RALEIGH, N.C. -- Rodney Monroe began hearing the whispers after last season, when there was talk that he would leave North Carolina State and make himself eligible for the National Basketball Association draft.
Shortly after Monroe put out some feelers, the word from the pro scouts came back to make the guard from Hagerstown reconsider his decision. In retrospect, Monroe agrees with their assessment.
"I don't think I was ready for the NBA," he recalled recently, sitting on a courtside chair at Reynolds Coliseum. "I thought I could work more on my game."
As things turned out, it might have been the best move Monroe has made -- on or off the court -- since leaving St. Maria Goretti High School four years ago.
By staying at N.C. State, Monroe was able to edge closer to some goals he had set and surpass others he hadn't, including recently becoming the leading scorer in school history.
Monroe enters tonight's Atlantic Coast Conference game here against Maryland (15-11, 4-8) with 2,408 points, 99 more than the legendary David Thompson.
More importantly, Monroe could graduate this summer with a degree in criminal justice. That has been nearly as big a motivator as the prospect of becoming a No. 1 draft choice.
"I heard a lot of criticism last year when I was thinking about coming out," said Monroe. "The criticism didn't keep me in school. What kept me in school was that I wanted to graduate. I know what kind of player I am. I know what I can do."
What Monroe can do best is shoot, possessing as quick a release and as a pure a stroke as any player in the country. He has the range to become tres magnifique in the NBA, but other parts of his game are beingquestioned.
At his size -- he is listed at 6 feet 3, 185 pounds, but could be closer to 6-2, 170 -- some scouts wonder if he is strong enough to match up defensively against other shooting guards. And some wonder if he can play any defense at all, considering how little he has been asked to play for the Wolfpack.
"Can he play a Michael Jordan one night, or a Clyde Drexler the next?" asked Pat Williams, general manager of the Orlando Magic. "He's going to have to, because I don't think he can run a club. But he's such a great shooter that I know there's a role for him in our league."
Monroe says that he hasn't shown his ability to pass because of Chris Corchiani, his backcourt mate for the past four years who Monday night became the all-time Division I leader in assists. As for his defense, Monroe says that he has done what has been asked, first by former Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano and this season by Les Robinson.
"When they [the scouts] say that I don't handle the ball enough, my answer is that Chris is the point guard and he handles the ball most of the time," said Monroe, who never has been accused of being piggish with his points. "But I can see where they might question it.
"When I came in as a freshman, I played 19 or 20 minutes a game, and most of the time I concentrated on playing defense. When we played a box-and-one on somebody like Horace Grant or Muggsy Bogues, I would be the one chasing them around."
Yet for most of the past three years, Monroe has been the pursued, the one around which opposing teams base their defensive strategies. After finishing second in the league in scoring the past two years, Monroe leads Georgia Tech's Kenny Anderson by a point with a 27.7 average going into the final week of the regular season.
Among Monroe's more memorable performances was a career-high 48 points against the Yellow Jackets, including 31 in the second half. After being held to two points in the first half by Virginia on Saturday, Monroe scorched the Cavaliers for 30 in the second half of an 83-76 victory that helped solidify a National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament bid for N.C. State (17-8, 7-5). He has scored 30 or more nine times this season, 20 for his career.
"He is the best shooter I have ever coached," said Robinson. "He's mastered the most important part of it, putting the ball in the hole. The other parts of it you can get better at."
Because of his scoring outbursts throughout his career -- including 47 points and a game-winning 60-footer at the buzzer to win the Metro Classic at the Baltimore Arena in his final appearance for Goretti -- the expectations have been there from the start.
And now that his career at N.C. State is nearly over, the speculation about his future has heated up. Is he ready to take the next step? Will Monroe become as renowned for his shooting in the pros as he has in college? Or will he be just another great college scorer who wilts under the 82-game grind of the NBA?
Maryland coach Gary Williams, who has taught a number of future NBA guards, said that Monroe's near-perfect mechanics could make up for a lack of size.
"He's short by NBA standards, but so are Vinnie Johnson and Joe Dumars," said Williams. "Rodney's got a great release, which makes it very hard to stop him."