Georgetown coach John Thompson points to you and indicates that you are to follow him. You, of course, obey. He leads you down a long corridor in the Hoyas' antiquated McDonough Arena and finally stops at an unmarked door. Without explanation he tells you to look inside. You open the door tentatively, uncertain what Thompson has in store. There, silhouetted in the pale blue glow of a television screen, are the three talented former Georgetown centers, 7-foot Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks, 6'10" Alonzo Mourning of the Charlotte Hornets and 7'2" Dikembe Mutombo of the Denver Nuggets, all gyrating to the beat of a Jane Fonda workout video.
Thompson has a slight smile when you come back out, as if he has allowed you to view a secret treasure. As striking as it is to see three of the NBA's best centers side by side this way, it is a common sight at Georgetown in the off-season. The triple towers meet on campus regularly during the summer, gathering as often as six times a week to sharpen both their games and their verbal claws against each other. "It's our own personal minicamp," says Mourning. "This is where we help each other and bust on each other at the same time, and we don't hold back in either area. We might help Dikembe work on his hook shot, but we'll also tell him he travels halfway back to Africa when he sets up for it."
In the process Ewing, Mourning and Mutombo serve as role models for the current Hoyas. "They show my young kids things about the value of hard work that no amount of talking from a coach could ever get across," Thompson says. "Patrick, Alonzo and Dikembe have made it, but they're still back here every summer running wind sprints and playing pickup games like they were trying to make the team."
Of course, their influence is greatest on the big men now enrolled at Georgetown. It's not by chance that the Hoyas have developed a tradition of standout centers. First Thompson, a former pivotman at Providence and Bill Russell's backup on the Boston Celtics, taught Ewing, then Ewing came back after the Knicks made him the No. 1 pick of the 1985 draft to help tutor Mourning and Mutombo. Now they are all advisers for the next in the line, 6'10" sophomore Othella Harrington. Each center benefited from the teaching of his predecessors, and each considers the performance of his successors a reflection of his tutoring. "It's about tradition and peer influence and role models," Thompson says. "We make all these silly [ NCAA] rules about who can contact whom and when, and we wind up with a situation in which the people who can have a positive influence on kids have less access to them than the drug dealers do. Just by their presence, these three guys have a tremendous positive influence on a dozen other young men."
But lest he give them too much praise, Thompson points out a glaring weakness they all share. "Look at 'em," he says. "Can't none of 'em hang with Jane."
The afternoon pickup games are in their third hour when Mutombo calls a foul on Ewing, but play continues as if no one has heard him, as is usually the case. The 27-year-old Mutombo is the Darell Garretson of pickup ball, calling violations so often he should have a striped shirt and a whistle. The others pay attention to about every fourth call, which infuriates him, but Mutombo is one of those sweet-natured people in whom rage is so incongruous it is amusing. "Nobody respects my call!" he bellows, a bit of his homeland of Zaire in his accent as the action moves downcourt without him. "I don't know why I play with you guys. I play with kids, and even the kids don't respect my calls."
Mourning is laughing on the sideline at Mutombo's displeasure. "Hey, Dikembe, you've been playing basketball for what, six, seven years? How come you get out here and act like you wrote the rule book?" he says.
Ewing is more succinct. "We don't call him the cheatin' African for nothin'," he says.
Mutombo isn't, the only one with a nickname. Mourning is the Black Hole. "I don't want to say Zo's a gunner in these games," says former Hoya Mark Tillmon, who often plays in pickup games with the big three, "but if you give him the ball, don't expect to see it again. You've thrown it into the Black Hole."
Ewing is Hack Man. As the oldest of the group, at 31, he obviously considers himself entitled to certain, well, liberties. He is, after all, a Knick. "There are no easy baskets against Patrick," Mutombo says. "Not even in the summertime."