"John Duren has a much better chance of playing in the NBA than he does of making All-America ."
Jonh Thompson, Georgetown coach
From his out-of-fashion hightop sneakers to his old-fashioned bounce passe, Georgetown guard John (Ba Ba) Duren embodies those fundamental basketball virtues that many praise but few even understand.
In an era of gifted but often unruly players, duren is the rugged throwback who says, "Dunking is a waste of my energy. I'd rather save my strength to dive on a loose ball."
Among scouts, coaches and an entire subculture of gym rats, Duren's name brings total respect. Among casual fans, it often brings a puzzled, "Who's he?"
By nature, GU Coach John Thompson fusses and frets. Paying an unreserved compliment causes him pain. Usually, he praises his players after they graduate. But not Duren.
"John Duren is the ideal," Thompson says. "He can spoil a coach in hurry.
"His judgment in the heat of play is like a coach's going back over game films in slow motion. He's what I call a totally honest player. He gives everything every minute. H's so coachable it hurts my feelings when I have to criticize him.
"John may not be selfish enough to be an All-America. But I'll be shocked if he isn't a pro," said the former All-America and pro. "I can't think of one thing on a basketball floor the he can't do."
"The guys who pick the All-America teams come to the games to cheer. The guys (scouts) who pick the future pros come to watch."
Basketball often seems to be a sort of Chinese box, which, when opened, reveals yet another box inside. To those who watch for the game's innermost boxes of understanding, Duren is a revelation in constant motion.
"No one gets to use all his skills all the time," says Duren, a junior whose 6-foot-3, 195-pound body makes him appear to have a brighter future in the NFL than in the NBA.
"Even if you can dribble behind your back five times, it doesn't do you any good to use it. Winners are the ones who simplify the game. Those that can limit their abilities and play in a team context... they're the great ones."
Anybody can talk an unselfish game; Duren plays one.
Last year he was most valuable player in the ECAC Holiday Festival. When senior teammate Derrick Jackson became ill, Duren, scored 111 points in five postseason tournament games. He was secondhigh scorer in the NIT.
To top the season, he became GU's first underclassman to make honorable mention All-America. thanks to his 16.7 scoring average and 118 assists.
This season, with Jackson gone, Curen easily could have continued that scoring pace. As point guard, the ball was his. Instead, Duren has virtually scrapped his All-America chances by taking fewer than 10 shots a game (for a 12.4 point average) so that a freshman, Fric Floyd, can do what he does best -- shoot.
"Sleepy Floyd can only score as much as John lets him score," says Thompson. "John's a great scorer... he could get 30 a game. But he's being totally generous, letting a young guy get the points and the glory."
To do anything else, Duren would have to turn his personality inside out.
"Basically, I'm out there to win. Nothing else, that star attitude stuff, matters.
"I take pride in controlling the game. Lots of guards can do it with the ball. I think I can do it without the ball by my leadership, by making my personality part of the game."
When Duren watches the NBA stars, "I watch how they carry themselves... how they get the pride and desire they have across to their teammates.
"By the time you get to a major college, and probably even more with the dudes in the pros, everybody can run and jump and shoot. All the difference in 'ball' is in the mind."
Though his scoring average is down, this is probably Duren's best year. His shooting percentages are well up -- 50 percent from the floor, 86 percent from the foul line. In the last three games, since GU switched to full-time pressing and fast breaking, Duren has been in heaven -- averaging 17 points, nine assists and shooting better than 60 percent.
"That's my game," says Duren. "I can really get into that pressure defense when five dudes are working together as hard as they can. And I love the fast break... everybody congratulating each other for a good pass... pointing to each other"
Duren in the press or leading a fast break is a pure athlete who plays under a marvelous wild control.
"Running, jumping, screaming in their faces, just forcing them to cough it up... like on sheer will power," says Duren joyfully, his ever-moving hands slapping against his blue jeans at the thought. "That's the greatest."
"You get 'em trapped down in the corner next to your bench and the guys are rattling 'em up..." says Duren, snapping his fingers three times to symbolize three rapid turnovers. "Man, that's the 'What It Is.'"
Duren, part of Dunbar High's 1975-76 unbeaten powerhouse, learned that love of fast-paced chaos from sincegraduated Mike Riley, a tine defensive magician.
"He'd work me over in practice all the time," says Duren, who constantly praises his teammates. "I'd go to sleep dreaming of Riley. I'd wake up in the morning and expect him to be outside my door, readying to start pressin' me."
On the fast break, Duren has a Bob Cousy look: no surprise, since Duren studies old Cousy game films.
"I'm a one-man crusade to bring back the bounce pass," kids Duren. "I love to give it up... make everybody happy. Nobody's gonna hustle to fill a lane if you won't give it to 'em. A playmaker's got to have playmates."
Thompson maryels at his prodigy, who says, "I think a coach should keep you in your place."
"Ba Ba's built like a horse," says Thompson, "but he doesn't lead by intimidation or buffaloing. He leads with character. I didn't teach him that; he got that from home."
To those who know no better, Duren is the solid but unspectacular Hoya point guard who looks like he belongs on the All-Body team. He's the one who always seems to get lucky at the crucial moment.
For the fortunate fan, Duren is an almost ideal leader, the relentless team man who says, "After the work I put in all week, the game is just payday. You feel like you've earned success before the game ever starts."