Unmarried, and with a studied intention to remain so for a while, Monroe lives in as easygoing a manner off the court as he appears loose on it. "He is the most even person I've ever met in my life," says Bullet Player-Assistant Coach Bob Ferry. Monroe's official residence remains Philadelphia, but in Baltimore he will stay sometimes at the Lord Baltimore Hotel or otherwise live, as he says, "just here and there."
Six feet three, he played at 180 in college, but finds the pros less physically demanding than Coach Gaines' treatment, and when Shue started resting Monroe in the exhibitions this year, he promptly put on 12 pounds and is now over 200. His uniform pants tend to catch now and bunch. The added bulk around the middle embarrasses Monroe, for he is, above all, possessor of great court awareness.
He will occasionally sneak a quick, but deadpan, look over to the press—the critics—after a particularly good pass to see how well the play registered. When he was playing a day-night tournament in Chicago in his senior year his old Philadelphia friend Guy Rodgers visited Monroe after the afternoon game and informed him that the pro scouts watching had been impressed with his shooting—he had made about 55 points—but still had some doubts about his passing ability. Monroe nodded.
"Well," says Chicago Bull Scout Jerry Krause, who was then with the Bullets, "after his 15th or 20th assist that night he kind of cocked his head and looked up to where we were sitting—just sort of asking if that was enough. He also went for 45 or 50 points."
Monroe was a starter from the first as a rookie last season but, despite occasional brilliant patches, he did not assume leadership of the Bullets early in the season. Shue found Monroe's defense lacking, and since he had three good veteran guards—Kevin Loughery, the only one still with the team, Don Ohl and Johnny Egan—he would pull Monroe quickly when his guarding was off.
He was bringing Monroe along. "I wouldn't give a damn if he played defense or not," Coach Gaines had told Coach Shue at the beginning of the season. "Let him concentrate on what he has been doing—he can't do everything for 40 minutes—and he'll make you a pretty good coach. He made me a darned good coach."
Monroe was feeling his own way, too, afraid, as a rookie, to offend his older teammates by exerting his dominance. "That's funny," says Scott. "We were just waiting for Earl to take over."
"It happened one night," says one astute Bullet observer. "It wasn't any gradual thing. It was a game against the Knicks in January. At one stretch, for about 10 minutes in a row, Loughery brought the ball down, took it in himself or went the other way from Monroe with it. The first time Earl got the ball after that it was all over. He moved the ball. He directed traffic. He was in charge."
The Bullets, a distant last-place then, went on to just miss the playoffs, and Monroe, who didn't even make the mid-season All-Star Game, jumped from 21st to fourth, and was the second highest scoring rookie guard. Despite his knees and the fact that he was used sparingly in the early games, he appeared in every one and ended up 10th in the league in time played. He was 15th in assists.
Only his defense failed to improve significantly. It is not that he cannot play it, but, rather, that he loses concentration and can become lackadaisical. He giggles derisively at himself when the subject is brought up. Shue does not. Having done a complete flip, he now is almost doctrinaire in backing Monroe's defensive credentials whenever anyone challenges them.