Since his roller-coaster season a year ago, when he suffered from physical flabbiness and mental anguish, Forward Adrian Dantley has slimmed his body, rounded his skills and emerged as a raging bull in college basketball's china shop. His is a game of unleashed power and rippling muscle, of bloodied lips, rattled bones and fractured defenses. The 6'5", 210-pound Notre Dame sophomore receiveth, to be sure, but he giveth out a lot more.
Last week Dantley worked out a typical exchange, pounding Western Michigan for 27 points and Xavier for 23 more as the Irish won both games and improved their record to 11-6. In return he received a swift, though unintentional, shot to the face from Xavier's Gary Deidrick. The injury required seven stitches above Dantley's eye and X rays for his nose, and held his playing time to 33 minutes in Notre Dame's 96-58 victory. The brevity of that appearance cost him the national scoring lead, at least temporarily.
For most of the season Dantley has been in a close struggle with North Carolina State's David Thompson for that distinction. Going into last week, Dantley was the leader, averaging 32.1 points to Thompson's 31.5. But with the sore schnozz Dantley dropped to 31.2, putting him a ministep—.07 of a point—behind Thompson.
Dantley has accumulated his baskets with a punishing style that Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps likens to Jimmy Brown's. Teammate Peter Crotty says, "When Adrian steps in to take the charging foul, it hurts the offensive player more than it does him."
It is unusual for a top scorer to take the charge at all, but the tactic is consistent with Dantley's all-out aggressiveness. "He works for his points," says Phelps. "He goes to the offensive boards and fills the lane on the fast break to get them. He isn't throwing up 30 shots a game like a lot of other big scorers do. And his aggressiveness gives him a bonus of eight or nine points at the free throw line almost every time we play."
Last season it was fashionable to chip away at Dantley, even though he averaged 18 points a game and made freshman All-America. He was too fat, his critics said, not to mention too slow, too limited and too inconsistent, especially against highly ranked opponents. He has squelched that talk this season by scoring 32 against Indiana, 39 against Kentucky, 29 against Maryland and 32 and 30 against UCLA. "He's ready right now," says one NBA scout. "I didn't like this kid last year and I was wrong. He's too strong for the small forwards and too quick for the big ones. He can kill a team inside or outside."
Despite such high praise, Dantley does not plan to turn pro prematurely, "I don't have any financial problems," he says. "My mother and father divorced when I was a baby, but she and my aunt have taken good care of me. I'm not a hardship case."
The last 14 years Dantley's family has consisted of his mother Virginia, her sister Muriel, whom Adrian calls Aunt Rosie, and Muriel's son Franklin. "Aunt Rosie can get me fired up better than anybody," he says. "She tells me, 'I've been talking about you, now don't make me a liar.' I can't sleep before or after a game, so I always call home. Maybe I worry too much, but Mom and Aunt Rosie get me ready."
Dantley needs all the encouragement he can get from back home in Washington, D.C., because he is overly sensitive to criticism. Told he was fat by an opponent last year, he went on a crash diet, which led to his collapse during a game. This summer he took the more rational approach of cutting down on Big Macs and lifting weights. That peeled 16 pounds of blubber off his body and increased his strength and quickness. "I believe I can score from anywhere," Dantley says, "but I prefer to take my man inside. That way I can use my strength to get a three-point play. [He got three of them in Notre Dame's 84-78 upset of UCLA two weeks ago.] I've gotten a real beating this year, especially my hands and wrists. I won't be able to lift weights again until the season is over."
Dantley's primary concern is leading Notre Dame to a postseason tournament, a prospect that seemed unlikely early in the year when the Irish frittered away sizable leads against UCLA, Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Marquette. "We should have played with blinders on," one player says. "Then we couldn't have seen the scoreboard." Most recently the young team of 10 freshmen and sophomores and only three seniors has won four straight games.
"When you're playing us, you're trying to stop Adrian," Phelps concedes. "No team has been able to do that, but early in the season our opponents were shutting off our other men. Lately the rest of the players have started to give Adrian some help."
"I was getting my share of shots all along," says Billy Paterno, Notre Dame's other talented sophomore forward and the Irish's second leading scorer with a 13.9-point average. "I just needed to hit more of them."
If Dantley has a deficiency, it is on defense, a common problem among players who must concentrate their energies at the offensive end of the floor. And Dantley's preference for scoring is an understandable choice. "You don't make All-America playing defense and A.D. is definitely an All-America," says Irish Guard Dwight Clay.
If he is, it has been in the works a long lime. "I used to live on the court back in Washington," Dantley says. "When my friends would go out on Friday night, I'd still be out there shooting under the lights. I guess I've always worked hard because I'm looking for the perfect game. I play tough, but I'm not trying to hurt anybody. To me, it's just that we're at war for 40 minutes out there."
And because of his erratic performances last season, Dantley has an extra incentive to excel under combat conditions, especially when a large audience is looking in at the war games. "I particularly want to play well on TV," he says. "Then people won't say my other games are freaks."
They are frightening, perhaps, but not freakish at all.