Tony, a lithe youth from the Baltimore suburbs, halted the forkful of macaroni-green bean goo inches from his mouth.
"I wanted to go to Dean Smith's camp in North Carolina," he said thoughtfully, chomping on a mouthful of beans. "But you have to sign up for that in August. This isn't so bad--$210 for a week, meals included."
He peered down at his plate, and then let his fork fall with a loud clatter. "Well, the counselors are good."
The laughter subsided. Tony continued. "Here, they teach you a lot about basketball. But you know," he paused, his fork again suspended in midair, "they also teach you a lot of things about life."
John Thompson is not running a summer camp for refugees from the planet "Lovetron." The Georgetown coach made that clear the first day.
"Basketball is just one part of life. You can't go through life paying no attention to anything. No matter what you can do with a basketball, you have to make it in the real world," he told the 100-plus campers during one of the brief breaks in their 14-hour day.
"When Darryl Dawkins came out and said he was from the planet 'Lovetron'--can you imagine a grown man saying that?--I called all my players in for a talk. I said if I ever heard one of them say a fool thing like that, I would deny they ever played for me, and I would come for them."
Thompson fixed a steady gaze on the group of youngsters. For half a second, they stopped fidgeting around on the floor.
"That goes for you, too."
Bill Stein will leave his job as an assistant coach at Georgetown this year to become athletic director at St. Peter's in New Jersey. But he couldn't bear to give up summer camp and he knows how to make 100 8- to 17-year-olds behave. He keeps them so tired they want to go to bed at 10 p.m.
Their entire day is laid out. After calisthenics, the campers spend the morning bouncing between drill stations--a station for dribbling, a station for passing, a station for shooting. Then before lunch, they split up into their teams for half-hour scrimmages. After lunch, they swim, attend lectures, go through more drills and scrimmage again after dinner.
And Stein is always there to make sure nobody steps out of line.
His is a curious form of discipline. The most minor transgression will get an offender 10 pushups. Girl-watching is an extra five.
And Stein, like the other 20 counselors at the camp, is ever-vigilant. Lounging in the hall of the dorm after lunch, he notices a kid coming around the floor breathing heavily. "Give me 10," he orders.
Moments later, his penance done, the boy pipes up, "Hey, look! He's running. Give 'em 10. Give 'em 10."
"I didn't see him. I can't do nothing," Stein says.
"Ah, that's what I hate about referees," the boy answers. "Somebody does something and they say, 'I didn't see anything.' "
"Ah, life," Stein says.
It took about 20 seconds to spot him, foundering around in the middle of the floor during calisthenics. He was a skinny 12-year-old, about 5 feet 7, with sandy hair that he kept puffing out of his red, red face with strangled exhalations.
He couldn't, or wouldn't, touch his toes, and collapsed to the floor during pushups. He didn't stand a chance.
Former Georgetown star John Duren, who single-mouthedly filled McDonough Arena with a steady stream of patter, went juking and cutting through the aisles of bouncing bodies, narrowly missing a boy with a full cast on his right leg. With an NBA leap, he launched himself to within an inch of the scofflaw and screamed in his face: "Work, work, work, work, work!"
I sympathized with the kid. In fact, I could teach him a few things about sloughing off. Like swiftly bending your knees to touch your toes, or casually letting your knees drop during pushups.
But they got me, too.
With a minute left, the Jazz are looking to increase their lead over the Lakers to four points. Gun-shy from having his two previous shots batted back into his face by the Lakers' center (that kid is 17?), a Jazz forward spins away from the key to take a pass outside. Dribbling to his left, about 18 feet from the basket, the tall, skinny kid lets fly with a high jump shot that plops softly through the net.
As time runs out, his teammates crowd around him, slapping him on the back, congratulating him.
But my moment of glory is short-lived.
"Shooting is the easiest part of basketball," Thompson tells us at our afternoon lecture session, which includes a talk on academics. "Anybody can shoot. The toughest part is getting open for the shot. There are nine guys without the ball on the floor at all times.
"Just like in life, you've got to be able to do all the other things."