"A bite to
eat" is what he calls this meal. Not a full-fledged dinner, of course,
because there isn't time. There is a basketball game that he absolutely has to
watch up in East Orange, and that's 20 minutes away, and we'll have to drive
150 mph just to get a parking place.
"I don't mind
being tall," he says while simultaneously demolishing two large
cheeseburgers, "but I wish I could take the height off at the end of the
season. Girls come to about here on me. I'm just big. Sometimes it's
embarrassing. Like this one time when I was at this party trying to be cool,
and a lot of girls were watching me, and I stood up and crushed my brand-new
$40 hat against the ceiling." He turns to the salad, three fruit cups,
French fries and chocolate shake spread before him like a road map. "When I
play basketball at the parks around here there's nobody as big and strong as I
am. Catsup, please.... I hurt guys. So I have to go to New York—137th Street in
the Bronx or Pratt Institute in Brooklyn—for competition.
Archibald asked me the other day why I want to get stronger. ' Big John,' he
said, 'you'll be killing people soon.' Well, there are a lot of players with a
lot more talent than me—take Doctor J.; why there's no sense talkin' about how
good he is—so I've got to develop myself to my limit. I've got to be able to
beat a man after 38 minutes on the court. Overpower him, crush him."
There is nothing
that resembles food left on the table. Seven minutes flat. "Let's get out
of here," he yells.
John Shumate has
always been a kid of rare dedication. In his room at Notre Dame he puts up
corny yet personally meaningful things like a hand-lettered sign saying: THE
THREE D'S—DETERMINATION, DISCIPLINE, DESIRE. His father, a stoic, loving man
who made sure John and his sisters went to church four or five times a week, is
amazed by his son's zeal.
"Even when he
was real small he'd say, 'Dad, I gotta make it!' After two or three hours at
the playground the other kids would always leave, but not John. He'd be out
there from dawn until dark. He'd come home sopping wet, ready to collapse on
The early work
seems to have paid off. After missing his sophomore season at Notre Dame due to
a blood clot in his leg, Shumate gradually developed into one of the best big
men in the country. He received the Most Valuable Player award for his
performance in last year's National Invitation Tournament, which included a
remarkable two-game stretch in which he went 20 for 20 from the field.
Shumate sits now
in a speeding car in that squashed position familiar to overly long people and
beats nervously on the dashboard. "We gotta hurry. Can't miss this
game." The car swerves to a halt down the block from the East Orange High
runnin' for, fellows?" asks a boy in the deserted hallway. "The game
don't start for about two hours."
a Notre Dame football jersey and a tennis hat, ambles off—content merely to be
in this gym where players like Archibald, Austin Carr, Dave Stallworth, Mo
Layton and Ron Behagen—even the Doctor himself—are going to clash. He is
quickly surrounded by young boys who whisper to each other, "That's John