Jerrod Mustaf Interview (Part 1): Mustaf Discusses Coach Morgan Wooten, Being a McDonald's All-American, His Maryland Career, Playing for the Knicks & More
Jeffrey Kee: Talk about your upbringing a little bit. As a kid who had just moved to Maryland from North Carolina, how did you get the attention of [legendary DeMatha coach]Morgan Wootten?
Jerrod Mustaf: In Greenbelt [Maryland] there was this community center that everyone went to. I used to go there every day to work out. One day, a youth volunteer coach named Mike Gielen saw me play. He approached me and said, “How old are you?” When I told him I was 13 he was shocked. He talked to my dad about my potential and I ended up attending the DeMatha Basketball Camp, which at the time was called the Metropolitan Area Basketball School. I actually had gone to the camp the summer before, when I was 12, but I was awful. That next year, I came back and was dunking on people – I was a totally different player. I ended up outplaying everyone at the camp and won MVP honors. Morgan Wootten noticed that. He called me into his office and talked with my dad and I about playing for DeMatha. Not too long after that I ended up enrolling. Interestingly enough, I got my first recruiting letter from [former Georgia Tech head coach]Bobby Cremmins that summer. He saw me play at the camp. I was about 6’5 – back then there weren’t many 6’5 eighth graders.
JK: As a freshman at DeMatha, you were teammates with Danny Ferry, right?
JM: Yes, I was. I was 14 at the time. Danny was an awesome player. As a matter of fact, some days, he used to give me rides home from practice. He would kick my butt in practice, then give me a ride home and trash talk me the whole time. Danny was a character, man. The thing I appreciated most about playing against the No. 1 high school player in the country, as a freshman, is that playing against him every day in practice made the actual games much easier for me. I was just a great experience playing against Danny. He was a very smart, savvy player, and he made me a better player as well.
JK: What was it like playing in the McDonald's All-American game along side guys like Shawn Kemp, Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner?
JM: Being selected to play in the McDonald’s game was a huge honor. From what I’ve seen, that 88’ class was one of the better classes in high school basketball. By playing at DeMatha, I was always competing against the best players in the nation, so I already had a lot of firsthand experience playing against these guys. I remember playing against Hank Gathers as a freshman. Hank and Bo Kimble played over at Dobbins Tech [Pennsylvania]. I played against Sherman Douglas. I knew Billy Owens as a freshman – he was a 6’3 in his first year of high school. I watched Shawn Kemp. I played Alonzo Mourning in AAU. I also played in the Nike Camp, so I had already played against a lot of the top guys in my class. Collectively, we were a strong, strong group of players.
JK: You and Alonzo Mourning were two local guys – you being from Maryland and Mourning hailing from Virginia. Were you two friends at all?
JM: I wouldn’t say “friends.” We knew each other on a friendly basis and we respected each other, but we were competitors in high school. I first saw his name when I was in the 9th grade. We played each other a few times in AAU basketball. I followed his career. I knew who he was. He knew who I was. But being a University of Maryland guy and with him going to Georgetown, we didn’t hang out; we didn’t socialize. We were kind of like cross town rivals.
JK: Your college recruitment process was very unorthodox. Coaches who were interested in recruiting you were forced to fill out a questionnaire that your family devised – questions included topics regarding the number of black faculty members on the university staff to the percentage of black students and athletes graduated to the number of blacks on the athletic staff. Who came up with that idea?
JM: That was my dad’s idea. He was a very conscious parent. He was conscious of a lot of things that were going on socially. He felt that my recruitment was an opportunity to make a difference. He talked it over with people who were respected in the community and together we devised the questionnaire. Most importantly, it was about making people aware about something that had not been done before and got people to ask themselves, “Why not?” Looking back, I feel that we did that with the questionnaire.
JK: How'd you decide on the University of Maryland?
JM: A lot went into it. I had the opportunity to meet with John Slaughter. He was the first black Chancellor in the ACC. Bob Wade was the head coach at the time. He was the first black coach in the ACC. We talked about a lot of things. We talked about how the team would utilize my skillset once I got to college. We talked about having a section for underprivileged kids, so that they could attend games and see college athletes up close. But a lot of the things that we discussed never had the opportunity to play out because John Slaughter was fired before my freshman year. Brian Williams, our starting center, transferred to Arizona. So a lot changed from the time I initially began considering Maryland. At the same time, Maryland was in the ACC. We were going to play a lot of the Tobacco Road teams. Being from North Carolina, my family would have a chance to come watch me play. Our games were going to be televised as well. So when you look at the overall package, Maryland stood out the most; more so than any other school. They were offering a lot of what I was looking for, which is why; ultimately, my decision to play there was a no-brainer.
JK: You mentioned Brian Williams (later known as Bison Dele). What do you remember about him?
JM: Brian was a West Coast guy. He was originally from Santa Monica. He would be walking around the University of Maryland wearing flip flips in the winter and shorts in the snow. He was a just different kind of guy. He ended up transferring to Arizona and played alongside two other centers – one of them was [former NBA player]Sean Rooks. I thought he would have made a bigger impact if he had stayed in the ACC, but for whatever reason, he decided to transfer and it worked out well for him.
JK: But being a big man, didn’t him transferring benefit you?
JM: No, I was going to start my freshman year anyways. Remember, I was a three time All-American in high school, so I was going to start. Also, I wasn’t a center. He played center. I was a hybrid player – I played both the small forward and power forward positions. I could go inside and outside. At Maryland, I was going to be a post-up, small forward, sort of like the way Danny Ferry was at Duke. If Brian Williams would have stayed – having him and Tony Massenburg would have allowed me to do that.
JK: You got a chance to play Danny Ferry twice during your freshman year. What was that like?
JM: Oh, I was looking forward to it. I was excited about it. I couldn’t wait to play him. I scored 16 the first game and 18 in the second. As a freshman, I averaged 18 points against the ACC, so I was no slouch.
JK: After averaging 19 points and eight rebounds per game as a sophomore, you declared for the NBA draft. I read that you left Maryland, not necessarily because of the NBA, but because of your disdain for the NCAA. Talk about that a little bit.
JM: The bottom line is that I’ve always had a problem with the NCAA. I couldn’t have seen myself continuing to play within that system. They’re completely unfair to the players. They always have been. They oppressed us. I remember Nike gave our team sweat suits. Everybody that I knew in college sports had these sweat suits. The NCAA made us give them back. They said we couldn’t accept any perks, but it wasn’t a perk. There were just so many things of that nature that I thought were so ridiculous that it made me not want to be in that type of system anymore. One of the reasons why I went to Maryland is because we played on television – my family could watch me play. The NCAA banned us from playing on TV. I didn’t do anything wrong. My teammates didn’t commit any violations or break any rules. We, the players, were unfairly punished. That made me not want to be a part of the NCAA any longer. After my sophomore year, there was an opportunity for me to play in the NBA, and I ended up taking that route.
JK: Weren't the sanctions handed down because Coach Wade had one of his players driven to class?
JM: That’s right and it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I understood what had happened and was in complete support of Coach Wade. In my estimation, a coach assumes the role of a father figure, as a mentor and as a role model. A lot of times, players sign to play for certain schools because the coach will go into the student athlete’s home and convince them that they’ll take care of them as if they were their own child. Coach Wade did that. He went to Baltimore and picked out Rudy Archer and gave him an opportunity to succeed in life. Coming from the inner city, Rudy didn’t have the necessary tools that other kids had to succeed in the classroom. Coach Wade found a way to enroll him at Prince George’s Community College and had one of his assistants drive Rudy back and forth because he had no other means of transportation. That is what a coach is supposed to do, and for him to lose his job and lose everything because of that was completely unfair. I wish more coaches cared for their players the way Coach Wade did.
JK: Sanctions aside, you were selected 17th overall by the Knicks in the 1990 draft. Describe your rookie season in New York.
JM: I really enjoyed it. Being the youngest player in the league – it was a great learning experience for me. As a rookie, I played three different positions – small forward, power forward and center – which is very tough to do. And I’d say I did pretty well because over the course of the season, I earned Player of the Game honors at all three positions.
JK: What was it like being teammates with Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley?
JM: It was great. I learned a lot from those guys, so I really valued the opportunity to compete against them every day in practice. Oakley and I enjoyed a great relationship off the court, even though I was drafted to eventually challenge him for his position. He taught me a lot about the NBA, both on the court and off.