After nearly a half-hour of full-court sprints, Kenny Barer stepped off the basketball court, breathed heavily into a reporter's tape recorder and sighed, "Record that."
After four days of double workouts, neither Barer nor any one of the 12 other basketball players who are scheduled to represent the United States in Israel next month in the 12th Maccabiah Games ever could remember practicing so hard.
"It's two practices a day, so it's tough," said Barer, a George Washington University sophomore. "But everyone's working hard. We're in pretty good condition. We're getting there."
The Games for Jewish athletes are scheduled every four years at numerous sites in Israel. This year, 505 athletes are scheduled to represent the United States during two weeks of competition, beginning July 14.
The men's basketball team began practice Monday at George Washington, where its coach, Gerry Gimelstob, was head coach before resigning after last season. The team will remain in Washington until July 8, then will join the rest of the U.S. contingent at Rutgers for two days before its planned departure for Israel. The team is scheduled to play five preliminary games starting July 15 before the semifinals and finals in Tel Aviv.
The U.S. team won the gold medal in the last two Games. Ernie Grunfeld, now of the New York Knicks, and Hal Cohen of Syracuse led the 1977 squad. Cohen and Danny Schayes, his teammate at Syracuse who now plays for the Denver Nuggets, led the way in 1981. Although there are no superstars on this year's team, Gimelstob said, there is good balance.
"It's a different team," said Gimelstob, who was assistant coach in 1981. "The 1981 team had two really outstanding players. It had Schayes and it had Willie Simms, who probably could have been an NBA player but decided instead to play professionally in Israel.
"This team has better all-around players. Robbie Weingard is really an outstanding point guard. Josh Wexler is just a high school senior. Al Dolensky played in the last Games . . . He'll probably end up playing professionally . . . "
Choosing the team was a tedious process, team manager Jason Shrinsky said. Letters were sent to high school and college coaches and to Jewish Community Centers, and more than 250 athletes tried out in one of three cities -- Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York City -- at the end of April before the final 12 players, plus an alternate, were selected.
The players chosen range in age from 18 to 28, Wexler the youngest as an 18-year-old freshman at Cornell, and Charlie Silk, a New York University graduate and dentist in New York, the oldest at 28. Half the players still are in college.
"We're going over there to win the gold medal," Gimelstob said, "but also we're going over there for other reasons: the experience for them as Jewish people in America to understand and experience what Israel is all about, and how important Israel is to them and the culture of Jewish people throughout the world."
Weingard thinks a a professional contract could result from the trip. "Hopefully, I can have a good tournament in Israel and try to get a contract there," said Weingard, who led the nation in assists (9.6 a game) last season as a senior at Hofstra.
Although Gimelstob hesitated to announce his starting lineup, Weingard is the best bet at point guard and is considered the team leader by players and coaches.
"I'm older than quite a few of the guys," Weingard, 22, said. "And being a point guard, that's usually the role one has to take for the team. I'll be calling the offense a lot of the time and setting up the defenses and I'll be an extension of the coach. In that case, you have to be a leader."
Dolensky, the only returning player, seems assured of a starting spot at forward. "He's an outstanding player," Gimelstob said. "He's a college graduate from the University of New Mexico. He has four really good years playing in the Western Athletic Conference. He'll be a real impact playing for us over there."
Gimelstob's assistants are Ed Fogler of the University of North Carolina and Scott Beeten of Penn. When Fogler was asked if coaching under Gimelstob was much different than being an assistant coach at UNC, Gimelstob interceded.
"He said it was very similar to coaching with Dean Smith," Gimelstob joked.
Fogler replied: "The only difference is that Dean Smith's in the basketball Hall of Fame and Gerry isn't, yet."
"Maybe the Jewish basketball hall of fame," Gimelstob said.