GREENBURGH, N.Y., Sept. 30 - The intense instruction, the sprints, the post battles with his fellow rookie Maciej Lampe, these were the easy parts of training camp for Mike Sweetney, the Knicks' first-round draft pick.
Later, after the day's second practice, Sweetney knew he would have to return alone to his apartment. There, he would no longer have basketball to keep him company.
Sweetney's thoughts would turn to his father, Samuel, who died 10 days ago of a heart attack at age 52.
"I go home to myself, and there's nothing but memories," Sweetney said Tuesday. "It hurts. It hurts a lot. I can't pick up the phone and call him."
Instead, Sweetney draws strength from his father's teachings. Amid the pressures of being the ninth overall pick in a city whose fans are restless after two losing seasons, Sweetney, only 20, is coping with loss by redoubling his dedication.
"I'm doing what my dad wants me to do," said Sweetney, a 6-foot-8 power forward who left Georgetown after his junior season. "He would want me to prepare, to work hard. I don't want to let him down. I know he's watching me. I just want to keep my intensity high and never slack off."
But with veterans not reporting until Friday, one far more important question than projected playing time for Sweetney or Lampe hung over Knicks camp: the status of Antonio McDyess and Allan Houston.
McDyess missed last season with a fractured kneecap, rehabilitated from two operations. General Manager Scott Layden plans to speak late Wednesday with the team's doctor, Norman Scott, for an update on his condition. Layden will discuss McDyess on Thursday.
Houston will not be participating fully in practice as he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery.
"He's on his own pace," Coach Don Chaney said, adding that Houston would be ready for the season opener Oct. 29. "He's going to do his shooting and his footwork. When he's ready, he'll play."
That Chaney was wearing a thick cast on his right wrist after surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome seemed a bad joke for a team grappling with injuries, with Othella Harrington sidelined for another two to six weeks with a sprained knee.
Sweetney had an uneven summer league, providing inside presence but needing to work on his defense. "With him, what you see is what you get: a guy who listens, a guy who works hard, a guy who competes," Chaney said. "It's kind of hard to isolate any one thing because he has a lot to learn."
Sweetney is not fixated on his role. "I have no idea, I'm just waiting for my opportunity," he said.
His college and high school coaches were saddened by the death of his father and hoped it would not interrupt his opportunity.
"It's a real tough time for him; his father was very close to him," said his Oxon Hill high school coach, Bill Lanier, who visited Sweetney in his home last week. "His father believed in him, made him understand that he is a special player."
Sweetney's older brother, Sam, 26, called him on his cellphone Sunday during the first day of the N.B.A.'s rookie transition program to give him the news. "You're not supposed to answer it," Sweetney said. "But something told me to answer the call."
He left for Maryland. Within two days, he was at the Georgetown gym, working out.
"At my house, there was a lot of people over there, just crying and everything," he said. "I had to get away, work out and get my head straight."
Georgetown Coach Craig Esherick, used to seeing Sweetney work out with his fellow alumni Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Harrington, gave him space.
"I pushed him and I pushed him for three years, and he responded to that - and that's more a credit to his dad and mother," Esherick said. "His dad was not a man of many words, and I can see a lot of his dad's influence on Mike."
Samuel Sweetney worked for 30 years at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington as a superintendent in the civil engineering department. He was honored on the base and then in a memorial service Saturday. Close to 300 people attended, Lanier said.
"My dad taught me life, how to be strong, how to be a man," Sweetney said. "He didn't have to say too much to me. All I wanted to do was follow in his footsteps, just watch what he did."
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