Duke University basketball center Mike Gminski, 17, sped through Masuk High School in Monroe, Conn., with a 40-point, 20-rebound, straight-A grade average and graduated as a junior.
Only six college coaches were told about his early graduation intentions, in order to avoid that inevitable recruting crush for a 6-foot-11, 240-pound student-athlete. Ironically, Duke was not one of them.
Gminski chose Duke, after visiting the scenic campus in November of his junior year. He then called Maryland, Davidson, South Carolina Notre Dame, North Carolina and William and Mary - the six schools originally priviledged to his intentions - to say his decision was final.
Duke happened upon Gminski at Maryland coach Lefty Driesell's summer camp prior to Gminski's junior year. NCAA rules forbid collegians to be counselors at their own coaches camps, but they can work at others. So it came to pass that Terry Chili, a Duke reserve, was working for Driesell and was, indeed, Gminski's counselor.
Gminski confided to Chili that he would graduate a year early, that he thought he was physically, academically and socially ready for college and intercollegiate athletics and that, really, he found his high-school competition boring, Gminski did not like sitting on the bench.
Bob Baroni, Gminski's high school coach, usually inactivated his star much of the second half of games. Masuk had a 62-5 record in Gminski's career and he often had his 40 points and 20 rebounds by early in the third quarter.
So, before his 18th birthday, Gminski earned a starting job in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He has averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds a game. In a year of the ACC rookie, Gminski is second in the league in rebounding and a leading candidate for rookie of the year.
On Saturday, he renews his acquiantances with Maryland in a 2 p.m. ACC game (WMAL-TV-7) at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Gminski said today he was fond of Maryland because Joe Harrington, a Maryland assistant coach, was the first college recruiter to contact him.
How Gminski planned his neat end run around the hordes of college recruiters and how he has fit into one of the most intense college recruiters and how he has fit into one of the most intense college leagues in America is testimony to a boy, in a man's body, who thinks like a man - a rare commodity for a college freshman.
"It was a case where my high school league was pretty weak and I decided what would help me improve as a player was to play college ball instead of another year in a weak league," Gminski said.
Even Duke Coach Bill Foster is somewhat surprised by Gminski's quick adaptability to the ACC. "I thought he would be this good, but not this early," Foster said.
Gminski finds ACC crowds and the league's intensity to his liking.
"I really didn't know what to expect. I've played with good college players and pros in high school. But this is more intense and more exciting basketball than I've ever played in my life. It's lived up to all my expectations."
A history major, Gminski earned a B average in his first semester here. His parents moved from Monroe to Raleigh, 30 miles away, to be near, but not too near, their son. Gminski's dad is an avid fan.
Gminski dislikes some of his nicknames, such as the Polish Paul Bunyan or the Polish Rifle. He prefers just plain Mike.
Bothered by bronchitis this week, Gminski hopes he can at least smile after Saturday's game. The Blue Devils are 1-4 since Olympic guard Tate Armstrong, the ACC's top scorer, broke his shooting wrist. What has hurt the Blue Devils most are turnovers - 99 in the four losses. Duke is now 12-7, 1-5 in the ACC.
Maryland, impressive in an 82-67 win over Virginia Wednesday, will be looking for some consistency, thus far not displayed in a 14-5 overall, 3-3 ACC season. Driesell indicated he will again go with his big front line of Mike Davis, Larry Gibson and Lawrence Boston; 6-5 Billy Bryant will be available with a brace on his left hand.