As a result of much of this, Dantley is shouldering more of a load than a rookie should. "In college I was always playing against box-and-ones, and I hated them," he says. "Now I'm getting double-teamed all the time. I'll beat my man and go smoking to the hoop, there'll be another man waiting and I'll get called for a charge." Coming off a string of 10 straight over-20-point games, last week Dantley found himself in a stifling sandwich defense set up by the New York Nets that held him to eight points.
"Can you imagine Kevin Loughery setting up his whole defense to stop a rookie?" Dantley asked, incredulous but flattered. Everyone else in the Braves' " locker room made excuses for Dantley's poor game, including the trainer, who suggested that maybe it was because Dantley split his pants before warming up. "Hey, I can have a bad game," Dantley said. "Don't everybody go asking 'What's wrong with Adrian?' I only just turned 21 yesterday."
"He is the real, true small forward," says Loughery of Dantley. "He can hang in the air, fake, hesitate, change his shot and score. I've never seen anyone his size that strong. He's going to be a big star in this league. His only weak points are that he doesn't pass very well, doesn't pull up to shoot the jumper enough and he hasn't learned how to play defense on the bigger men."
Dantley himself admits to another failing: "I have the worst eating habits in the NBA." Living alone in the Buffalo suburb of Williamsville, he hates to cook and usually eats out—" McDonald's, Ponderosa, pizza joints. Junk"—and has to struggle to keep his weight around 215. "Some nights my body feels terrible from all the junk I eat." His neighbors, the DiGregorios, don't help any by bringing him huge dishes of lasagne and spaghetti. "Mrs. DiGregorio's a great cook," says Dantley, who didn't know that her name is Susan. ("I respect my elders," he says. "I just call her Mrs. DiGregorio.")
He spends most evenings alone, reading or watching television, and he talks frequently on the phone with his Aunt Rosie and mother, Virginia, in Washington. He promised both he would complete his degree in economics at Notre Dame this summer. (He is no slouch as a student; if he had skipped the Olympics, he would have been graduated in three years.) Two weeks ago, before he went to Landover, Md. to play against the Bullets on national television, Aunt Rosie called him and said, "Now don't you come out here and stink the place up, Adrian. You better have a good game." Dantley scored 33, and the Washington reporters asked the rookie how he could get much better. "That's tough," he said. "But I guess I'd be better if I ate my mama's cooking all the time."