Alonzo Mourning is going to Georgetown. What does that mean? Does the name Patrick Ewing ring a bell? Mourning is potentially that good.
"Give me Alonzo Mourning and I'm right there for the national championship," said Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins, one of the losers in what was apparently a wild last few days in the Mourning recruitment. "He's the last piece of anybody's puzzle."
Georgetown's puzzle already had some pretty significant pieces, just as it did six years ago when Ewing chose the Hoyas. Mourning, from Indian River High School in Chesapeake, Va., will step onto a team with veteran guards, a veteran coach and lots of big-game experience. He is one of those players who can deliver "The Big Banner," as one coach likes to call the national championship.
Georgetown Coach John Thompson has been down this path before. During Ewing's four seasons at Georgetown, the Hoyas were 121-23. They won three Big East titles, reached the national title game three times and won The Big Banner in 1984. One errant pass by Fred Brown and the most extraordinary shooting night in title game history by Villanova in 1985 were all that separated them from three championships.
Mourning is good enough to inspire those kinds of thoughts once again. Of course it is unfair to put that kind of label on a teen-ager or, for that matter, on a program. Nothing is certain in college basketball -- as the Georgetown-Villanova final in 1985 proved. There are still questions about how well Mourning will do as a student at Georgetown and how he will develop as a player.
"All you can look at is where a person is right now and project," said assistant coach Dave Odom of Virginia, another finalist in the Mourning sweepstakes. "Alonzo, right now, is a little further along than Ewing. He is quick off his feet, he plays with great heart and he is the kind of person people want on their team. He isn't as big as Ewing, but there's no question that he will be a terrific college player."
Ewing is 7 feet 1, 260 pounds; Mourning is 6-10, 220.
Mark Baker, the highly regarded guard out of Dayton's Dunbar High School (who signed with Ohio State last week), played on the same team with Mourning at summer camp.
"I learned after a while that the best way to play defense was to let the guy go by, then turn to the basket and wait for the blocked shot to come back to you," Baker said. "He was just so quick. And he wants to block everything."
Ewing was like that coming out of high school. Mourning has that kind of potential. When they start ranking teams next year, Georgetown is a name that is going to pop up right away. That is what Thompson wants. But, one hopes that his coaching of Mourning will be a bit different than his coaching of Ewing.
Ewing graduated from Georgetown. He was a great college player. But Thompson, who always has been paranoid about the media, passed that feeling on to Ewing. With few exceptions, Ewing was recalcitrant with the media. That is no crime, but one wishes that Ewing had been allowed more breathing room by Thompson.
But those are minor issues. Mourning apparently agonized quite a bit over his decision. After he visited Syracuse, Coach Jim Boeheim thought he had a great chance to sign him. Last week the word on the coaching grapevine was that Maryland had come on strong and might snatch him away. That would have been a major irony: One of the major reasons Bob Wade got the Maryland job was because Thompson recommended him to Chancellor John Slaughter. If he had turned around one year later and signed a franchise recruit from under Thompson's nose, one wonders just how Thompson would have reacted.
Recruiting is a strange game. Only rarely, though, do players come along who truly can make a program. And, sometimes a player who has those credentials, fails to live up to them. Ralph Sampson's teams won 112 games in his four years at Virginia but they never won an ACC title and made the Final Four only once. The word "only" is unfair, but given Sampson's stature (not the 7-4 part), it fits.
Mourning will be under tremendous pressure. So will Thompson. Not only will he be dealing with a freshman in a fish bowl, he will be doing so after spending the summer under a great deal of strain preparing for and then living through the Olympics. Thompson certainly isn't going to get any vacation this summer and faces a long season in 1988-89.
Signing Mourning will guarantee more victories. It also will guarantee more pressure. One suspects, though, it is the kind of pressure Thompson relishes.