To basketball fans, the 1980's were a golden age for centers. The decade produced an array of many of the college game's great pivot men: Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, and J.R. Reid, to name a few. By the end of the decade, all eyes were on a 6-10 high schooler from the Tidewater area of Virginia, who was, by all accounts, the next Patrick Ewing.
Alonzo Mourning grew up in Chesapeake, VA, and after his parents divorced in 1980 he grew up in the foster care of Fannie Threet, a local schoolteacher who cared for 50 different children through the years. Alonzo was, of course, something special.
"He was always very obedient, very mannerly," Threet told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot in 1995. "There might have been only one time when I had to speak to him harshly. He had lifted one of the boys up in the air, and I came running out and said, `You put that boy down or I'll put a brick through your head.' And that was it."
By 11, young Alonzo Mourning was already six feet tall; by eighth grade, he was playing high school basketball. By his senior year at Indian River HS, Mourning was averaging 22 points, 12 rebounds and nine blocks a game, having once blocked 27 shots in a single contest. The consensus national player of the year, he was everyone's #1 target, but everyone also knew where his loyalties were. In his years in the Threet home, Mourning kept a poster of another player who also wore #33: Patrick Ewing. It was Mourning's dream to follow Ewing at Georgetown and get his college degree there. He signed with Georgetown in the fall of 1987, destined to wear Ewing's fabled jersey number.
In the spring of 1988, Mourning became the first high schooler invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic basketball team. He did not make the squad, but Mourning was more than ready for the collegiate challenges to follow. At Georgetown, he started every game as a freshman, averaging 29 minutes a game and while he only led the team in scoring over six games, his play won national acclaim.
For 1988-89, Mourning provided consistent scoring alongside seniors Charles Smith and Jaren Jackson. What immediately distinguished Mourning was his ability in rebounds and blocks. In his third collegiate game, Mourning not only earned the first unofficial "triple double" in Georgetown history, but broke Patrick Ewing's single game block record with 11 blocks in only 22 minutes versus St. Leo. In his first ten games, Mourning was averaging 5.7 blocks per game, and coupled it with some amazing offensive efforts, including a 26 point, 17 rebound, six block effort against Miami. Despite averaging less than eight shots a game, he contributed 13.2 points and 7.3 rebounds a game for the 29-5 Hoyas, earning him 2nd team All-Big East, Rookie of the Year, and Defensive Player of the year honors for the conference, in addition to third team All-America honors. His 169 blocks set an NCAA record.
After a tremendous freshmen season, Mourning was even better for his sophomore return. he scored in double figures in a but one game that season, averaging 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds a year. As defenses crashed in on him in an attempt to limit his inside scoring, Mourning took to the foul line with a vengeance. From his opening game that season--a 13 for 14 effort at the line versus Hawaii-Pacific--he rewrote the Georgetown free throw records, shooting a record 220 free throws that season, with double figures in free throws ten different times.
Mourning turned in big games against Virginia Tech (27 points, 11 rebounds), DePaul (26 points, 14 rebounds), and Connecticut (20 points, 12 rebounds). If there was a drawback to Mourning's numbers is that he wasn't getting the ball enough. For the season, Mourning averaged 8.6 shot attempts per game; in the Hoyas final seven games, he had just over six attempts per game as the Hoyas sputtered to lose three of its last seven games, each by five points or less. For the season, he was a second team All-America selection, 1st team All-Big East, and joined with Dikembe Mutombo as the conference's Defensive Players of the Year.
For his junior season, Mourning's prospects seemed limitless. he opened the season averaging 22 points a game, highlighted by a 22 point 10 rebound effort over Duke in the ACC-Big East Challenge series. Toward the end of the game Mourning suffered an injury to the arch of his foot which sidelined him for nine games in the season. He returned in mid-January but it was not until early March that he had regained his stride, finishing the last six games averaging 18.6 points and 9.5 rebounds, including a 22 point, 13 rebound effort in the 1991 Big East finals versus Seton Hall, the first loss in seven Big East finals for the Hoyas. Overall, he shot 52 percent from the field and 79 percent from the line, finishing third in scoring.
By 1992, Mourning had one more season with which to earn the goal that his mentor had reached at Georgetown: an NCAA title. But while Patrick Ewing had the able assistance of names like Williams, Wingate, Jackson, Martin, and Graham, Alonzo Mourning never had such depth around him, A starting lineup of Mourning, Brian Kelly, Irvin Church, Robert Churchwell and Joey Brown entered the 1991-92 season as one of two favorites for the conference title, but it was up to Mourning to carry the load.
Did he ever.
In one of the single most dominating seasons by a senior, Alonzo Mourning was the force and the fury of the 1992 Hoyas. He led the team with double figures in scoring in every single game and double figure rebounds in 22 of them. He opened the season with a second career triple double (32 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 blocks) and almost did so twice more in the following two weeks, with a 21 point, 22 rebound, nine block effort against Delaware State and a 25 point, 14 rebound, five block effort against UDC, the latter in only 27 minutes of action.
He opened Big East play with 24 points, 15 boards, and eight blocks against Villanova. Next came 28 and 12 versus Providence, then 23 and 11 versus Seton Hall. In 16 Big East games, Mourning averaged 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds a game, with expert free throw shooting helping the Hoyas stay close in many games.
He scored a career high 38 in a double overtime loss at Boston College, setting a school record with 18 free throws in 26 attempts. Three days later, Mourning scored 26 points, 11 rebounds, and seven blocks in an upset over Villanova, shooting 14 of 15 from the line. He scored 76 points and 22 rebounds in three games in the 1992 Big East tournament, and was named the tournament MVP despite the Hoyas' last minute loss to Syracuse. Mourning thus became the first player ever named the Big East's Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Tournament MVP in the same season.
Entering NCAA play, the Hoyas seemed to be off to a good start with Mourning's 21 point, 11 rebound effort in a win over South Florida. By the second round, Florida State coach Pat Kennedy did what 31 other opponents couldn't do all year: deny Mourning the ball. Held to just 4 for 7 shooting and only three rebounds, Mourning was largely ineffective as Sam Cassell (19 points) and Doug Edwards (15 points, 16 rebounds) powered the Seminoles past the Hoyas 78-68 in the second round of the tournament. The game remains one of FSU's biggest NCAA wins--the school has only one NCAA tournament game win in the 15 years since. For Mourning, a consensus All-Big East and All-America center, his career had ended four games short.
The Alonzo Mourning story continues today. Drafted as the second pick in the 1992 NBA draft, Mourning has become one of the NBA's most feared centers, with his matchups against Patrick Ewing providing some of the league's most exciting games over the years.
Mourning was diagnosed with a kidney disorder following the 2000 Olympics, where he helped lead the United States to a gold medal. He was sidelined during the 2002-03 season in an attempt to heal his kidneys and announced his retirement in the fall of 2003, receiving a kidney transplant soon thereafter.
"I feel for him and his family during what is a very difficult time for them," said Patrick Ewing following the retirement announcement in 2003. "Alonzo has always been a strong person and I know he will find a way to overcome this setback. What is important now is that Alonzo focus his energies on getting healthy and living the rest of his life."
Despite the concerns of friends and family that a return to the NBA could prove a threat to his health, he returned to the game a year later, playing a key role as the Miami Heat won the 2006 NBA title. In 13 seasons over 15 years, Mourning is a seven time NBA All-Star, averaging 18.9 points and nine rebounds a game.
"Since I left that operating table, my outlook has changed so much about life," Mourning said after the NBA title game. "I've got to thank God for just giving me the opportunity to play this game of basketball, and for giving me life again."
In recent years, Alonzo Mourning has been at the forefront of raising funds for kidney research and has been active in charitable efforts in his adopted home of Miami, raising over $5 million for community programs and hosting the successful "Zo's Summer Groove" fundraiser for nearly a decade. Closer to campus, he endowed the Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Scholarship, which provides need-based financial support for student-athletes majoring in science or medical research.
On and off the court, Alonzo Mourning remains one of Georgetown's brightest stars, a man whose courage and determination are a source of pride as well as perspective for the student-athletes which have followed him.