I knew it was only a matter of time before the subject came up.


They're everywhere when you're a star, or when you or they think you're a star. Phone numbers mysteriously turn up in my pockets or are just thrust at me. I also get unsolicited winks, smiles and shy waves.

I love it.

My teammates have noticed.

"If ever you meet one you might like to spend a little time with, check with the Hagala first," warned forward Al Smith, who I've become friends with in my six days with the Rochester Zeniths. "The Hagala probably knows her and he'll tell you what to do."

The Hagala is guard Glenn Hagan. At 26, he is the team leader, the most popular player with the fans, one of the most recognizable persons in the Rochester area and an outgoing, yet laid back, skinny little guy. He is also perhaps the best all-around player in the Continental Basketball Association.

In addition to averaging more than 23 points a game, Hagan leads the CBA in steals and assists and is flashy, maybe too flashy, which might explain why he's still in this league.

He's a very intelligent player, however, and has helped me grasp the Zenith offense.

Since we are the two smallest players, we are often matched against each other in practice and he'll taunt me with things like, "Bye, bye" before he drives around me, or, "Watch this," as he takes me to the hoop.

He does it not to show off, but simply because it's fun.

Hagan is also a clothes horse. He has a western outfit that includes jeans, cowboy boots and a big cowboy hat. The only things that keep the hat, eight sizes too big, from covering not only his head, but his face as well, are his ears.

"You like this look?" he asked. "You should see my Hawaiian outfit. Tell him about it, fellas."

Eyes roll.

Hagan has also been approached by local Republicans to run for a vacant Monroe County supervisor's position.

"Come right up to me at halftime and asked me," Hagan said. "I told them I'd get back to them."

"What you think about that, Buckets?" he said, quizzing his roommate Tim Waterman.

"You're already a politican," Waterman said. "That'll just make it official."

Waterman and Hagan have known each other since were at St. Bonavenure five years ago.

When Waterman first came to the Zeniths last year Hagan immediately took him under his wing.

Waterman looks like a lumberjack. He's husky, 6-feet-8 and white. Hagan is skinny, 6-feet even and black.

"Somebody's got to look after the white boy," Hagan said. "I appointed myself."

Hagan and Waterman live in a sprawling low-budget apartment complex on Mt. Hope Road, just south of downtown Rochester.

Smith, his wife Juanita and 7-month-old daughter Alicia live in the same complex.

It's more difficult for Smith to make ends meet than it is for the single players but it doesn't bother him because, he says, he has everything he wants -- a wife who loves him, a beautiful child and a team to play basketball with.

He still wants that one more shot at the NBA, however.

He's already had five.

Juanita Smith worked in a day-care center before Alicia was born and plans to go back to work when her daughter is a year old. She met Al while both were students at Jackson State.

"Once she saw me she couldn't let me out of her sight," said Smith, a 6-6 thin man whose favorite move is what he calls "the apple turnover dunk."

He's been a CBA all-star for three years.

"This may be the last year I try for the NBA," he said. "Maybe one more year if I don't make it.

"The first time I got waived it was hard to take, but as many camps as I've been to, I try not to get hurt too much by their final decision. The thing that keeps me trying is that I know I can play in the NBA.

"Part of some of us being stuck here is politics and the other part is the number of jobs available. The rosters increase to 12 players next year so that's 23 more jobs. I believe I'm good enough to get one of them.

"Versatility is the key," he added. "That's why I switched to guard this year. I'd been a forward all my life, but if I can show people I can play guard, too, that will just give me a better chance at making it."

Smith is wise enough to realize that each time he gets cut, it reduces his chances of ever making it.

"I've seen situations where guys didn't prepare themselves for other things," he said. "I don't want that to happen to me."

Because of that, Smith is an insurance company trainee.

Since CBA players earn a salary only four months a year, and no Zenith makes more than $4,900, most of them have an offseason job. Smith currently is a bouncer at a club called the Playpen.

Larry Fogle led the nation in scoring when he was at Canisius and played briefly for the New York Knicks before coming to the CBA. He is married, also, and has a small son.

The other married players are Lee Johnson, the 6-11 center who has the best chance of getting back to the big time, and Pops McTaw.

Jim Bradley, Wayne Abrams and myself live at the 111 East Avenue Hotel.

The other player. Ed Brown, joined the team two weeks ago after he was laid off his job. He gets $50 a game and lives in a Rochester apartment.

These 10 (including myself) are the Zeniths, the best team in the CBA, 30-5 and on a 10-game winning streak.

We hang out at a place called Paige's a soul food spot on Genessee Street. It's cheap and good.

We gathered there after a recent practice and talked about each other's mothers, imitated each other's habits and made fun of everybody. A lot of that goes on.

There's a bar downstairs and a dimly lit dining room that hangs kind of over it.

The first time there I had pork chops, collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread. Waterman has the same.

"He ain't really white," Hagan said. "We just say he is to keep people coming to the games."

The place to go late at night is the Caribbean Club, "the club." Whatever you want is there.

"And some things you don't want," said McTaw.

Most of the guys drink brandy, liquor, a soft drink, or beer -- lots of beer. i have a diet drink and when I get bored I mix orange juice and Perier.

"Let me see your AA card," said Hagan.

We have three practice sites: the Dome, which has a souvenir of my skin on its carpet, War Memorial Auditorium and the North Street Rec Center.

Coach Mauro Panaggio practices us on nongame days, at either 10 or 2 o'clock.

He doesn't tell us which until the day before, "because I want to keep you loose."

Practices are a nostalgia trip. We wear colorful shirts from all over -- the Detroit Pistons, the Rucker League, the Jersey Shore League, Melvin's Crab House, you name it.

Panaggio is well organized at practice, but what happens is usually unpredictable. He argues almost daily with Bradley and it goes something like this:

Panaggio: "What are you doing, Brad? Didn't you see that man? Get your butt back on defense."

Bradley: "I didn't see the man and besides I don't want to get back on him if there's another man open right next to him."

Panaggio: "What do you mean, you didn't see him? He was right to the front of you."

Bradley: "Hey, let me play my game. You coach. We'll play."

Panaggio: "You know, that's one reason you're stuck in this stinking league and why you'll probably be here forever.Nobody can tell you anything."

Bradley: "Yeah. Why are you here? The Knicks ain't called you yet?"

They really like each other.

My first road trip is coming up, an 11-hour van ride to Bangor, Maine, to play the Lumberjacks Sunday afternoon and Monday night. But there's a frightening possibility that Dr. D (me) will be declared ineligible for those two games.

A crazy CBA rule reads that a team can take only eight players on the road and I'm the ninth man. They're working on a possible waiver.

I think I know the real reason they might not let me play -- the CBA isn't ready yet for the Doctor.