SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Tall and gray-haired, he walks onto the basketball court with a little limp, a cough. Long, pale legs jut from his red shorts. He looks his 45 years among University of Notre Dame undergraduates ready to play full court.
But when the game begins, he suddenly seems younger. He's forward on his toes as he dribbles across midcourt, shoulders slightly hunched. He whips the ball ahead, takes a return pass and--yes--hits nothing but net.
"Good shot, Monk."
Monk Malloy always could shoot. He once was the most feared long-range shooter in Washington, D.C., and a backcourt ace of the Archbishop Carroll High School team that won 55 straight games in 1958-60 and was ranked No. 1 in America.
He was known as "the mayor of Turkey Thicket," because no one could get into the games on the playground without his approval. Once a mayor, he's about to become a president.
On July 1, the priest with a nickname as enduring as his outside jump shot will succeed Father Theodore M. Hesburgh as president of Notre Dame. He will move into the top job from his position as associate provost, the No. 2 academic officer at the university. The wonder of it: a Rockne-type legend with a Rushmore face giving way after 35 years to one of the boys of Sorin Hall? A gym rat?
Monk Malloy had to laugh. "The development people here, they had this big meeting. They said, 'Well, we just can't keep calling him Monk.' "
Rare as it is for students to know a priest and teacher so informally--not even his 78-year-old mother calls him by his given name, Edward, and nieces and nephews know him as Uncle Monk--it might be even more remarkable that undergraduates regularly can play pickup basketball with their university president, even block him off the boards with an elbow to the ribs if need be. President or not, he intends to keep his room in Sorin and maintain the ritual known as "Monk hoops" two nights a week, 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Knowing that he often shoots in these games from just across midcourt--"He never gave up the ball," recalled Carroll High teammate Georgetown's John Thompson--defenders pick him up quickly and play him close. But he twists counterclockwise, rising just above the double-teaming and hits again from the top of the key. He makes five straight.
A few minutes later, the fifth and final game ends. Perspiring but not breathing hard, the priest collects the basketballs and stuffs them into a white duffel bag, which he throws over his shoulder. Then he snaps off the gymnasium lights.
Students follow him on a path through woods. The talk is of coming exams, the only other sound that of ducks on twin lakes. It's cold, the air heavy with mist. Fog and clouds roll past the lighted Golden Dome. Inside Sorin, it's warm, the light soft like a church.
"See you, Monk."
The nickname came first, then the legend of Monk Malloy.
He wasn't called Monk because he wore a crew cut as a teen-ager, or because almost everyone knew he'd be a cleric. Rather, as a youngster in grade school, he called a neighborhood friend Bunk. Bunk came up with a name that rhymed with Bunk and was alliterative with Malloy. When Malloy went to Carroll, the nickname stuck.
At Carroll, something magical, if not mystical, happened. Five perfectly complementary basketball players were united to form probably the country's first modern-era schoolboy power:
--The 6-foot 9-inch, 260-pound Tom Hoover, as tough as a heavyweight prizefighter but personable, a ferocious rebounder and later a New York Knick.
"There was a guy from our neighborhood--the neighborhood bully," Malloy said. "He never bothered me much, but he challenged Hoover after a football game at D.C. Stadium, yelled at him, gave him an unpleasant sign. Tom still had on all his equipment. As a football player, Tom was kind of the William Perry of his day. With one punch, Tom decked him.
"One day, Tom had been interviewed, or something, and had on a suit coat and tie and was in the neighborhood around Turkey Thicket and saw me playing basketball and came over to say hello.
"All of a sudden, I see the bully coming up. 'You want to take me on now when you don't have any equipment on?' he says to Tom. Tom gives me his jacket and his tie and with five punches just completely mauls him. Finally, the kid gets up and shakes Tom's hand and says, 'You beat me fair and square,' and off he went.
"Wilt Chamberlain (a later acquaintance) was quoted as saying that Hoover was the toughest guy, physically, he ever played against."
Not long ago, Hoover, who still lives in New York and manages rock performers, was passing through Chicago and bought a newspaper in the airport. There it was: Monk, to Hoover a "beautiful guy" and "soul" of the Carroll team, was going to be Notre Dame president.
"Oh my God!" Hoover recalled exclaiming to a friend. "I went to school with him. I played basketball with him."
To which his colleague, James (D Train) Williams, replied, "Will that get you to heaven any quicker?"