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Once Kenny (Mouse) McFadden was no more than a funky rumor. That was back when Mouse seemed destined to join the Goat, the Helicopter and all those other New York City nicknames in basketball's boneyard for legends-before-their-time. Now, thanks to all the running and stunning he has done for Cleveland State, word of the Mouse is getting around. After all, as a freshman last year, McFadden coolly ran the delay that closed out Indiana in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
So when the 6'1" Mouse thought about shaking the nickname, his coach, Kevin Mackey, had to explain certain facts to him: "I told him, 'Look, thousands of people know who the Mouse is. You think half of them know Kenny McFadden?' The Mouse is his meal ticket."
Now, says McFadden, "I've made peace with the Mouse, I guess." And anyway, his game is his meal ticket. He is averaging 20.9 points for the 19-6 Vikings and dazzling all who see him. He scored a conference-record 41 points against Illinois-Chicago; his eight steals against Canisius broke the CSU record. Against St. Joseph's on Dec. 3, with his team down by 16, he exploded for 20 of his 32 points in the last 9� minutes to lead the Vikings to an 85-80 victory. "That game showed you what he could do," Mackey says. "Nobody in the country could have stopped him that night."
McFadden grew up in the stone-tough, drug-infested neighborhood known as Alphabet City on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Just staying out of trouble there was formidable. But Mouse kept himself squeaky clean, even if his school work suffered. He played just a handful of games as a freshman at Seward Park High but soon quit the team to work at odd jobs and play more games with a series of AAU teams.
It was with the Broncos of the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club that McFadden built his reputation, unleashing some of his greatest games against many of the area's best players. He scored 46 points against the Riverside Church Hawks and Ed Davender, now a Kentucky star. He also lit up the likes of North Carolina's Kenny Smith (36 points in one game) and Notre Dame's David Rivers.
The Broncos' coach, Doc Nicelli, was enraptured by McFadden's personality and his loyalty. McFadden would refuse to accept the money or merchandise that was routinely offered to top players to induce them to switch teams. But he still gave Nicelli plenty to worry about. Poor class attendance had caused McFadden's grade-point average to plunge precipitously. Although he brought his grades up in his last two years, Mouse still failed to graduate—by a single credit—and college recruiters steered clear. "I did it to myself," McFadden says. "But the only classes I ever flunked were the ones I didn't go to." It looked as if Mouse, for all his talent, would slip between the cracks. Instead, a Boston AAU coach named Leo Papile (now a Cleveland State assistant) put Nicelli in touch with Mackey, who had seen McFadden play when he was an assistant at Boston College. Mackey was known for assembling teams out of spare parts; he had discovered both John Bagley and Michael Adams during his days at BC. So McFadden passed the test for his high school graduate equivalency degree and settled comfortably into a communications program at CSU, making the dean's list in his first semester (he currently has a 2.5 GPA). He also averaged 13.7 points as a Viking freshman. Before this season Mackey said, "He's the man. We're a guard-oriented team now." Actually, Cleveland State is more like a one-man team now.
Two big men Mackey had counted on didn't make it out of junior college, another was lost for the season with a wrist injury and, tragically, yet another collapsed and died of a heart attack during a pickup game last April.
Mouse, meanwhile, has become a full-fledged celebrity in Cleveland. One night students left mousetraps and pieces of cheese in front of his dormitory door. During a game against Valparaiso, fans showered the court with packages of cheese.
"I like Cleveland State a lot," says Mouse. "But I love the road games. People in Cleveland, they know what I can do. On the road they get on me, then I can mess with them. After I do something I say, 'You. Yeah, you. You see that?' "
They see, and the cult grows. Kenny McFadden is an excellent player, but it's the Mouse who's the big cheese.