Scene 1 from a memorable basketball season at Wake Forest: It is April 1980, in Coach Carl Tacy's office, and Frank Johnson, showman extraordinaire, is discussing the coming season.
"Coach," Johnson says, "you need to be tougher on us. Sometimes you need to kick our butts in practice. You've been too nice to us the last couple years."
Scene 2: It is early November 1980, on the Wake Forest practice court, and Johnson is dragging. "I wasn't into it," he says. "I was just going through the motions, not feeling good or doing anything."
Suddenly, the practice stops. An angry voice is heard.
"If you aren't going to hustle and try hard with the rest of the group you can get your butt out of here," Tacy says. "Either go all out or get out of here." Johnson snaps to attention.
("I think it stunned everyone," he remembered today. "Me most of all. I'd never seen Coach like that in five years. It got me straight in a hurry.")
Scene 3: It is mid-November, at practice again. It is not going well.
Tracy: "Gentlemen, if you can't do better than this I won't hesitate to come back here at 6 a.m. tomorrow."
Johnson, laughing: "Hey, Coach, I've got an 8 o'clock class.How about making that 5 a.m."
Tracy, heading for the locker room: "Fine, I'll see you all here at 5 a.m."
The Deacons, en masse: "Whaaaat?!"
So far, this has been a smash-hit season at Wake Forest. The record is 16-2 going into Wednesday night's 7:30 game with Maryland and the Demon Deacons are ranked eight in the nation.
Call it "Hollywood finds happiness."
"Hollywood" is Frank Johnson, the 6-foot-2 guard whose ever-present grin masks a competitive streak so deep his coach says, "It's like a disease, it spreads to anyone around him."
Last season, as the Deacons suffered through a second straight losing campaign, Hollywood had to become an understudy. After breaking a foot in a September pickup game, he tried to play five games early in the schedule. iNo way. The foot wasn't ready. Johnson decided to redshirt and come back to ywake for a fifth year.
"I didn't like the idea of just weatching. I mean, I'm used to a lot of attention. It was a tough adjustment," Johnson said.
"I want Frank to reach the decision to sit by himself, but if he had wanted to do different, I wouldn't have let it happen," Tacy said. "He wasn't playing nearly as well as he was capable and I thought he needed a good senior year to really have a good shot with the pros.
So Johnson sat at the end of the bench last season, listening to the hoots of opponents' fans. But he didn't really listen.
He watched. He watched gifted forwards Alvis Rogers and Guy Morgan to see where they liked to catch a pass. He watched center Jim Johnstone to see what he could and could not do.
And when he started playing again, Johnson was a more complete player. Smarter, able to see the game better. He proved that to himself by playing well at the Olympic trials, even though he didn't make the team.
Johnson knew that with Rogers, Morgan , Johnstone and Mike Helms all coming back for a third season as starters, plus himself, the Deacons would have a chance to recapture the glory of his freshman season, 1976-77, when the Deacons were 22-8 and went to the NCAA final eight.
"I think that's why he brought up the thing about my toughness," said Tacy, who prides himself on discipline but probably wouldn't shout in a hurricane. "Frank remembered from 1977 that we had tightened our belts, worked everyone real hard. ythe last two years we were probably more patient and understanding because the team was so young. I think Frank wanted to make a point that the time for that was over."
Clearly, Tacy agreed. That was why he jumped on Johnson in practice that November day. That was why he made Johnson do punishment drills after practice when he missed a breakfast check. That was why he called Johnson's bluff on the 5 a.m. practice.
"I set two alarms that morning," Tacy said. "No way I was going to be late that day. That was a practice I won't forget for a long time. The kids were there early, really ready to go. It was as if they wanted to say, 'We really think this is important, too.' I think that day set the tone for this entire season."
With Johnson averaging 16.2 points and 6.3 assists a game, with Johnstone, Rogers and Helms in double figures, as was Morgan until last week, the Deacons are purging a lot of the frustrations built up the last two seasons.
And the man the Deacons look to is Johnson. "You don't like to overemphasize the role of one player," Tacy said. "But the fact is, Frank is one of those rare players who thrives on crucial situations. He loves the center stage and playing the key role."
Johnson, whose older brother, Eddie, is an all-star guard for the Atlanta Hawks, rocks in a chair and laughs when the subject of center stage comes up. "I just love it," he said. "People say I'm a hot dog, but thats not it. I just love being there on that basketball court.
"This year at Duke, they made a big comeback and the place was going crazy. I had chills from it. Then I came down, hit a jumper and the place went quiet. I just love that feeling, love having that kind control.
"Before a game, I'm really nervous. My hands sweat, I feel bad. But when the ball goes up, it's just fun, lots of fun, "Johnson said. "I don't think anything can shake my confidence now."
All this from someone who was so shy as a Weirsdale, Fla., high school senior that, Tacy said, "He kept his head so low I never saw anything but the top of it the first time we talked."
Not now. It is all Hollywood and show time for Johnson.
Today he was asked to name the five best college guards in the country. First came the grin. Then the laugh.
"Don't know about the other four," he said. "But no question about number one."