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On his walk back to the park Rodney is filled with the magnitude of his power. "I changed the guy's life. It's that simple. Think if he'd gone to a park a mile away. Next year coaches from everywhere will be all over begging for players. I'll outfit the whole ghetto in T shirts...."
When Rodney arrives at the park, however, a sobering vision is there. Jim Dutcher, the assistant coach at Michigan, stands nervously by the swings. He is none too happy about Lionel Worrell, one of the school's future hopes who has dropped out and, following Rodney's advice, is about to transfer to Oral Roberts. As far as the Michigan people knew, Lionel had left school in the spring with no animosity and no intention of transferring. Something strange has happened since Worrell left, Dutcher suspects.
"Rodney," says the coach with a dark, meaningful look, "I can't believe he didn't change his mind this summer. I don't know who's to blame, but I'll tell you, Lionel belongs at Michigan. He had about as good a freshman year as anyone could have—sixth man on a Big Ten championship team, good grades, good student. Even after getting in at 2 a.m. from road trips, he'd make his 8 o'clock classes."
Dutcher looks at Rodney, who paces back and forth. "O.K., he feels he should have played more," continues the coach. "Hell, Steve Grote, the kid he played behind, made second team All-Conference, he had three 22-plus games, against Indiana he had 11 rebounds. Rodney, Grote's good. It's not that he's white. He's gonna be a pro, I mean there were days when he beat the hell out of Worrell."
The coach halts abruptly, apparently fearing he has laid it on too thick. "Don't get me wrong, Lionel figures big in our plans. He keeps talking about the Notre Dame game when Grote didn't play well. O.K., maybe he should have seen more action that game. It's over. This is a new year, I don't know who's going to start. A coach isn't going to hurt himself, is he?"
Rodney and Dutcher argue about who has been influencing Lionel. "Coach, I'll tell you straight," says Rodney. "He came to me and he said he was absolutely not going back to Michigan. Absolutely. So I helped him find alternatives."
"Well, Rodney," says Dutcher, "this is the freshman syndrome, never being satisfied. Transferring schools is just transferring problems."
In the midst of their debate Lionel himself rides a bicycle into the park. He is wearing the same easy smile he always does. Dutcher now is plainly distraught. He shakes hands, and Lionel's fingers nearly reach the coach's wrist.
"Lionel, what about my family, my job?" he says in a weak attempt at humor, his smile disintegrating almost immediately. "You just made us the fifth best team in the conference."
Lionel says that he's thought about the whole affair for a long time. "See, coach, I like you, but Johnny Orr and I don't see eye to eye. It might be different if you was head coach. Oral Roberts is a better situation. I'm looking to the future."