Scoogy runs the boys in teams of five. Though he doesn't say which is the first team and which the second and third and fourth, the kids can tell. On one of his first days out, Tion is asked to replace Glenn Gray, the 6'3" center who played varsity last season, on the first team. "Tion, we'll give you a break," says Scoogy. "This'll be interesting. You ought to be dead by the time you run up and down the court twice."
Tion plays hard, and well, for about 10 minutes. Then he poops out. "What, hurt again?" Scoogy asks scornfully as Tion shuffles upcourt. Tion says nothing. Scoogy motions for someone to replace him. Tion skulks off the court and eases himself to the floor, grimacing as he slowly stretches his long, slender legs. "My hip," he says. "I had it X-rayed. Doctor said there's no damage. But it hurts."
When Tion came out for intramurals last season, he left in the middle of the first session. Just walked off the court and out of the gym. "I had a problem with the coach," he says. "I can't stand to have nobody fussin' at me."
When Eric screws up, he balls his fists at his cheeks and mouths a silent scream. He doesn't get in that often, and he plays timidly. "I do better when I'm just playing pickup, you know, not running all these plays," he says. "When I get out here with these guys, I tense up."
Eric has the kind of size Scoogy needs. He's 6'2", and he's solid enough to stand his ground under the boards, but he's got flat feet and moves like a caricature of the thick-legged white guy. As a sophomore Eric made the junior varsity under Coatesville's longtime coach, Ross Kershey. But last season, when Kershey retired and Scoogy took over, Eric was cut. He thinks Scoogy has already dealt him out this year, too. "You can tell by the way coaches talk to you," Eric says, "and by the players they like to put into certain situations. They always leave me out. I know that I'm not as fast as these guys."
Eric probably wouldn't have come out if he hadn't received a letter from a Division III college recruiter who saw him in action last summer at a basketball camp. The letter convinced Eric that he could play, even though he didn't grow up breathing basketball on the Coatesville playgrounds. He's grimly determined. What he lacks in gifts he tries to make up for in heart.
"I hate this part of coaching," Scoogy says. "No, don't say hate. I don't like to use that word. There's too much of that in the world already. Say I extremely dislike this part of coaching."
Scoogy is off to one side of the gym with jayvee coach Nick Guarente, taking a break from all his strutting and hollering. His long legs are stretched flat on the floor before him, his big feet drooping to the side. In a few weeks he will have surgery for a ruptured disk between two cervical vertebrae, but the real pain in his neck right now is the cutting he must do.
Last season he got lucky. He had forward-center Richard (Rip) Hamilton, a player with talent and determination. Rip was one in a million, and he led Coatesville to a 26-4 record. He's now a freshman at Connecticut, where he's starting at guard-forward. This season Scoogy has a group of boys who...well, let's just say state championship doesn't spring to mind. At one extreme are the gifted who won't work; at the other, the inept who will walk through walls. Scoogy will keep 12 who fall in between and make them run, run, run. The rest must go.
Last year Scoogy cut a big player with megadreams and slow feet. Scoogy put up the cut list at 7:15 a.m., and the kid's parents were at his office before noon. "It was one of those love-is-blind situations," says Nick. "In that case, stone blind."