Mike Pegues Delaware's star is lucky to be alive, let alone in the national scoring race

February 15, 1999

The last thing Delaware forward Mike Pegues remembers about the
day he almost died is meeting Thomas Hearns, the former world
champion boxer. It was the summer of 1992, and Pegues, then 14,
was traveling with a Washington, D.C.-based AAU team to a
tournament in Yakima, Wash. The team was walking through Detroit
Metropolitan Airport during a layover when some of the players
spotted Hearns coming off an escalator. "We were all getting his
autograph, saying, 'What's up, champ?'" Pegues recalls. "After
that, all I remember is waking up in the hospital with all these
tubes coming out of me and seeing my mom and dad. I was confused
as hell."

That Pegues is currently the nation's eighth-leading scorer,
averaging 22.9 points a game through Sunday, would be remarkable
even if he hadn't almost died six years ago after suffering 13
seizures and slipping into a coma that would last three days.
(Pegues was suffering from encephalitis, a condition that causes
inflammation of the brain and, in his case, probably resulted
from a case of chicken pox.) His scoring average is also
extraordinary because he's a post player who stands only 6'5".

Pegues began taking the medication Dilantin to treat his
illness. It slowed his metabolism, and his weight ballooned to
280 pounds during his freshman year at DeMatha High in
Hyattsville, Md. Delaware coach Mike Brey, then an assistant at
Duke, first met Pegues while conducting a clinic at DeMatha
during the summer of 1993. "He was a blob," Brey says, "but as
he went through drills, you could see he had the footwork of a
ballet dancer." Pegues wanted to play for a major-college
program, but as a senior at DeMatha he was still a 250-pound
wallflower. He signed with Delaware only because no more
prominent school wanted him.

Pegues (pronounced puh-GEESE) was weaned from Dilantin the
summer before he enrolled at Delaware, and since then his
conditioning has steadily caught up to his considerable skills.
He started 12 games near the end of his freshman season and last
year averaged 16.8 points in leading the Blue Hens to the
America East title and a berth in the NCAAs. Pegues, who at
week's end had led Delaware to a 17-5 record (10-3 in
conference), is a favorite to be the America East MVP this
season and has gotten rave reviews from some of the coaches who
passed him over in recruiting three years ago. "He can play, in
my opinion, in any league in the country," Virginia coach Pete
Gillen said after Pegues dropped 35 points on the Cavaliers
during a 72-64 Blue Hens loss. "We had no answers for him." No
answers for a 6'5" post player who has one dunk and two
three-pointers all year? "It's just about positioning," Pegues
says, answering for himself.

Both of Pegues's parents played college basketball: his father,
Mike, for Division II Pitt-Johnstown (Pa.); his mother, Sharon
Marshall, for Division II University of the District of
Columbia. Sharon works for the D.C. Department of Recreation and
Parks, and Mike Jr. spent his childhood following her to
playgrounds all over the city, where he had to test his mettle
against more than just the other guys. "My mom used to put me on
my butt," he says. One day when he was trying to counter by
jacking up outside shots, Sharon stopped the game, stood in the
paint and said, "Mike, if you want to play this game, this
should be your area. Right here."

It's a lesson he learned well. "If you're a post guy, and you do
most of your damage with your back to the basket," says Pegues,
"why not get as close as you can?"

--S.D.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL EPPRIDGE

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)