An ancient Green Mountain rule of thumb holds that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. Which would mean that, by attracting 40 players to our open tryout camp last weekend, we just might have found a Vermont Frost Heave.
In fact, based on the effort and attitudes of the attendees, we could probably do a lot worse than fill our entire roster from among those who showed up -- guys like Leo Williams, a 39-year-old Air Force vet from southern New Hampshire; and Curtis Smith, a former Plattsburgh State player who spent some time last season with the ABA's Boston Frenzy; and Keven James, a 6-foot-7 student body president from Emmanuel College in Boston.
Coach Will Voigt told the assembled aspirants that he has been involved in scores of such camps, and that players inevitably cut themselves. Someone is late, or pouts, or dogs it. But that was hardly an issue last weekend. And while the ball was good, and the effort better, the most amazing thing might have been the absence of a single audible profanity over three days. Maybe we shouldn't be starting a basketball team, but a New England chapter of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Well, O.K. There was one exception. One camper, moping because unretracted side baskets at the Rice Memorial High gym prevented him from showcasing an apparently lethal jumper from deep in the corner, walked out in the middle of the Saturday session. When a Frost Heaves staffer caught up with him on his way to the parking lot to invite him to rejoin us, this malcontent said he'd have a cigarette and think about it.
As Coach V says, guys cut themselves.
Here, then, are notes from the weekend.
The tryout starts at 3 p.m., but shortly after 1 a camper is already in the gym: 6-6 Kerry Lyons, who haunts the rec leagues and parks of northern Vermont when not selling suits on Burlington's Church Street. While Lyons warms up, Williams, who played his college ball at Diablo Valley J.C., pulls a reversible jersey out of the pile: No. 39. He considers it, then says, "Might as well wear my age."
Coach V spends the better part of an hour installing a very simple offense for the weekend. It has two virtues: 1) Its simplicity is such that we'll get to see what players can do when allowed to make a lot of decisions on their own; and 2) If a guy can't run this stuff, he can't run anything.
I briefly address the campers. Tell them that basketball requires the constant balance of freedom and unity. Remind them that "freedom and unity" also happens to be the motto of the state of Vermont. Having booked measurements on everyone, assistant coach Wayne Lafley breaks the campers up into four teams. At least Wayne has the good sense to choose Spurs, Pacers, Nets and Nuggets, names of former ABA teams that, in today's NBA, still exist. (When Marty Blake took over Pittsburgh's quailing ABA franchise in the early Seventies, the team needed a nickname, so he called a friend at the Cincinnati Zoo. "I need the name of an animal that's ferocious but almost extinct," he said. Blake's buddy nominated a bird called the condor, and one season later the Pittsburgh Condors went the way of the most of the rest of the ABA.)