Television portrays life as it should be, so when a local film crew came by the University of Maryland last week to do a spot on Lefty Driesell's summer basketball camp, they figured Lefty himself ought to be teaching campers how to play.
Never mind that Lefty hardly ever coaches individual groups at his two-week camp. With 250 to 350 moppets running around, not everyone can touch the master's hand, so Driesell hires a big staff of generally able assistants.
And Driesell isn't the world's most patient instructor of fumblefooted 10-year-olds, anyway.
TV's better idea was to put five tykes around the old left-hander. Well, Driesell lasted about four minutes before his hands started flying around like John Madden's in a beer ad, and about a minute later he was shouting, "This group ain't any good. Get me five out here who want to play basketball."
By then the film crew had all it needed for a minute of its peculiar brand of The Truth, and Driesell slunk over to the sidelines to concede that when you're used to training thoroughbreds, putting immature dray horses through the paces "is frustrating."
Sick bay: Tommy Lyles, the camp trainer, wanders nervously through a landscape reminiscent of the hospital scene in "Gone With the Wind."
Children in your basic 8- to 15-year-old age bracket have a way of celebrating the slightest ailment, and Lyles' office bears testimony to every split, cut, bruise or strain.
There are kids with knee braces, kids with heat pads, kids soaking in ice, kids in the whirlpool, kids lying on the floor, kids giving each other new injuries fighting over a place in line to get their old injuries fixed.
Here sits George O'Hare of Olney, who goes to St. John's and is sporting two nice injuries: 13 stitches in his head and a sprained thumb. The head wound came in respectable basketball camper fashion when he ran into a post playing ball in the dark. "Did you hurt the post?" asks Lyles.
O'Hare and I are substitutes on the Lakers, who have a game this morning after the ball-handling and dribbling drill, which for me consists of dribbling the ball off the front, back and sides of both feet.
Our opponents have a name but nobody knows what it is, and when the score goes to 32-10 nobody much cares. Our coach is Eddie Sloane, the superstar guard from American University. After it's over (final, 36-10), he says it wasn't his fault. "One or two points, that's coaching. Thirty points, that ain't the coach's fault."
O'Hare tells me, "You better find a new team. We stink. We're 1-6."
The schedule is basketball, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. For $205 parents send their charges off to live in a Maryland dorm, eat Maryland food and learn the Maryland offenses and defenses for five days. Formally, classes are 9-11 a.m., 2-4:30 p.m. and 7-9:30 p.m., but in fact, the camper who wants to play can get a game or shoot around just about any time he wants from after breakfast to 11 p.m. lights out.
Driesell, who meanders around in a supervisory capacity, says the goal is to teach fundamentals of ball-handling, shooting, defense, rebounding and offense. The various "stations" to which campers are shuttled daily give them these basics and they can go home and hone their skills. Or they could go home and forget about it.
Food: Graduating Maryland guard Reggie Jackson, a counselor, is having lunch with the campers. He piles his tray with hamburgers, cold cuts, salad fixings, three desserts, bread, tuna and various drinks. Will he eat it all?
"Nah," says Jackson, "I just take one of everything and see which ones I can stand."
Big excitement: The campers are on break so the counselors take over the big court in Cole Field House. We watch pros Tracy Jackson and Larry Gibson (who is playing in Italy) plus college stars Sloane, Cliff Tribus of Davidson and Tom Sluby of Notre Dame against Bullet John Lucas and past and present Maryland players Ernest Graham, Herman Veal, Charles Pittman and Taylor Baldwin.
Viewed from under one basket this is the greatest basketball imaginable, played over the rim at full tilt from end to end.
Such skill! Such speed! Such grace!
Such depression! The Lakers have another game tonight after rebounding drills. Will we go 1-7?
The Lakers are behind by three after three quarters. We have a coach named Cartwright who keeps telling the other team how to play offense. O'Hare confides, "We always fold in the fourth quarter. We were ahead by 18 in the last quarter once and lost in overtime."
No wonder. The substitution scheme is such that the Lakers end up with all their scrubs (including me!) playing the fourth quarter.
This time we fade, but not hopelessly.
With a minute left, we are down by five. A huffing 37-year-old No. 3 man (that's some kind of forward, I have determined) has lost all his moves but none of his desire.
He's shrieking at his mates: "Hands up. Pressure!"
Three straight times, we steal the ball. Three straight times it goes to O'Hare. Twice he sinks the long shot, hitting nothing but net. He is playing in the ozone.
Ten seconds left. Their ball out of bounds. We jam them, push them, crowd and double-team. An errant pass. O'Hare with the ball. Five seconds left. I am alone under the basket for a cheap layup.
"George," I shout. "GEORGE!"
He sees me. He jumps. He releases the ball.
It flies true. Not to me. To the rim. And over. Swish. We WIN!
This actually happened at Lefty Driesell's summer basketball camp. Also, John Lucas made it three-fourths of the court--from the far foul line across midcourt and in for a layup--on two dribbles. That was in a demonstration and it was amazing.
Andrew Marshall from Philadelphia won the foul-shooting contest by making 10 of 10, then nine of 10.
Bill Simpson hurt his back and couldn't play one game for the Lakers. And George O'Hare got his stitches taken out.
Reggie Jackson ate his cold cuts but trashed a shoe-leather hamburger.
Lefty even got to coach a little for the TV guys.
And everybody was in bed by 11.