Now skeptics ask if 5-3 Bogues can take Hornets to next level LITTLE MAN, BIG DOUBTS

November 23, 1993|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

Scaling the heights of basketball while standing 5 feet 3 has always been a challenge for Muggsy Bogues.

There were doubters before he led Dunbar High School to the mythical national championship 10 years ago, doubters when he signed a scholarship to attend Wake Forest, doubters when he was a first-round pick by the Washington Bullets in 1987, and doubters after the Bullets let him go to the Charlotte Hornets in the expansion draft the next year.

But he has always found success, which is why comments by Hornets coach Allan Bristow during a preseason conference call took Bogues by surprise.

"Muggsy is our starting point guard," Bristow said then. "But we probably know Muggsy would be more effective coming off the bench, playing 22 to 26 minutes."

When Bogues is later told about those remarks, he sits upright in front of his locker at the Charlotte Coliseum, seemingly stunned.

"He said what? This is the first time I've heard that," said Bogues, who then shrugs his shoulders. "But I don't worry about that. I just go out and perform. I've been a starter throughout my career, and I can't be concerned about what others think."

What a lot of people think are that the Hornets, who play the Bullets at the USAir Arena tonight, are good enough with Bogues at the point to challenge for the Central Division title. The Hornets lead the division with a 6-3 record, and had a franchise record-tying five-game winning streak broken Saturday, one night after Bogues' season-high 17 assists led Charlotte over Washington, 127-111.

Sparked by Bogues' fast-breaking style, the Hornets go into tonight's game averaging a league-best 114.6 points. Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson benefit from Bogues, whose 10.1 assists rank fifth in the league.

And Bristow, while he feels Bogues may be more effective off the bench, also appreciates what the seventh-year pro does for his team.

"There's part of me that would like to prove people wrong that he can't be a starting point guard on a championship team," Bristow said. "The way he came on strong in the playoffs last year, people are starting to believe you can win with Muggsy Bogues."

The playoffs were a coming-out of sorts for Bogues, who, unlike Mourning and Johnson, didn't get a tremendous amount of national exposure while in college. Helping the Hornets to their first winning season last year,

Bogues averaged 9.8 points and 7.7 assists in two exciting playoff series.

His second-round performance against the New York Knicks stood out in particular. In five games, Bogues averaged 10.6 points and shot 51.2 percent. His jump shot and two free throws in the final minute of the second overtime of the nationally televised third game gave Charlotte its only win in the five-game series.

"I think we made a big jump," Bogues said of the team's success. "We've accomplished a lot of things in a short period of time. The good thing about this organization is that we had a plan to be in a certain place in five years and we were able to stay on that path even though we've experimented with a lot of different coaches and players."

L Still, doubts persist whether Bogues can take the next step.

"You have to take into account that if we get a guard and sit Muggsy down, just how good that guard will be," said Dave Twardzik, Charlotte's director of player personnel, when asked if the team was looking for a point guard. "Is there anybody out there that's close to being that good? No. Muggsy is too important to this team."

It should have been an enjoyable off-season for Bogues. The playoff success surely helped in his new promotional deal with Reebok that may include Bogues in a commercial with Shaquille O'Neal. He worked on a book on his life and there are plans for a movie based on his emergence from the projects of East Baltimore.

But the bad news came in a flurry. First Boston Celtics guard and former Dunbar teammate Reggie Lewis died on July 27. Three days after Lewis was buried, Bogues found out that his wife's uncle had died. And less than an hour later, on Aug. 5, Bogues was hit with the news that his father, Richard Bogues, was dead at the age of 56 after a brief illness.

"It was just a tough summer," Bogues said. "It was another obstacle you have to overcome, another level of adversity.

"But you've got to deal with it, and life goes on. You mourn, but you have to stay strong for the family."

Still, the way the news hit -- in a span of just over a week -- was difficult to take.

"It happened all at once, but they say that it comes in threes when it happens," Bogues said. "Me and my wife were able to make it through a difficult time, and the only thing we can do now is continue to move on."

Moving on has Bogues at the helm of a team that has great expectations for this season, especially with the off-season additions of Hersey Hawkins and Eddie Johnson.

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