EMMITSBURG -- We are ready for the worst. People who had been through it before said it would be tough. Grueling. We smile, innocently. And after the first session of Wes Unseld's/Gatorade Fantasy Camp, we pooh-pooh, "Piece of cake!"
THE ORDEAL: The 35 campers -- 33 men and two women -- ardivided into four teams as Unseld, the Washington Bullets coach, thanks all for signing up, explaining, "I have to thank you, because I don't have any idea why anybody would want to do this."
No sooner is the welcoming address over when we are stretching and knocking off two laps around Knott Arena on the Mount St. Mary's campus. We shoot (occasionally even successfully). And it's off to lunch (SOS).
Finally, instruction commences. "It's the same offense we used in high school," said Mike Seldan, who once played for Gonzaga High and Catholic University. "And I still don't get it."
Bullets assistant coach Bill Blair is patient, as he instructs hiwould-be players to go hard and set picks on imaginary defenders. Someone (no names, please) complains things still aren't tough enough.
Then the atmosphere changes: During warmup drills, I hear a spy telling Unseld that I was the one saying it's too easy. "Parris Island turns out to be Fantasy Island," I am quoted as saying. It appeared I might be in for it.
"You've been misquoted?" Unseld roars, not unaware of the juxtaposition.
The intensity picks up. So does the pain. But we take it and actually like it. Run, run, run. Jump, jump, jump. Bend knees. Leg strength diminishes rapidly.
Now we're learning to pass. Next comes dribbling. Now it's teadrills, bouncing the ball the length of the court and touching the far wall. I break a fingernail and gladly give up the ball to a teammate.
Unseld bellows, "That's why women should be home working in the kitchen having babies!" Later he says he wasn't serious, so I cancel the call to the National Organization for Women.
THE INJURY: The games begin and I learn early that basketbalis a contact sport. These guys push, shove, hack and set vicious picks. And that's before they break the huddle.
I learn this when, while traipsing along guarding my man, I run into one of Coach Blair's picks and, kaboom, I land flat on my rear. Worse, Brad Landseadel lands on top of me. Fortunately, he weighs only 175 pounds. That's mild compared with my next shift when I will become the camp's first casualty.
Atop trainer John Lally's table I am the recipient of the firspedicure of my life. It seems I have Pervis Ellison's feet: Blisters, plus toenails that bruise easily.
"You're going to lose both [big toe] nails," said Lally after some cretin (Alan Van Dervort) had stomped my tootsies. Big Al goes about 210. The pain is blinding. Unseld surveys the scene and I can all but hear him muttering the barefoot, pregnant and kitchen remark.
THE PLAYERS: Larry Gogolick is a veteran of these romps and a hoops nut. The 45-year-old diamond importer shows how serious his affliction is by flying in from Cleveland to take part.
"I can't believe there are only 35 people here," he says. "You'think, even if it were people just in and around Maryland, there would be more than that. I had so much fun last year, I bought their mini-season ticket package of six games and donated it to their inner city program." Larry majors in sing-alongs in the wee hours.
Mike Cooke, 31, is a field manager for Gatorade who lives in Cockeysville. He is a good guy in that he encourages everyone. He is also the guy who explains Unseld's jokes to me, which makes him invaluable. He is such a team player, he even joins me in the klutz parade, spraining an ankle.
My roommate is Loretta Young. Not that Loretta Young. She is 36-year-old word processor from Washington, and this is her third fantasy camp. Her camp nickname is "Hacker," and she complains, "I don't know why they call me that. I just play tough defense. You're supposed to play tough defense."
Loretta, who wears blue sneakers and spends considerable timwith various parts wrapped in two heating pads, continues, "You have to love this sport to put yourself through this. I don't understand why other women don't come. I was the only woman the first year. Last year there was another one and this year there are two of us again."
Andre Gray-Mendes favors the shortest short shorts this side opublic scandal. A veteran of Portugal's National Team, his idea of tough defense is to let out blood-curdling screams and wave his arms no matter what the game situation. He also plays a classic point guard, but became ill when Unseld teased him into donning standard basketball shorts.
Robert Stroud, 55, ends up being called "Grandpa" for obvious reasons. He had an operation for a hernia May 6, but wasn't about to be denied, working out three times a week during June to be ready.
"I'm almost twice as old as everyone else in this camp and I'm able to stay up with them in games. It surprises me but makes me feel good, too," he says.