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Alonzo Mourning to Leave All but One College Coach Grieving : A 6-10 Virginia Prep Star Is Rated the Equal of Malone and Sampson at This Stage as a Basketball Prospect

May 17, 1987|MICHAEL WILBON | The Washington Post

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — From the state that has produced some of the finest big men in the history of basketball, yet another tall talent has emerged as the talk of the college-basketball world. Move over, Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson and J. R. Reid, here comes Alonzo Mourning, a 6-foot-10 senior-to-be who is being described by some prominent college coaches as the best high-school player they've ever seen.

Former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell, who began recruiting Mourning when the player was in ninth grade, said, "The kid would have been first-team all-ACC last year as a junior in high school."

Driesell does get a little excited about young phenoms, and he has always said that Malone (Petersburg High, 1974), who had signed a letter of intent to attend Maryland before deciding to turn professional, was the best he ever saw. Until now.

Last week, Driesell said of Mourning, "He's probably as good a high school player as Moses. . . . Actually, he might even be better than Moses. He shoots outside, he blocks shots, he rebounds, he gets after it, he never loafs.

"Is he as good as Ralph? Oh, heck, he's further along than Ralph was. I'm telling you, he might be better than Moses!"

Driesell is by no means out on a limb on this one. Tom Young, head coach at Old Dominion (in nearby Norfolk), said, "Mourning is the best I've seen; you can go all the way back to (Lew) Alcindor. I have absolutely no reservations at all in saying he's the best I've ever seen."

Last season, Mourning averaged 21.8 points, 11 rebounds and 9.6 blocked shots a game for Indian River High School. Those who have seen him play say his defensive game is similar to that of one of his idols, Patrick Ewing; that he is a consummate shot blocker, a relentless presence underneath and one who runs the court full speed from opening tip to final buzzer.

Offensively, it is said he has a nice shooting touch from the 12-foot range and that he is more polished than Sampson and Malone at a similar stage in their careers.

Driesell says that, ultimately, Mourning's natural position may be forward, not center.

Bob Chuey, coach of the Hayfield High team that lost to Indian River in the state championship semifinal round, was a college assistant coach at Texas Christian University during the Sampson-Ewing years.

"I think he'll surpass all of the people from the previous generation," Chuey said. "He's going to be an (Abdul-Jabbar). He'll fulfill every bit of his potential."

Indian River boys basketball coach Bill Lassiter started a conversation one afternoon by saying, "I am not a basketball expert."

He spends very little time projecting how good a basketball player Mourning may become, and he may also be just what Mourning, the product of a foster home, needs. Mourning does not like to talk about his personal life.

Fortunately for Mourning and his family, Lassiter is there to relieve many of the expected basketball pressures. The coach is an especially insightful man who injured a knee early in his career as a point guard at Kentucky State, then learned the game by following around his college coaches.

Back when Mourning was a 6-foot-4 seventh-grader, Lassiter started preparing himself for handling the recruiting onslaught. Recruiters are already comparing the way Lassiter handled Mourning with Mike Jarvis' managing of Patrick Ewing when Ewing was a senior.

Lassiter says he is intent on consulting with Mourning on every request. He also is trying to find a balance between Mourning's need to make an independent decision with his getting enough information to make a well-informed choice of college.

Old Dominion's Young is one of several coaches who said Lassiter, although protective, has been fair in his dealings with everyone.

Said Young, "I think anybody who goes around the rules and tries to go back-door will be making a major mistake. The young man needs protection from what could get to be a chaotic situation."

Lassiter said, "I hope that if I make a mistake, it won't be so detrimental that we can't rebound from it. I don't want this recruiting thing becoming just a parade that leads to a circus. I'm from the country--Gates County, North Carolina--and I guess I'm old fashioned, but I don't believe you reap a bountiful harvest by rushing things."

So, Lassiter established his guidelines. College coaches can call Mourning on Monday and Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m. Coaches can call or visit Lassiter at home from 8 to 10 any night of the week but cannot call Mourning at home.

Mourning, who has been playing organized or playground ball most of his life, said he is still considering 14 schools: Old Dominion, Norfolk State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, Maryland, Georgetown, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Kansas, UCLA, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Louisville.

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