Monroe returns to site of The Shot, but fails to get any off

Ken Rosenthal

February 18, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

At Rodney Monroe's locker, the score was zero minutes, four reporters. It made for a most unusual post-game encounter, and Monroe seemed almost embarrassed by the attention.

He never left the bench yesterday in Atlanta's 117-110 victory over the Washington Bullets. Yet here were the reporters, all from Baltimore, all trapped in a time warp.

The Shot, they said, tell us about The Shot. Monroe smiled politely -- painfully -- and tried to remember. The Shot is but a distant echo now. The Shot can't ignite his NBA career.

The Shot, of course, was the 68-footer that gave St. Maria Goretti of Hagerstown a 73-72 victory over unbeaten Lake Clifton in the 1987 Metro Classic.

Monroe, 23, returned to the Baltimore Arena yesterday for the first time since crafting that epic moment. He returned, but for the 20th time in 51 NBA games, he did not play.

So it goes for the high-school phenom who became the third-leading scorer in ACC history at North Carolina State, the 6-foot-3, 170-pound rookie trying to find his niche in the NBA.

The Shot?

Hawks assistant coach Johnny Davis teased Monroe about it yesterday, referring to the forever-malfunctioning Arena scoreboard and joking that "the clock was probably stuck when you took it."

But Monroe's teammates don't know or care about the 47 points he scored that night. Coach Bob Weiss is equally oblivious. Hey, this is the NBA. Who wasn't a high-school legend?

One shot led to another.

Just leave it at that, OK?

"I really don't remember much about it," Monroe said. "Every time I come home to Baltimore, people remind me. That's how it stays fresh in my mind."

Monroe spoke quietly at a locker belonging to Blast midfielder Joe Koziol. He didn't want to rile his teammates, or the coach who uses one sentence to sum up his career.

"He's a '2' guard in a '1' guard's body," Weiss explained rather blunt

ly, echoing the doubts raised by NBA scouts even as Monroe broke David Thompson's scoring record at N.C. State.

Monroe, 23, isn't big or strong enough to play shooting guard, his natural position. Yet he isn't quick or skilled enough to play the point, where he probably fits best in the NBA.

So what happens, he just disappears?

Hardly. Monroe was the 30th overall choice of the 1991 draft, going to Atlanta on the third pick of the second round. Weiss said he's "definitely an NBA scorer." It's the rest that's uncertain.

Monroe said, "It's tough -- I think I should be out there," but none of this is unusual. The NBA might be the most difficult professional league for a rookie to make an impact.

Oh, it happens -- just look at Denver's Dikembe Mutombo, or Charlotte's Larry Johnson, or even Monroe's Atlanta teammate Stacey Augmon, the 6-foot-8 swingman who has started all 51 games.

But more often, rookies develop slowly. The Bullets' Pervis Ellison was the No. 1 pick in the '89 draft, but only now is becoming a star. New Jersey's Kenny Anderson was the No. 2 pick last year, yet can't get off the bench.

With Monroe, it all comes back to size.

"In their minds, that's the difference," he said. "I've been a '2' guard all along. Now a lot of '2' guards are 6-6, 6-7. But I've always played against bigger guys. That's nothing new to me."

Davis, the Atlanta assistant, said, "It's not a situation where he can't compete. He's going to have a very good career. Anytime you can score -- and he scores against anyone, regardless of size -- you're going to play in the NBA."

But the fact is, Monroe has sat 10 of the last 12 games. His best night -- 12 points in 29 minutes -- came when the Hawks visited Washington at the Capital Centre Nov. 23. He is averaging just 3.7 points per game.

He figured his playing time would increase when Dominique Wilkins suffered his season-ending Achilles' tendon injury Jan. 28. But other players -- Duane Ferrell, Paul Graham, Morlon Wiley -- emerged instead.

Monroe can draw inspiration from Ferrell, the former Calvert Hall star who was waived and re-signed by the Hawks five times. It's like that in the NBA. It takes time.

"I'm just trying to wait my turn," Monroe said. "The times I've been out there, I've had a good feeling. I know I can play with these guys. I think I can play in this league a long time."

Ideally, he will adjust to the point. Veteran Maurice Cheeks tutors him in practice. Weiss wants him to improve his ballhandling. Davis says playing two positions will only enhance his value.

Five years ago, it all seemed so distant. Five years ago, there was a magical game at this same arena, a game that forever etched Rodney Monroe in Baltimore's collective sports memory.

The Shot. It traveled 68 feet, but only so far. Monroe didn't spend pre-game warmups trying to locate his famous launching point. That was high school. This is the NBA.

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