Yeah, something's up this week.

The N.C. A&T Aggies practiced at 6 instead of 5. That's 6 p.m. rather than 5 a.m., but coach Jerry Eaves isn't going soft. Academia is just getting its licks in."It made it a long week to study all day, go to practice and then go right back to studying, pretty much a full schedule," said Walter Booth, a sophomore guard whose Aggies face Campbell at 4 p.m. today at the Corbett Center. "It feels good to get it over with and out of the way."

Depending on the school, this week or next represents one of the great student-athlete challenges: the intermingling of finals and free throws. The convergence of exam schedules and impending games turns basketball players and coaches into gymnasts.

"They have to balance (work) with who they're playing the next day and with working out and staying in shape," said Jane Caldwell, director of academic counseling services for Wake Forest athletics. "The coaches do a good job helping me out by giving them a break from practice. On those days, I concentrate lots of study-hall hours for them."

The schedules vary from school to school. At the toughest end of the spectrum in the ACC - at least this year - sits Miami, which is in exams this week but played a game at Florida International on Tuesday.

"When I took over the job," said Frank Haith, hired as the Hurricanes' coach in April, "I didn't have a lot of options. We didn't have a lot of games on the schedule, and we had to do what we could to get it done. I'd love to do nothing during this week."

The consolation was that this week's game was just across town.

Two years ago, UNCG's Fran McCaffery admitted he overscheduled his team, which resulted in an exam-week game with Elon. This year, the Spartans get 12 days off for finals.

"Now, it makes more sense," McCaffery said. "And so far, it is being reflected in the academic performance of our players."

At Wake and several other schools, there's a policy forbidding the scheduling of games while exams are in session.

Practice - both quality and quantity - is left to the coaches.

Attendance at UNCG's practices is optional this week.

At N.C. State, coach Herb Sendek wants everybody there, but he'll tweak the start and finish times to accommodate study halls and tests.

Wake had two entirely free days and just resumed work in earnest in advance of Monday's game at Temple (ESPN2).

"When in doubt, back off," coach Skip Prosser said.

Players can mitigate the stress of this week through planning. This is where the laptop computer comes in handy.

All Wake Forest students receive laptops as part of their tuition-and-fees package upon enrollment, and the machines are equipped with wireless-Internet accessibility.

So when the Demon Deacons were in Champaign, Ill., last week, three of them spent down time researching a 16-page paper that serves as their final exam in a communications class. Caldwell and Tim Fuller, Wake's director of basketball operations, ensure the team only stays in hotels with wireless access.

"When you get older, the exam schedule gets easier," junior center Chris Ellis said. "I know (freshman) Cameron Stanley is in a bind now with a paper and three or four exams, sometimes two in one day. But it's nothing we can't get through."

For some students, the end-of-semester crunch doesn't include exams, but still is stressful. Jennifer Johnson, a senior guard at Wake majoring in education, has had to rush to complete a Web site about the use of technology in schools.

"I've been working on that since - what is this month? - since March," she said. "I've had to add things to it progressively with each class."

While some teams are sweating it out, others get going next week. And a couple of them will take tests while preparing for their first ACC games of the season. Maryland plays host to Florida State on Sunday, Dec. 19.

"It's a problem, but what do you do?" Maryland coach Gary Williams rationalized. "You try to find the time where you can get the most players at practice."

The vagaries of the calendar have occasionally forced the ACC to schedule league games in December, and the expansion to 11 teams this season and 12 next may make that an annual, inevitable trend.

\ Contact Rob Daniels at 373-7028 or

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