The blood rushed to Coach Mauro Panaggio's face and he leaped off the bench screaming. "What the hell are you guys doing? Hold on to the ball. Come on. Let's get going."
Guard Glenn Hagan sauntered toward Panaggio and said: "Now sit down and be cool, coach. Look at the scoreboard. We're 40 points ahead and there's five minutes left in the game. You've stood up enough. And you've yelled enough. You keep that up and you're going to hurt yourself."
Panaggio glared at Hagan for a couple of seconds, then burst out laughing. The Rochester Zeniths went on to defeat the Maine Lumberjacks, 151-116, for their 12th straight victory and a 32-5 record, by far the best in the Continental Basketball Association.
I was declared ineligible for the game becuase I was the ninth man on the squad, and visiting teams can only play eight. CBA Commissioner Jim Drucker told me, "If you were a stiff, no one would probably care." Nice man, the commissioner.
The Zeniths win for two basic reasons: they have the best players and the best coach. Panaggio, like most coaches, preaches defense and teamwork with a wide-open offense. Everything seems to work.
"We aren't disciplined enough to run set plays," said Tim Waterman, a 6-foot-8 backup center and forward who played at St. Bonaventure. "And we're good enough to get away with it.
"Coach has a tough job becuase there are a lot of personalities and egos to deal with on this team. The nice thing, though, is that everyone likes everyone else. Even if Coach yells and screams at a guy and fines him, he doesn't hold grudges. We play for him and that's all he asks."
The Zeniths started the season by winning 12 of their 16 games, mostly becuase of Forwards Larry McNeill and Dean Tolson. But big money, or "paper," as the players call it, lured both to the Philippines. The rest of the league thought the Zeniths would collapse.
But just as McNeil and Tolson were leaving, 6-11 Lee Johnson was arrving and everything fell int place. Panaggio made subtle changes in his approach and the Zeniths have won 20 of 21 games since the two stars departed. a
"The only game we lost was the one he (Panaggio) got thrown out of," said Hagan who has played for Panaggio off and on since he was 11. "So I guess he can coach, wouldn't you say?
"Coach doesn't teach much because most of us aren't going to listen. He just regulates the subs and that's the toughest job on this team. That, and he's a motivator. He can get you so mad at him that you take it out on the other team."
Panaggio, 53, is the coach, general manager, part owner, traveling secretary, paymaster and bus driver for the Zeniths. He has a son, Dan, who coaches a Rochester high school team. Another son, Jim, is a starting guard at Providence.
Two seasons ago, Panaggio the elder led Rochester to the league championship. But when a new majority owner, Art Stock, took over last season, he wanted to coach, too, os Panaggio was replaced. The term lost to Anchorage in the final.
With new ownership again this season, Panaggio returned. He's coached for 28 years -- at three different Rochester high schools, at Brockpor State and now, professionally, with the Zeniths.
Panaggio strongly believes that every player in the CBA is here for a reason. There is a flaw in each of their games, and until they eliminate it, they'll never get out of the CBA. He tells them so every day.
"He's a perfectionist," said forward Larry Fogle, one of the top all-around perfomrers in the league, an Adrian Dantley type who has the talent to play for many teams in the NBA. "He wants you to do things right and he wants them done his way."
Panaggio is a master at dealing with personalities. He was warned the Fogle and Jim Bradley "were bad actors. People told me they were uncoachable and I'd never get them to play a team game," he said. "Sure, I've had some trouble with them, but it's all worked out. You just have to know how to deal with them."
Even Dr. D has been yelled at by Panaggio for being careless with the ball, messing up a play or not switching quickly enough on defense. I'm not the type who talks back. I'm not good enough -- yet.
Hegan is partly responsible for some of Panaggio's gray hair. "I have to stay on him all the time because he has to take charge out there and he doesn't always do it. He goes through that fancy Globetrotter stuff so much when a simple pass or a simple shot will do," the coach said. "That drives me up the wall."
Johnson is one player who listents to Panaggio. He respects him so much that he says he turned down two offers already this season to go back to the NBA on 10-day contracts with Portland and Golden State.
Most scouts say Johnson is not yet an NBA center, but Panaggio works with him before and after practice. Johnson also is getting invaluable playing time and a chance to develop, something he wouldn't get in the NBA. "I wasn't ready for the NBA when they called me," Johnson said. "I'm getting there, though."
My last day witht he Zeniths will be Thursday, when we play Lehigh Valley at War Memorial Coliseum. A record crowd of close to 7,000 is expected and the San Diego chicken will be there.
Panaggio told me I can play for him any time. "Besides, you're under contract for the rest of the season and the playoffs haven't even started yet." c