RALEIGH, N.C. -- At Connecticut on Saturday, Rodney Monroe likely will throw in another long jumper and move past David Thompson to become the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina State basketball history.
No one suggests that Monroe, a product of Hagerstown, Md., is the player Thompson was in his prime, when he was a two-time national player of the year and arguably the best the ACC has ever had fly through its star-studded skies. "Some of the things he did were just incredible," Monroe said of Thompson.
But comparing the two is not the point. The point is that Monroe has quietly and steadily carved himself a place in Wolfpack history, a special place where the most special one previously held forth.
Monroe hasn't been acrobatic, but he has shown a flair for the dramatic. Effective, with a sudden explosive quality, has been more his style. He has been a shooter's shooter with a jumper that seems to float to the basket. There are times when the net doesn't seem to move as Monroe strips it. It's clean, almost surgical. And when they nicknamed him "Ice," it fit him like a trench coat fit Bogart.
As he closes in on Thompson's 16-year-old record, Monroe has never made first-team All-ACC and he has never led the league in scoring, two voids that should be filled by March, especially if he continues to average 28.6 points. Yet even now, after last night's 23 against Robert Morris leaves him just seven shy to take over the all-time Wolfpack scoring lead, some people see him as a one-dimensional player in a three-dimensional game.
It can be argued that Monroe has benefited from freshman eligibility (he has played 113 games to Thompson's 86), and the three-point shot and a wide-open style of play that has given him not just a green light but a green flag. All of those things have helped Monroe score 2,303 career points.
Thompson's record is 2,309.
"The record is something I never set out to do," Monroe said recently as he sat in the red glow of Reynolds Coliseum. "I said if the record came along, that would be fine. But just coming close to David Thompson's record would be great."
For all the respect Monroe has earned ("The extraordinary is usual to him. He's one of the truly magnificent players to ever play in this league," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said), there is also an undercurrent of criticism that comes with the label of a scorer.
He heard the rap after last season when he briefly considered not returning for his senior year. There was all that mess with Jim Valvano's departure, and the NBA flickered on the horizon. Monroe kept hearing and reading what he couldn't do.
"I take it with a grain of salt. I know what I can and can't do," said Monroe. He answers the criticisms as quickly as they're raised:
* He doesn't handle the ball well enough: "Chris [Corchiani] is our point guard. Why would I handle the ball?. . . I know I'm going to have to play some point in the pros. I know what I can do."
* He doesn't play good defense: "When I came here as a freshman, a lot of people said I was a pretty good defensive player. I remember us playing a lot of box-and-one defense and I was always the chaser. I chased Danny Ferry and Danny Manning. Somewhere along the way, they started saying I didn't play much defense."
* He's just a shooter: "I'd like to be called an all-around player but if someone says I'm just a shooter, I don't mind it."
There's no denying Monroe can shoot and score. There's a difference in the two. Shooters park on the perimeter and wait for the ball to come to them. Scorers get the ball and then do something with it. Monroe can do both.
Monroe has the other thing that great shooters always have -- the shooter's mentality. It's a confidence that borders on cockiness, a belief that every shot is makable and there are no bad shots.
"Every time I go out, I think I'm going to have a big night," he said. "It doesn't always happen but the mentality is there. I always think I'm going to hit everything I put up."