Philippi in August hardly compares with the dog days of summer in the Deep South. But temperatures can spike into the high eighties, and the last place one would want to stand for any extended period on these days is at center court of the nearly forty-year-old Rex Pyles Arena. “The Home of the Battlers” has never had air-conditioning, and the only option to ease the stuffy, attic-like pall that fills the facility is to prop open every door and window—and pray the half dozen rotary ceiling fans can manage to create a slight breeze.
With August winding down and the 2004 fall semester now in session, Greg Zimmerman stood in blue shorts and a white T-shirt at center court in the Rex Pyles Coliseum at around three in the afternoon. Sweat trickled down both sides of his red, overheated face as he instructed four of his players during a preseason workout to brush up on the fundamentals of the game. Today’s subject: The fine art of catching and shooting the basketball.
“Don’t lower the ball to your waist before you shoot,” he scolded junior point guard Derrick Bell, whose engaging smile clashes with the tattoos running down his forearms. “Keep the ball chest high when you catch it and go straight up into the air in one motion, like this.” Zimmerman hoisted a slightly stiff but fundamentally sound twenty-footer that skidded over the front rim and found the bottom of the net.
“Alright, go ahead,” he ordered Bell, and then spotted a familiar face passing along the upper level of the gymnasium. Zimmerman called out, “Hey, you seen Daron?”
“I saw him a couple of hours ago up in Kincaid,” a voice echoed from above, referring to one of the college dormitories. Having been laid off from the Builder’s Center, where he had worked for two years, assistant coach Daron Washington had recently accepted the $20,000-per-year position of assistant director of campus life. Translation: Washington was the new resident’s director of the dormitories, AKA the guy who made sure the kids behaved. Written into the job description was the stipulation that Washington also serve as assistant basketball coach, which technically