Muggsy Bogues is the tiniest player in college basketball, but nobody looks down on him. Wake Forest's senior guard is 5'3", squarish, muscular and no larger than the cheerleaders urging the Deacons to victory. "Muggsy's the only player I've had who's littler than my wife," says his coach, Bob Staak. "But there's a pro player in that 5'3" body."
This is the first season his teammates have relied upon him to score since he left the playgrounds of East Baltimore, yet Bogues—11 inches smaller than the 11-10 Deacons' next shortest starter—is tallying 13.3 points per game, hitting 49.1% of his shots. He even has a hot hand from the three-point line, making 20 of 43 (46.5%), while leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in assists (9.6) and steals (2.7) for the second straight year. Critics wondered if he could make it in college ball; it turns out Bogues may have the most talent per inch in the country.
Bogues is a remarkable overachiever who excels through sheer lack of size. He makes the game adapt to him. He's in it almost every minute, hectoring opponents, forcing turnovers, appearing out of nowhere to break up plays. Bogues seems to flow around the court beneath the line of vision of even six-foot players.
All this has made Bogues the most respected player in the ACC, according to a Charlotte Observer poll of league players. "I look up to Muggsy," says 6'10" teammate Ralph Kitley, with a straight face.
February 16, 1987
Muggsy, who is called Tyrone by his professors, got his nickname because he was a slick-fingered ball thief who reminded his chums of Leo Gorcey's tough-guy character in the Bowery Boys movies. He grew up, more or less, in a public housing project across from Dunbar High. Pop, once a stevedore on the Baltimore docks, is 5'6". Mom is 4'11".
As tykes, Muggsy and his pals shared all their toys, which may help explain his selfless play on the court. When they saw the big guys dunking, they wanted some of the action. So they cut the bottoms out of milk crates and tied them to a chain link fence at dunkable heights. Today Bogues can stuff a volleyball, but not a basketball. "My palms are too small," he explains. "Anyway, two points is two points."
Muggsy's team at Dunbar won 60 straight games and ranked No. 1 in the country in 1982-83. Surrounded by teammates Reggie Williams (Georgetown), Reggie Lewis (Northeastern) and Michael Brown (Clemson), Muggsy never had to shoot. Even so, he was the team's MVP that year. About a dozen colleges offered him scholarships, including Virginia, Penn State, and Seton Hall, but he picked Wake Forest. "I was looking for a small school," he says.
Bogues came off the bench as a freshman and didn't get much chance to refine the street moves he perfected at Dunbar. In 32 games he took only 46 shots and made just 14 of them. "I'm not a patient guy," he says. Even now, when he orders his customary Big Mac, he says, "Hold the cheese," but picks off the onions himself. "It takes them too long," Bogues says.
He began to master his restlessness as a sophomore, holding Duke's Johnny Dawkins to eight points, the first time in 52 games that the All-America had been denied double figures. Bogues had 12 points, including two free throws that clinched the Deacons' 91-89 overtime upset of the second-ranked Blue Devils. Duke fans taunted Bogues during that game by chanting, "Stand up."
Sixteen days later on national TV, Bogues short-circuited 5'6" Spud Webb and North Carolina State: 20 points, 10 assists, 4 steals. Commentator Al McGuire raved, "I've never seen a player dominate a game the way he did." Last year, when Duke trounced Wake Forest at Durham, Blue Devil fans seemed to have come around to McGuire's point of view; they gave Bogues a standing ovation after his 12-assist, 6-steal performance. "Muggsy activates the greatest fear a guard has—to be stripped at halfcourt in front of God and the whole world," says Ernie Nestor, who recruited him for Wake Forest.
Over the past two seasons the Deacons have not been a threat in the ACC, and this year Bogues's scoring and play-making have often been the difference between respectability and embarrassment. Against Georgia Tech, Bogues twice tied the game with three-pointers in the final moments of a wrenching 65-59 overtime loss. He finished with 18 points and 9 assists. His best performance, though, was against Clemson. The Deacons were overmatched, but Bogues helped put the game into overtime. His career-high 23 points and 17 assists were not quite enough to prevent a 91-88 loss.
Last summer Bogues starred for the U.S. at the world championships in Spain. In the second round he held Yugoslavia's 6'6" Drazen Petrovic, who averaged 26.2 points in his nine other tournament games, to 12. In the gold medal game against the Soviet Union, he had 10 steals and 5 assists as the U.S. won 87-85. The Spanish press dubbed him la Chispa Negra ("the Black Spark"). "He has nerves of steel and super-flexible muscles," gasped the newspaper El Pais. "On the court he appears to be a little brother of his teammates, but it is he who orders, commands and directs." In Oviedo, one of the tournament sites, Muggsy so endeared himself to round-ball aficionados that he was invited to return as the guest of honor at a local fiesta. But NCAA rules prohibited the free trip.
The question now is whether Bogues can play in the pros. The Harlem Globetrotters are interested, but Bogues wants to give the NBA a shot. He might get his chance on a strong team like the Los Angeles Lakers, who could use him to spell Magic Johnson. Bogues could feed the big guys, scoot around opponents' legs and generally create havoc. Skeptics abound, though. Indiana Pacers assistant coach Mel Daniels has remarked, "I don't think he'd get a shot off in the pros, and defensively he can't stop anybody."
Bogues, of course, disagrees. "In high school," he says, "I always heard, 'Muggs, you're too short for the ACC Now it's, 'Muggs, you're too short for the NBA.' But the game's not just for seven-or six-footers. It's for people who can play. And I can play as well as anybody."