to be ready.
"I've come a long way at a lesser-known shcool, but I know the pros may think I'm too small. I'll have a lot to prove.
"It will be just like Maryland all over again. A lot of guys with just as much ability as I have. But this time I'm a different person. And, I think, the end result will be different."
"I try to imagine what the scouts look for, what they want. I dive for loose balls and dig on defense. I know I have to do the extra things or a year from now I'll be working 9 to 5."
Perhaps most important, he has begun to see his world as it is, not as he wishes it would be.
Last Saturday, Eastern Kentucky played its arch-rival, Western Kentucky.In the crucial closing minutes of the game, who should Tillman be guarding but his fromer Maryland teammate Billy Bryant. It was like looking in a mirror.
Bryant, an all-Met at Carroll High, also transferred after becoming disenchanted. Now, he also stars for a new, but vastly less prestigious school -- one that tailors its game to him. And, he also dreams of the NBA.
Tillman outscored Bryant, 31-22, and held him to four points in their final 13 head-to-head minutes as Eastern pulled out a two-point victory.
Yet, at the final buzzer, both the transfers looked far older than their years, and perhaps even a bit wiser.
"There were four of us who transferred from Maryland," Tillman said. "Jo Jo Hunter's at Colorado and Brian Magid's at George Washington. We're all seniors now and we're all pretty much the stars of our new teams.
"We keep track of each other and root for each other."
Because Tillman has been so bitterly disappointed by basketball once, he will be hard put to hurt so much again. Scar tissue is tougher than skin. Whatever the future, he should be better prepared to meet it.
For now, he only has sweet dreams and high hopes. In EKU's Alumni Coliseum the madhouse crowds and the tubas, trumpets and snares make their hullabaloo for him.
But at night, he returns to his trailer and to a sense of reality.
"I sleep real lightly and dream a lot," he says. "When it rains, it sounds like somebody's walking of the roof. And, when the wind blows, I'll wake up and feel the trailer rocking. I guess you'd say it's almost stationary."
Like his new home, the new Turk Tillman has achieved a sort of flexible stability.He has learned to bend with the wind and ignore the rain.
Now, when he has a nightmare, he is haunted only by harmless fears.
"I'm open," he yells, his face a gap-toothed grin, his arm waving above his head. "Gimmie the ball."