McGuthrie blossoms as a scorer for Mount Recruited for point, senior is No. 2 all time

March 13, 1996|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

NORMAL, Ill. - It was the spring of 1992, and Jim Phelan and his staff knew they needed a point guard to make Mount St. Mary's competitive in NCAA Division I basketball.

The Mount had had difficulty taking care of the ball during the previous season, and a handler was the top recruiting priority.

They found him in Montgomery County, a scrawny, 5-foot-8 kid at Springbrook High named Chris McGuthrie. For four years, the coaches were confident they had remedied the team's primary weakness with this 145-pound whippet whose offensive production was confined primarily to the fast break.

Little did they know that they also had landed the No. 2 scorer in the history of the school.

"We knew he could shoot in high school," said Phelan. "But we never expected him to develop as a scorer like he did.

"We thought he'd be the guy to get rid of our inability to get the ball down the floor. We believed he'd be a good scorer, but we never dreamed he'd pour in points like this."

McGuthrie has been much more than a "good" scorer. He has been a player dedicated to the game with a desire to improve himself far beyond his physical limitations.

As a result, the senior enters tonight's National Invitation Tournament opener at Illinois State with 2,283 career points second only to Jack Sullivan (2,672) in Mount history and almost a 20.0 average.

The numbers are simply a testament to hard work.

Throughout his career, McGuthrie has worked and worked on his game, often experi- McGuthriementing at Knott Arena five and six hours before tip-off on game days.

"His work ethic is the best I've ever seen," said backcourt mate and best friend Riley Inge. "Sometimes, I don't know how he dedicates himself like he does.

"He has taken thousands and thousands of jump shots. Being small, he is constantly trying to find new ways to get off his shot and get the ball.

"Sometimes, you see him take a weird-looking shot in a game, the kind that coaches groan about. But I know he has practiced that one every day."

McGuthrie has taken that same dedication to the weight room. After his sophomore year and the arrival of Inge to assume the point, he realized he would have to get stronger.

"When I knew I had to play two [shooting] guard, that's when I really started with the weights," he said. "People were holding me, and I wasn't strong enough to shake them. Now, they look at me and think I want to be physical."

The training (and some gorging at the table) has pushed him to a solid 175 pounds with a muscular frame that can take thinner opponents into the low post and evade the holding tactics.

The bigger body also has helped him avoid major injuries; McGuthrie has missed none of the 114 Mount games played during his career.

Inge said the only time his roommate really struggled was during their first year together, when McGuthrie was trying to adapt to the new position.

"He had had such an awesome freshman year that when he put in 18 points a game the next season, he was actually struggling," said Inge. "He was still in a point guard's body, and he didn't have the year we expected.

"But after he added that strength and kept his quickness, there was no stopping him."

Depending on how far the Mount goes in the NIT, McGuthrie can finish this year with the second-highest single-season scoring total (to Sullivan's 1,070 in 1956-57). He needs 52 points to pass Sullivan's 684 total of 1954-55.

The totals are fantastic for a player who was not recruited by major programs and was viewed as a secondary offensive force.

Still, although he has been the Northeast Conference Newcomer of the Year and is the current Player of the Year, his career has been fraught with some disappointment.

"We wanted to win the conference every year and didn't," he said. "This year, we wanted to go farther in the NCAAs and didn't. And I wanted every season personally to be better than the last one. That didn't happen.

"The awards are nice, but I'll probably appreciate them more when I leave." McGuthrie never has lacked confidence. He will shoot at any time from almost anywhere.

He said the key to his success "is the fadeaway jumper that sets up everything else. I lean back when I shoot, and that gave me what I needed to be a shooting guard. I like to think I can score as well as the taller players. I don't see why not."

When the Mount's NIT trail ends, so will McGuthrie's assault on collegiate nets. He has been invited to the NBA look-see camp in Portsmouth, Va., but is not counting on a pro career.

"Of course, I'd like to continue playing," he said. "But if it doesn't happen, I'll go on. I'm not going to rest my whole life on it."

"Guys his size have made it,"said Phelan. "But there are certainly no guarantees. It's all about getting a chance.

"I know if hard work means anything, Chris has that chance. He is not really a great natural shooter, but he has practiced so much, he's made himself a shooter. He is a model for anyone."

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