Two years ago he was an 18-year-old college freshman with a stoic manner and a distinctive, splayfooted gait. All around him, elders placed themselves at his service. They were wiser Owls, men who set screens and threw passes that turned the youngster into a prodigious scorer in order that, together, they could become a formidable team. A certain bald microphone jockey misread all this. He looked at the youngster and said something about "the next Oscar Robertson," and the clamor to find out more about this precocious player became so great that his coach put him off-limits.
Today the young man is 20, a junior with the same bearing, the same walk. Anyone may talk to him now. You can find him almost always in the same place, at Temple in North Philadelphia. But the rush to get to know him is over, even if he's still so shrouded in mystery that the headlines written about him remain interrogatories, THE MOST REMARKABLE OWL EVER? asked The Philadelphia Inquirer during that freshman year. Last month the same newspaper wondered, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO MARK MACON?
Macon prefers things the way they are now. He certainly doesn't like the way his jump shot has vanished, or how those comparisons with the Big O have disappeared. But Macon finds contentment in being an athletic cipher who is still the subject of curiosity. "People don't know me," he says. "Statistics are the only way they can find out about me. But they don't know me. The mental is four to one over the physical. Only when you study someone day in and day out do you begin to know that person."
With Macon, few get the privilege. "I take time to choose my associates," he says. "I'm not saying 'friends' because I don't have any. Or many. My thing is reading people. I try to keep my enemies close to me so I know what they're doing. I'm going to be nice and polite whether you like me or not. Then I might start trouble and make you think you were right about me. That'll keep you off-balance. Or I'll make you think you like me. Then, when I get you in my corner, I'll beat you. There are people I've won over just with knowledge."
Now, test your knowledge. See if you can figure it out: Just exactly who is Mark Macon?
a) He's a temperance worker in a campaign against emotional drunkenness.
Temple has just beaten Massachusetts by 17 points, and Macon has been his usual junior-season self—shooting poorly yet playing hard. Owl coach John Chaney meets the press without his star, bringing instead Mik Kilgore, a sophomore whose lips are pursed grimly. During games Chaney looks disheveled and world-weary, but he preaches control more passionately than any other coach in the sport. He brooks no high fives, no talking trash, no celebratory gesticulation. Turnovers and technicals make him physically ill. He abhors what he calls "emotional drunkenness."
"This is probably the worst team I've coached in my life," Chaney announces to the gathering. "I can't coach skillful people who are brainless and spineless. And I'm going to hold it against them when I see the kind of stupidity, the kind of blindness, that comes with being emotionally drunk."
During the game, Kilgore had used profanity to upbraid an official, who then obliged Kilgore with a technical. "Me," Chaney says, "I can be a jackass every once in a while. But stupidity is forever. And when guys do it over and over, it's got to be stupidity." With that, Chaney gets up and leaves, abandoning Kilgore to explain himself.
At a 5:30 a.m. practice the next day—this is the team's lot most days—Chaney brings Kilgore in front of his teammates. "If a human being were meant to butt his head against a wall," says Chaney, "God would have put horns in his head."