"He's been awed somewhat," says Fitzsimmons, "but nothing dampens his enthusiasm. He poked his finger in Walt Frazier's eye early in the season, and all he could say was, 'Isn't that something? I finally see Frazier up close, and all I can do is stick my finger in his eye!' Just wait until he learns how to play basketball. He'll really be something."
While learning the game Drew has been averaging 18.5 points and just under 11 rebounds. More importantly, a good percentage of his rebounds have come off the offensive boards: in fact, he has the most in the NBA. Over in the ABA, Moses Malone, Utah's rookie center, leads in offensive rebounds.
"To tell you the truth, and with humility," Drew says, "I have to admit that the greatest all-around player in the NBA today is John Drew. I loved my coach in college. I cried when I left. I'm a great player, but I'm great because I work at it. I say my prayers every night. It's something my grandmother taught me. I don't think I've missed three days in my life. If I had to sit here and watch myself I'd have to say, 'Man, he's in a class by himself, nobody can touch him.' Defense isn't easy. People who tell you they like it are lying. Man, I love to burn veterans and see them taken out of a game. Man, this life is super."
The rookies. Lord knows they can play the game. But they are also people like John Drew, who may be the only player in the world who could score on a jumper over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and then ask him for his autograph. Or like Keith Wilkes, the 190-pound power forward who stands in no man's shadow off the court. Or Marvin Barnes, who says, "Every once in awhile I like to go back to South Providence, to the ghetto. I go to the playground, and the studs there look at me and say, 'Hey, punk, just because you're a pro doesn't mean I can't beat you.' And we go one-on-one, beating on each other like we always did. Beautiful."