But can I scrimmage, coach? Can I play?
"You don't go in until a coach tells you to," he said. "You can learn a lot on the sidelines, if you pay attention."
During the rest of the season, I often rode my bike to practice, pedaling furiously into the fierce winds that blew off Lake Michigan and babbling to myself like a madman to release my frustration. Inevitably I would start to think of foul shots. At the end of practice, every player shot a free throw. A miss meant a wind sprint for everyone. I always shot last, and whenever I stepped to the line, the other players would stare at me, as they silently demanded that I make the shot. I was angry with my teammates for thinking I would miss, and I was angry with Falk for not letting me play. At least I gained a reputation for accuracy at the line.
The insults and humiliation continued to build. I was told I could not be in the team photo. I wasn't even in the press guide. John Peterson, a graduate assistant who had received a full ride after walking on his freshman year, put things pretty plainly. "If the other players don't accept you, you're out of here," he said. "That goes for anybody, scholarship or not. What you've got to do is stand up and cheer all the time during the games. That's what your job is, and that's what Coach Falk is looking for."
I cheered for a while, but the guys who sat with me on the bench told me to knock off the rah-rah stuff, so I stopped. I did continue to applaud some players. One was Jeff Grose, who had been Indiana's Mr. Basketball in 1985. He always greeted me with a huge grin and his rich Indiana drawl: "Rooowe!"
On the other hand, I had a tough time cheering for 6'7", 220-pound Rocky Saviano. He threw a lot of elbows. During one workout I ran to grab a rebound and he snarled, "If you block me out, Rowe I'll kill ya." I was so startled I couldn't reply. If anything, Saviano's threat made me more determined, but my determination didn't make his elbows an) less sharp.
I still hoped to play in the daily scrimmages, although Falk's whistle signaling the end of drills continued to be my cue to head for the sideline. Falk would stand on the far side of the court, and I positioned myself directly opposite him so that he could see me at all times. Bu he said nothing.
After five weeks of practice, the sea son began. Our first game was at home against Illinois Wesleyan. When we held a 20-point lead late in the second half, I counted each tick of the clock with growing impatience. Milan Petrovic, my seatmate at the end of the bench, disappeared onto the floor with three minutes remaining. A minute later, Falk walked down to the end of the bench and knelt in front of me. "Go in for Joe," he said quietly.
The game crawled up and down the court as I waited at the scorer's table. Then, finally, the horn. "Into the game for the Wildcats—Number 12, Chip Rowe!" The pep band rose to cheer.
The clock read 1:07. That would be my longest appearance in a game all season. I touched the ball only once, and that was to throw it inbounds to Terry Buford so he could dribble down the floor and launch one. Nonetheless, getting to play felt fine.