Iverson makes his mark on point

January 03, 1995|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- In Georgetown's basketball guide for this season, coach John Thompson dwells on "unknowns" in his preseason assessment.

"The biggest adjustment we are going to have to make will be putting a freshman into the point guard position that Joey [Brown] is leaving. It's always the most difficult position for somebody to have to play, because that person is an extension of the coach and that person has to create a lot of things for other people."

But when the freshman filling the slot is Allen Iverson, there is nothing unknown involved.

Iverson, one of the nation's most heralded recruits, has turned Thompson's question mark into an exclamation point by averaging 21.5 points -- second in the Big East Conference -- through eight games and flashing the skills that likely would make him the most sensational point guard in Georgetown history and the most prolific if he stays for four years.

In keeping with school policy that forbids freshmen from conducting interviews until they have completed a semester, Iverson had been doing all of his talking on the court.

Yesterday, with Thompson at his side, he held a news conference at McDonough Arena and said, basically, that everything is going fine.

Thompson agreed, saying that the public perception of Iverson -- who spent four months in prison -- has been far too harsh.

"Because of a set of circumstances that happened in his life, there has been a total distortion of the person," said the coach. "He goes to school, practices and takes directions well.

"I thought I had to get the National Guard in here when I listened to other people. That's not even close to being the case at all. This [Iverson] is not a project, far from it. I can name 20 who have been here who were projects and I wanted to get them on out of here. Not Allen."

The image stemmed from Iverson's conviction on three felony charges of maiming by mob in July 1993 after a brawl between blacks and whites the previous February at a Hampton, Va., bowling center. He was 17 at the time.

When Iverson and three other blacks were sentenced to prison terms, the incident became a national cause celebre, with protest groups forming to support Iverson and his friends.

In December 1993, Iverson was granted conditional clemency by then-Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder that allowed Iverson "limited freedom" but bound him to a nightly curfew and forbid his participation in organized athletics.

Thus, after being the Virginia player of the year in basketball and football at Bethel High School as a junior, Iverson missed his senior seasons.

He was not permitted to play in organized events until last summer after his parole. In his first tournament, Iverson had 99 points in three games and led his team to the title in the Kenner Summer League at McDonough.

Once his presence became known, the gymnasium overflowed with spectators, and he treated them to an array of dunks, no-look passes, NBA-range three-pointers and crossover dribbles.

At Bethel, Iverson showed little interest in schoolwork and habitually was late for and absent from class. He was known for keeping late hours in Hampton. At Georgetown, he has changed that.

"I'm just working harder -- a lot harder -- than I did in high school," he said. "I don't want people to think of me as just a basketball player. I want them to know I can get it done in the classroom as well."

Considering the player's history, the choice of Thompson -- known as a disciplinarian -- seemed ideal for Iverson.

His mother, Ann, sought the Georgetown coach during the recruiting process, and Iverson said his coming to Washington was a result of her guidance.

"A lot of it had to do with Coach and my mother," he said. "This is what she wanted me to do."

He signed a letter of intent in April but was not officially enrolled until Sept. 5, after he received his high school diploma.

After a year without organized play, Iverson might have been rusty for a time, and he said: "I don't feel like I'm playing like I want to yet."

But Thompson, usually a stickler for structure, has given Iverson considerable latitude to operate, particularly on offense.

"If you have somebody who has his talent, you try to utilize it," said Thompson. "You can't run without playing defense. One feeds on the other. You don't get somebody with his speed and stamina and then walk up the floor."

Coach Pete Gillen of Providence, the first Big East rival to oppose Iverson, sounded impressed after the freshman scored 30 in Georgetown's 76-74, come-from-behind victory on Dec. 7.

"He has to be the best guard to come to the college ranks in the last 15 years," said Gillen. "This young man is spectacular, and he couldn't be with a better guy than John Thompson."

Friars senior Eric Williams said Iverson is "young, but he's very quick and a good penetrator. I know he takes a lot of shots."

Certainly, reluctance isn't one of Iverson's characteristics. He is an intense competitor who takes charge of the offense.

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