Whew. What a little knowledge can do. It can hurt you, is what it can do. At a workout Meyer once screamed at a loafing Aguirre, "Mark, if you don't want to practice, get out of here." Aguirre started to leave. Then Meyer screamed, "Mark, where are you going?" Last season, during a huddle at a crucial juncture in the Marquette game, everyone was jabbering strategies and alignments and X's and O's when Meyer silenced the commotion. "Mark," he said. "Dammit, just score."
Aguirre's natural talents have been evident for so long that some DePaul people swear he knew how to get off the turnaround jumper in the crib. And he has been pampered by one coach or another for almost as long. For two seasons at DePaul Aguirre exhibited the NBA characteristic of playing 10, resting 10; and he also displayed some all-pro pouting besides. When Aguirre was taken out of games before he was ready, he didn't hide his displeasure. Once, after missing several one-on-one foul chances, he wailed to Meyer, "Coach, my free throw's broke." He wasn't kidding.
But on the Olympic team last summer a different, more industrious Aguirre emerged. "He loved to slide by, but when we challenged him, he always responded," says Olympic Coach Dave Gavitt. "The fat boy wasn't lazy because he knew he had to play hard," says another coach who watched the Olympians in action. "At DePaul they can pick their schedule, and he doesn't have to play every night."
There's the rub. When Aguirre wants to play—like, mostly, against the toughies—it is a wondrous sight. DePaul lost six games in Aguirre's first season; in those six he scored 29, 39, 18, 28, 45 and 19 points. His scoring average in defeat has been more than seven points higher than his average in victory. Last season Aguirre played in eight games against NCAA tournament-bound teams and averaged nearly 29 points; he had 34 against unbeaten (at the time) Missouri, 36 against Marquette, 31 against LSU and 30 against LaSalle and the esteemed Michael Brooks. He was the Player of the Year in two major polls.
Knowing it would be his last season in DePaul's ancient Alumni Hall, Aguirre became obsessed with breaking the gym's single-game scoring record of 43 points. Against Butler he had 30 with plenty of time, but Meyer took him out. The two had words. From then on Meyer indulged Aguirre, who scored 30, 41 and 40 in DePaul's last three home games. But Aguirre never reached the golden figure; after one such failure he wept in the locker room while his teammates celebrated a win over bitter rival Loyola.
As a result of Aguirre's shoot 'em up, the DePaul offense grew stagnant. There was the 76-74 double-overtime shock at Notre Dame, where Orlando Woolridge's defense was based on playing "off" Aguirre, on denying Aguirre contact and a chance to use his great strength down low. Then came the 77-71 loss to UCLA in the NCAAs when Aguirre had the ball virtually 40% of the time. He was the play-maker one minute, a wing the next. He was everywhere. The other Blue Demons went begging. Center Terry Cummings was hot; the quarterback, Clyde Bradshaw, needed to run things; neither saw the ball enough.
As the moody Aguirre went, so went DePaul. He could be a laid-back Phil Donahue one moment, Frankenstein's monster the next. "There were misunderstandings in communication," says Bradshaw. "Mark's ability is what led us. Guys value playing with the best player in the country. But he backed away from the leadership role. The Olympic team changed that. He learned how to work. He learned how to use his teammates. He seems to want responsibility."
Before this season Aguirre called the team together and organized workouts on his own. He was given a co-captainship with Bradshaw. Now he practices without taking shortcuts. "I'll blow the whistle and, watch this, he'll even run" says Meyer. "Mark vowed we'll have no sulking this year."
Most astonishing is Aguirre's loss of weight. The former Muffin Man—once he was up to nearly 260 pounds—worked out in the off-season and skipped second helpings. He is now holding at a fairly svelte 225, but not without torture. "It's a serious war, pushing myself away from the table," Aguirre says.
The most tempting table is at the home of his high school coach, Frank Lollino, whose wife, Anna Marie, still prepares sandwiches, desserts and all types of pasta, notably Aguirre's favorite, mostaccioli. Anna Marie isn't an ally in Aguirre's war. "Eat. Eat. You're wasting away," she said one day recently after Aguirre had stopped after only a single gigantic slab of Boston cream pie.