Danny Hurley was standing in a gym, trying to get a team of Rutgers basketball players to listen to his directions. He saw a player smirk. He saw another player slacking off. He heard himself screaming. And then he stopped, and thought about himself, and about his college days at Seton Hall, and this is what he thought: "Man, I must have been such a jerk to coach. Such a total jerk."

P .J. Carlesimo is a screamer. He yells, he rants, he belittles. He tells players that they are babies. He tells players that they are weak and pathetic. He tells players that they are hurting the team. He does all this at the the top of his lungs, his broad mouth like a cavern, his red-gray beard cupped in his hands, so that it almost seems like he is barking his anger and disapproval. The phrases are laced with expletives. The words sting.

There was a time when Danny Hurley heard those screams and saw that face in his nightmares. Hurley had a big brother, Bobby, in the NBA, and a father, Bobby Sr., who was a coach, and a boatload of expectations on his shoulders. It was too much for him to handle. He had no confidence in himself. And when he listened to Carlesimo scream at him, he hated his coach and, worse, he believed everything that his coach said about him.

"I can understand where a lot of these NBA guys are coming from with what they've been saying and the complaints they have about P.J.," Hurley said, by telephone, from a hotel in Florida, where he had just finished breaking down a tape with his fellow assistants on the Rutgers coaching staff.

"And if you had asked me these questions about P.J. maybe two or three years ago, while I was still playing, you probably would have gotten a different answer. But being a coach, and having the opportunity to step away from it now, I realize that P.J. never did anything to me that wasn't justified. I feel guilty now. I was the one who was being immature."

On Dec. 1, Latrell Sprewell, a talented and extremely well-paid guard for the Golden State Warriors, attacked Carlesimo, his coach, at practice. He attacked him once, choking him, and then came back 15 minutes later and attacked him again, this time throwing a punch. As a result, the Warriors voided his $32 million contract, the NBA handed him a record one-year suspension, and Sprewell retained a panel of lawyers, Johnnie Cochran included, to appeal the suspension and prepare a defense that will be based, in part, on this argument: P.J. Carlesimo is a verbally abusive coach. He provoked the attack.

There are NBA players who have stories to support that argument, the Washington Wizards' Rod Strickland among them. Strickland (who damaged his own credibility when he got involved in a hotel-room fight with a teammate, Tracy Murray, earlier this week) played for Carlesimo in Portland, where Carlesimo had his first NBA job after 12 seasons at Seton Hall, and where he was accused -- as he has been again now -- of failing to adjust his college coaching style to the NBA game. There, Carlesimo and Strickland had altercations that became almost legend. So, too, did Carlesimo and Isaiah Rider. Chris Dudley, now with the New York Knicks, has described Carlesimo as a "screamer," and his description is seconded by Buck Williams, another Trail Blazer turned Knick.

"He's annoying," Strickland said of Carlesimo. "That's the bottom line. We've been face to face on many occasions, that's for sure. He doesn't know how to deal with men. He's just dealt with college kids."

Carlesimo has been bombarded with questions about whether he will change his coaching style in the aftermath of this incident, and his answer is almost always the same. Arms crossed, leaning up against the wall outside the Warriors locker room, he shook his head when asked that question, again, after a game this past Wednesday night.

"I can't," he said. "You have to be who you are, particularly if you believe in yourself and what you're doing." A Perfectionist'

This is who P.J. Carlesimo, the coach, happens to be:

"He's demanding," said Bruce Hamburger, a former assistant and now head coach at Kane University in Union, N.J.

"He's a perfectionist," said Jose Rebimbas, a former Seton Hall player who now coaches at another New Jersey college, William Patterson.

"He's very, very meticulous and very attentive to detail," said Rod Baker, a Seton Hall assistant who now works with Bob Huggins in Cincinnati.

Tom Sullivan, another assistant who now runs the program at Maryland-Baltimore County, used the word "exacting." Chuck Daly picked the word "driven" to describe the man he chose to assist him in coaching the U.S. Olympic basketball team in 1992. Williams liked the phrase "hard-lined." Hurley echoed Hamburger's "demanding."

"At times, when I was playing for him, I'd definitely feel like he was going overboard and picking on me," said Hurley, who took a year off from basketball because of his confidence problems. "But, by the same token, I also realized that that was the type of coach he was. He did what was necessary to get whatever he could out of the people he had. He got the best from them."

Carlesimo describes himself as "intense," "emotional," and someone who asks a lot of his players, and, as a result, can alienate those who are not willing to live up to his standards. His coaching philosophy has always been that he must be hardest on his best player, because that player sets the tone for the rest of the team. He was brutal to Mark Bryant, now a member of the Phoenix Suns, when Bryant was the top player on the Seton Hall team Carlesimo led to the NCAA championship game in 1989. He was brutal to John Morton, who is now playing in Europe, the following year. Terry Dehere -- currently a member of the Sacramento Kings -- got pushed hardest during his years at Seton Hall. Carlesimo rode Strickland in Portland. And he rode Sprewell at Golden State.

The two had a series of incidents prior to the blowup on Dec. 1, incidents that made their battle for authority clear. Carlesimo benched Sprewell for laughing during a timeout in a game the Warriors were losing, badly, to the Los Angeles Lakers. He kicked Sprewell out of a practice a few days later. He benched him at the start of another game for what he perceived as Sprewell's poor practice efforts. He cursed Sprewell frequently. At times, Warriors players say, Sprewell cursed him back.

Though Sprewell and Carlesimo have declined to discuss the specific events of Dec. 1 -- both on the advice of attorneys -- Sprewell has made it clear that he erupted because he was sick and tired of Carlesimo's verbal attacks. He, and his supporters, have suggested that Carlesimo does not treat his players like, as the Knicks' John Starks put it, "the grown men that we are." Carlesimo's defenders insist that all good coaches yell, and that what is important is to "glean the essence of the message and learn from it, and see how it's going to make you better," according to Baker. "You can't get all caught up in the way the message is delivered. That shows immaturity."

Sullivan, who has known Carlesimo since the two played together at Fordham in the late 1960s, sees the situation as a simple dividing line between generations.

"P.J.'s father taught him great values about sports and what sports could be and how it could change and shape peoples lives and teach them what they needed to be successful," Sullivan said. "That's P.J.'s value system. And now, because of this one individual, people are trying to say that P.J.'s value system is not valid. And I'm saying that {Sprewell's} value system is not valid.

"What's happening now," he continued, "is that we are seeking the opinions of the J.R. {Isaiah} Riders and the Rod Stricklands on a guy who has come from a family that that has been in sports for 25 years and has always valued hard work. Maybe that approach doesn't fit this generation. Maybe they just don't care." Born to Compete

Carlesimo grew up in the world of athletics. His father, Peter, was an athletic director, and a basketball coach, and a football coach. P.J., oldest of 10 children, lived in that world from his infancy, and constantly spent time with his father at work. Asked if basketball is the most important thing is life, Carlesimo responds instantly: "Of course not," he said. "My family is."

Now caught up in one of the most trying periods in his professional life, Carlesimo requested that his family not be contacted for this story because he said he did not want to "draw them into this situation and put them through more." For Carlesimo, at age 48, family is still defined by his parents and brothers and sisters. He's never married, never had children.

For the first several months after he signed his five-year, $15 million contract with the Warriors, Carlesimo lived in a room at the Oakland Marriott. The hotel is connected to the team's practice facilities and its offices. Carlesimo did not bother to hunt for a home or an apartment. He went to work, stayed late, then rode an elevator back to the hotel, where there were chocolates on his pillow every night.

"It's not that I've made a conscious decision not to get married," Carlesimo said. "It's just that I haven't found anybody crazy enough. People think it's premeditated. It's not. That's not it at all."

Carlesimo may not be married, but he is far from antisocial. Even most of those players who found him to be a nightmare on the practice court insist, quickly, that Carlesimo is a prince of guy to be around. He's friendly, talkative, demonstrative with his affection. He has cried openly when involved in charity functions that include disabled children. He turns dining into an event, expanding his list of invitees -- assistant coaches, former assistants, former players, wives, children, grandchildren -- to the point that he often has to reserve whole restaurants to accommodate his party.

"There are some guys who can't do anything else but basketball, and I do not think P.J. is one of those guys," Baker said. "But I think he misses the {family} side of his life, he just doesn't know it yet. I see him with my kids and I realize he just doesn't know how much he misses that in his life. I think he'd be good at that."

Unlike some coaches, especially those from the college ranks, Carlesimo is almost never described as a father figure to his players. He is, according to several former players and assistants, far more like the much older big brother who rides you for every mistake, but does it because he cares. Hurley, for one, does not dispute the affection that Carlesimo has for his players. During the year Hurley spent away from basketball -- a year in which he felt it was frequently characterized, publicly, that Carlesimo had helped drive him out of the game -- Carlesimo called him every single day to offer support.

"He was one of my biggest supporters during that time," said Hurley, who has admitted he was so unhappy that he spent almost all his time holed up in his dorm room. "He called me, he supported me, he tried to give me confidence. A lot of people just don't understand the man. And, unfortunately, he's getting some bad things said about him. I know. I used to say the bad things. But I think a lot of the guys who are saying things, I think their perspective will change, as mine did, after you step away from the situation. Then they'll see. They'll see that he was just trying to make them the best player they can be, just like he did with me." CAPTION: In wake of Latrell Sprewell incident, Warriors' P.J. Carlesimo has had to defend his style. CAPTION: Rod Strickland, who had many confrontations with P.J. Carlesimo in Portland, says, "He's annoying. That's the bottom line." CAPTION: P.J. Carlesimo, former Seton Hall player Danny Hurley said, "did what was necessary to get whatever he could out of the people he had. He got the best from them."