Millions don't bring smile to Mourning's game face Rookie is making serious difference

December 19, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Rival forward Charles Barkley says he needs to learn to relax and smile a bit. Teammate Larry Johnson advises him to "loosen up." Even his coach, Allan Bristow, suggests he should share an occasional joke with his teammates.

But that is not the modus operandi for Charlotte Hornets rookie center Alonzo Mourning, who returns tonight to the Capital Centre, where he enjoyed so much success in college as Georgetown's worthy heir to Patrick Ewing.

For Mourning, making his first appearance against the Washington Bullets, his menacing scowl is as much a part of his game as his aggressive rebounding and shot-blocking. The Chesapeake, Va., native honed his intimidating style under Hoyas coach John Thompson and is not about to change in the more competitive professional ranks.

"You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't," he said. "The way I play comes by instinct. Your pride is at stake out there. Every time I step on the floor, I look at it as my house, and I'm protecting it from people trying to take something from me.

"When I'm angry, it's usually at myself for making a mistake. But people tend to read my facial impressions the wrong way."

Miami Heat forward John Salley tried to get under his skin last month by calling him "Mourning Neanderthal," for his physical play, but it failed to make an impression.

"I'm not changing my game or style of play for anybody," Mourning told The Virginian-Pilot. "If I was hurting the team in any way, I'd stop it. But I'm not trying to offend anybody. It's just my style and people have to get used to it."

After holding out throughout training camp and missing the first four games of the regular season, Mourning, the second player selected in the NBA draft after the Orlando Magic claimed Shaquille O'Neal, signed a six-year deal with the Hornets worth $25 million.

While becoming a multimillionaire could understandably soften a man's resolve, it has seemed to only strengthen Mourning's work ethic. He has posted solid statistics, averaging 17.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.67 blocks.

"Alonzo is just an aggressive personality, sometimes to a fault," said veteran center Mike Gminski, who now serves as Mourning's understudy.

"On the court, he's going to make some mistakes because of that. But what you see is what you get -- he practices the same way he plays. I'd rather have someone like that than someone who is brain dead."

With Johnson at power forward and Kendall Gill at shooting guard, some NBA observers predict the Hornets, with the addition of the 6-foot-10 Mourning, will become the team of the '90s.

Bristow, his team at .500 (11-11), downplayed such hyperbole, but then added, "All of the teams that have been really successful in recent years had a Big Three.

"The Lakers had Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Celtics had Kevin McHale, Larry Bird and Robert Parish, the Pistons had Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman, and the Bulls have Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. It seems three is the magic number for becoming a championship team, and now we have that kind of potential."

A year ago, the Hornets were regarded as extremely vulnerable on defense, but Mourning's imposing presence has rivals thinking twice about driving the lane.

"Alonzo has taken a lot of rebounding and defensive pressure off Johnson," said Bristow. "Last year, Johnson and [reserve center] Kenny Gattison were our only tough guys. But Mourning makes us much more intimidating.

"Some people might think he's too aggressive, but I don't think that's the right word. He just has to learn how to channel that aggression and use it as a positive force."

Off the court, Mourning still is suffering growing pains. Last week, he became involved in a locker room shouting match with Ailene Voison of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Female reporters are allowed equal access in NBA dressing rooms, but Mourning strongly protested Voison's presence and ultimately cursed her for not leaving.

Teammates interceded, and the Hornets and Mourning have since apologized to Voison, who considers the incident closed.

"Alonzo can be very strong-willed," Bristow said. "He attacks everything hard, and that's why there will be bumps and bruises along the way to stardom as a pro. Maybe some very big bumps."

Mourning's stats

,`Stat .. .. .. Tot. .. .. Avg./Pct

Games .. .. ..18 .. .. .. .. .. --

Minutes .. .. 522 .. .. .. .. 29.0

Field goals..109-235 .. .. .. .464

Free throws ..88-123.. .. .. .715

Points .. .. ..306 .. .. .. .. 17.0

Rebounds .. .. 165 .. .. .. .. 9.2

Assists .. .. 23 .. .. .. .. ..1.3

Turnovers .. ..58 .. .. .. .. 3.2

Blocks .. .. ..66 .. .. .. .. 3.7

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