It was not easy. Gindlesberger put in 31� hours a week on football. Despite not having played a single significant down, he was elected one of the Raiders' four captains by his teammates just before his senior year—a measure, says coach Larry Kehres, "of his character, not his performance." The next season, Gindlesberger performed.
At Hilton Head, he leans over a balcony, looking far out into the ocean blue, and says softly, "If I am happy in this life, that will be plenty good enough for me. There's always a bright side to everything. That's why I love to whistle." And he whistles away, delighted to anticipate poring over financial statements instead of fretting over third-down audibles.
—DOUGLAS S. LOONEY
Three years ago, when Derek Caracciolo was about 50 games into his athletic scholarship, he began to think that his future probably wasn't in pro basketball. The sophomore swing-man was a skinny 6'8" and starting every game for the Bisons, but he was averaging only six points and five rebounds. At 23, he was also the oldest player on the team.
"I thought I had the skills and the ability to make the NBA," says Caracciolo, "but I saw my limitations, too. Very few ever get there." He was probably right. The only organization that drafts players who average six points and five rebounds is the Army.
Caracciolo, in fact, was in the Air Force when he figured out that a college education is a pretty good thing. As a 17-year-old airman, he watched 22-year-old Academy grads who had entered the service as second lieutenants give orders to 50-year-old master sergeants. "Those young brats had been having a ball in college," he observed, "yet the minute they joined the Air Force, they instantly got put in a position of authority." A degree, Caracciolo decided, was an invitation to manipulate the system.
Caracciolo was born in Trinidad and Tobago, moved to Newark when he was 14 and graduated from Vailsburg High at 16. He followed his brother Gregory into the Air Force six months later, and worked mostly as a mental-health counselor in a drug and alcohol unit at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Md.
He played lots of basketball in his off-time and became good enough so that toward the end of his four years in the Air Force he was scouted by colleges. Georgetown offered him a scholarship but not a chance to start. Howard offered him both. Howard was also where Eric Williams, the first chief minister of Trinidad and Tobago, had taught social and political science. So, without even seeing the Washington campus, Caracciolo signed a letter of intent. "I was fascinated by the idea that athletics could pay for my whole education," he says.
On May 9, Caracciolo became the first of the five players who joined the team in 1982 to graduate. Two others have dropped out, two are still in school. "The first couple of years of college spoil an athlete," Caracciolo says. "Most things are handed to you. You're so pampered you lose focus of all the advantages you have been given. Then reality sinks in with grades and stuff, and it hits you that you haven't held up your part of the bargain. That's when athletes become despondent and quit."
Caracciolo credits Air Force discipline with helping him to stick it out. "It taught me to prioritize," he says. He was punctual and always handed in his assignments on time. In fact, in his first two years at Howard he didn't miss a class. Perfect attendance was part of Caracciolo's strategy to get as much out of college as possible. "Psychologically, it works on the instructor," he confides. "He sees you have the desire to get out of bed and go to class and gives you the benefit of the doubt when grading time comes around." He took lots of notes, too. "Instructors like you to give back what they said," he explains. "It shows you're paying attention. It feeds their egos. They think, Hey, there's a guy quoting me! It feels pretty good."