Albert Mouring dreamed the same dreams of all the kids who decided one afternoon they wanted to be basketball stars. He shot the same shots, practiced the same moves, and won millions of imaginary games at the buzzer.
But dreams of this high school senior, who's been called "The Man" since middle school, sprung not from hardscrabble inner-city courts that so often mold those dreams into reality. His dreams started on a backyard dirt court and a tiny playground miles from the last square of city sidewalk.
Basketball is still the city game, but the 6-foot-3, 175-pound guard from Colonel Richardson High School on the Eastern Shore has proved that talent does not always disembark with the last bus.
For against the backdrop of southern Caroline County's rolling farmland, in a quarter-mile-long hamlet named Jonestown, he has made himself one of the nation's top college recruits -- and landed a full scholarship at the University of Connecticut this fall. He's also proved that more than decoys and tomatoes come from "The Shore."
Mouring will attempt to further illustrate his point when his Colonels face Newport Prep in the Charm City Classic at 5: 15 p.m. today.
"They don't give us respect [on the Western Shore]," Mouring said. "I had to earn my respect -- I had to do that with my game. And I'm still trying to prove it. It puts good pressure on me -- makes me ready to play even harder."
Mouring has posted ever-improving statistics in relative obscurity for 3 1/2 seasons.
He averaged 16.7 points as a pensive, too-quick-to-pass freshman, but in addition to his long-range shooting skills, established his trademark free throw proficiency (he's a career 84 percent shooter) by hitting 69 of 80 attempts (86 percent). Going into tonight's game, he's hit his last 20.
As a sophomore, Mouring began to complement his deep scoring abilities with a slashing inside game, and he averaged 24.7 points a game. As a junior, the average climbed to 32 points, and he shot 54.7 percent from the field.
This season, he is scoring 38.3 points a game on 57 percent shooting from the field (43 percent from three-point range, and 64.6 percent on two-pointers).
Mouring has scored 40 or more points against five teams this season (and never less than 26), including a 62-point effort in a 99-77 win over Queen Anne's Jan. 7.
In that headline-grabbing effort, he hit 11 of 14 three-pointers, 11 of 16 two-point tries and seven of 10 foul shots in 31 minutes against the Lions. The 62 points likely either set or approached a state single-game record, although no official records are kept for regular-season games.
'He's not forcing shots'
"People look at this and think he must be selfish," said Merrill Morgan, Colonel Richardson's coach for 30 years. "But he's not. Some good players never have a shooting percentage like his. He's not forcing up shots."
Morgan met Mouring as a sixth-grader after watching him play in a recreation center game the boy's elementary school principal invited him to attend. He knew that in a couple years, something special was coming his way.
"You could tell then he had all the skills," Morgan said. "He was doing things the other kids couldn't, things some older kids couldn't."
Local lore at the time said Mouring already was beating players twice his age -- men in their 20s -- on the playgrounds, and he
was often seen honing his ball-handling skills by dribbling up and down the stretch of Route 16 near Preston that defines Jonestown.
"We were on the bus going to play Easton one day -- I guess Albert was in the seventh grade," Morgan recalled, "and when we drove through Jonestown [assistant coach] Tom Coursey said, 'There's The Man.' Albert was out in the backyard shooting foul shots in the snow. That's the dedication that made him what he is."
Mouring's life at home has not changed much, even since people around school began calling him "superstar." His mother, Shanelle, and father, Albert, see that he and his younger brother Gerren, 14, remain on an even keel.
"One time I was around the house thinking I was all that [stuff]," Mouring remembered with a smile. "She put me in my place. She said I was still just like anybody else."
Mouring's mother said she just wants her son to realize what he has, adding: "I just didn't want him to get a big head. I told him he was blessed, and God gave him what he has."
Much of Mouring's production has been attributed in city circles to weak competition, a statement he and Morgan have had to combat. For example, William Wells, coach for Baltimore powerhouse St. Frances, said: "The kid has all the tools. He can shoot. He can go to the basket. The question is whether he could do it against the city kids."
Colonel Richardson faces mostly Class 1A schools -- the state's smallest -- during its regular season, but plays in an East Region that has been regarded as one of the state's best for the past three years. Five of the top eight teams in the current Class 1A poll (including Richardson at No. 5) are from the East.
"People always talk about the level of competition," Morgan said, "but he's always stepped it up as the competition got better."
Mouring's penchant for long-range scoring has led to many game-defining moments.
"We were playing a game against Kent. Albert was shooting a three," Morgan said, "and Bruce Green came up from behind and blocked his shot. Albert came down the next time and hit a three from five feet behind where the NBA line would be. And the game just stopped. It was like the game just froze for a moment. All the Kent players were just looking at him."
'A high, major prospect'
All that has made Mouring -- depending on the scouting service of choice -- one of the top 12 to 42 prospects nationally. He's one of the top 15 shooting guards. He also is one of the three best in Maryland, with St. Frances swingman Mark Karcher and Thomas Johnson forward Terence Morris.
"He's a high, major prospect," said Joe Butler, an evaluator with Metro Index, a scouting service that has rated prep players for 20 years. "He was kind of hiding over on the Shore, but nobody's going to be able to hide there anymore."
The University of Maryland emerged as a serious contender for Mouring's services by 1995, but the Terrapins backed off, sources familiar with the situation said, fearing that Mouring would not qualify academically.
With his most recent 2.45 grade-point average, Mouring would need an 820 Scholastic Assessment Test score to qualify to play as a freshman under NCAA standards. Morgan called that figure "very reachable."
"I feel like I can go there and fit in," Mouring said. "Coach Calhoun was real honest with me. He told me I should be able to go up there and get some playing time."
And quite possibly respect.
Tickets for today's Charm City Classic games at the Towson Center are $15, $12, $10 and $8. Call Ticketmaster, (410) 481-SEAT, or the Towson State University ticket office, (410) 830-2244.
Charm City today
Site: Towson Center
Northwest bracket: Consolation: St. John's-Prospect Hall vs. Simon Gratz, 3:30
Championship: St. Frances vs. Mount Zion, 8:45
Southeast bracket: Consolation: Thomas Johnson vs. Rice, 1:45
Championship: Calvert Hall vs. St. Benedict's, 7
Maryland bonus: Colonel Richardson vs. Newport Prep, 5: 15
Pub Date: 2/01/97