On opening day of the Washington Bullets' training camp in Emmitsburg, Tom Hammonds took a frightening spill under the basket, writhing in pain as he clutched his right knee.
Bullets coach Wes Unseld, who had seen injuries knock the veteran forward out of his previous two camps, hovered over Hammonds, exhorting him to rise.
Hammonds slowly regained his feet and walked unaided to the dressing room, where the knee showed a slight swelling. But the next day he was back, running the court full tilt.
"Yes, it really scared me," said Hammonds. "I'd never hurt my knee before. I thought I was being haunted by a training-camp jinx. The first year, I had trouble with my quadriceps, and, last year, I had a strained tendon in my foot.
"But, this summer, I really worked hard on conditioning to make sure I wouldn't be held back by injuries. I stayed around Washington and worked with [assistant coach] Jeff Bzdelik and [strength coach] Dennis Householder."
The Bullets' No. 1 draft pick in 1989, the former Georgia Tech All-American still is trying to convince Unseld he can be a solid starter.
In the past, Unseld questioned the forward's work ethic, suggesting Hammonds, who spent his first two pro off-seasons at home in Crestview, Fla., might be more interested in fishing than playing basketball.
"It didn't bother me," Hammonds said. "That was just Wes' way of motivating me, getting me to concentrate more on my game."
Hammonds said his mind always was focused on basketball, but he was forced to make a difficult adjustment from a post-up center in college to small forward in the NBA, where quickness and creativity are top priorities.
Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said Hammonds was a power forward trapped in a small forward's body.
"Tommy is going through the same thing that Harvey Grant did last year," said general manager John Nash. "He's had to change his whole game from inside to outside, and it's been real difficult."
Adapting to his new position has been a slow and often frustrating experience for Hammonds, who, after 131 games as a professional, has a 5.3 scoring average. His figures as a starter in 11 games are a more respectable 11.1 points and 4.4 rebounds.
"I thought I played well over the last six weeks of last season," he said.
Getting more playing time after injuries sidelined forwards Bernard King and Mark Alarie, he averaged 11.0 points in the final nine games.
With King and Alarie expected to miss the first month of the coming season, Hammonds has a splendid opportunity to move up. And Bzdelik could sense his desire to improve his lot in his solitary workouts this summer.
"Tommy worked extremely hard trying to improve his skills," said Bzdelik, "particularly catching the ball and shooting it quickly. To be more effective, he also has to take the ball to the hole and score or get fouled quickly.
"It's been difficult for Tommy going against bigger guys like Kevin McHale, Karl Malone and Charles Oakley. He should be more comfortable at small forward, but it's a question of whether he can be good enough to be a big-time player. Harvey Grant grew up last year. Now, it's Tommy's turn to prove something."