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Hello, America, we came back
Curry Kirkpatrick
December 01, 1980
Three of the biggest reasons to look forward to the 1980-81 season are the young men waving their greetings on the opposite page: Mark Aguirre, Ralph Sampson and Albert King. They could be rich right now, but last spring they decided to forestall the start of their pro careers and stay in school at least another year. By not going "hardship" themselves, they spared college fans the pain of having to get by without seeing them in action. Surely, there could be no finer way to start the season than to have them tell us...
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December 01, 1980

Hello, America, We Came Back

Three of the biggest reasons to look forward to the 1980-81 season are the young men waving their greetings on the opposite page: Mark Aguirre, Ralph Sampson and Albert King. They could be rich right now, but last spring they decided to forestall the start of their pro careers and stay in school at least another year. By not going "hardship" themselves, they spared college fans the pain of having to get by without seeing them in action. Surely, there could be no finer way to start the season than to have them tell us...

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In the old days at Westinghouse High—The House, as it's known on Chicago's West Side—Aguirre was nicknamed Ziggy the Elephant and Big Drawers. Laurie Lollino, 17, once bet Ziggy he couldn't diet to below 200 pounds. Aguirre labored mightily and got down to 207, but fainting spells and sickness persuaded Anna Marie to call off the bet.

At the Lollino residence in the Galewood section of Chicago, Aguirre and his teammate at Westinghouse and DePaul, Skip Dillard, relax, watch Abbott and Costello movies on television, talk basketball and eat. When he's there, Aguirre doesn't speak often of his mother and three sisters at home, or of his estranged father, or of his 14-month-old daughter, Erica, and her mother, Veronica Allen. The Lollinos are his second family. "We don't see the moods here," Anna Marie says. "People who criticize Mark...it's the Sinatra syndrome. They really don't know all the good that he does. Playing with kids in the neighborhood. Visiting old folks' homes. Caring."

"Mark always had a lot of things on his mind," says Dillard. "I have a son and sometimes we take our children to the playground or the zoo. I think he draws strength from the kid. Mark used to get low when things were crowding him. He has changed his whole personality." Dillard says there used to be a strange Mark and a real Mark but now there's only the real Mark.

At the least, nobody can call him a fat Mark anymore.

"I needed another year to get dedicated," Aguirre says of his decision to forgo becoming a high first-round choice in last spring's NBA draft. "I think I've found out how good I can be supporting talent with work. I can run better. I think my ball speed is better. Off the board. Getting it up on the break. I feel agile, able to cover people. I used to take practice as boring. I didn't concentrate in games. Magic [Johnson] told me no matter how you feel, you've got to fight that. This is the big time around for me. I want to get in one season when I give my all. It's my turn."

MR. DIG 'EMS

In the beginning, circa 1977, there were Earvin, Eugene and Albert. Then there were Earvin and Eugene. Then there was just Earvin. The big question was, while Gene Banks was leading Duke to the final game of the NCAA tournament in his first year and while Earvin Johnson was spearheading Michigan State's final-game victory in his second year, what had happened to the other hero from the high school class of '77, the one with the amazing numbers and the biggest stacks of press clippings, the kid from Brooklyn with the big, bad brother in the pros? Yeah, what ever happened to Albert King of Maryland?

If anyone ever suffered and lost his way under the bright glare of anticipatory spotlights, surely it was King. "If you went from 38 points and 20 'bounds to 13 and seven in one year, lopsided like that, you'd lose all your confidence, too," he says. What happened was that King, a quiet soul—the exact opposite of his outgoing brother, Bernard—and skinny at 6'6", 180 pounds, was hurled into a bunch of gunners and jivers who weren't about to let a new man take over. As if the new man were of a mind—or personality—to do any such thing.

Terrapin Coach Lefty Driesell says King lacked some fundamentals back then and his shot selection was poor. But his self-confidence was even worse. Driesell admits if he had it to do over, he wouldn't have started King early in his freshman season. "He might have matured quicker," Driesell says. "It was like a minor league baseball player who comes up and strikes out his first five or six times. I told Albert to relax and not worry about the whole world watching him. He never relaxed, never quit worrying."

At least not for more than 20 minutes. Against North Carolina King scored 16 points in the first half and then took three shots in the second. "I looked at the score sheet in the locker room," King says. "I was averaging about 13 points at the time. I thought, 'Uh oh, I'm way ahead of myself here.' " So he stopped shooting. Carolina won 85-71.

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