Sunday, January 19, 1997
Fortson adds more teeth to his game

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Danny Fortson has been warned about whining. He is expected to face stray elbows with a smile and accept the occasional rabbit punch without retaliation.

The University of Cincinnati's star forward is trying to do his suffering in silence, but it is a constant struggle for composure. He can't seem to turn the other cheek without getting slugged.

''People can't understand what it's like,'' Fortson said Saturday afternoon. ''They'll never understand that. I'm always getting elbowed. People step on my toes. They try to hit me in the (groin). They do everything they can to get me mad.''

Fresh off his most frustrating game of the season - Thursday's nine-point, five-foul fiasco against Temple - Fortson was advised to adopt a tougher attitude by UC coach Bob Huggins. This seemed like sound advice, particularly considering Fortson's tendency to pout, but what is a man to do when the other team begins teething on him?

Fortson scored 27 points and seized 18 rebounds in UC's 92-57 rout of Arkansas Saturday, but perhaps his greatest achievement of the afternoon was that he was bitten and resisted the urge to bite back.

''Somebody bit me on the shoulder,'' he said, peeling back his sweat shirt to reveal the tell-tale teeth marks. ''It's hard not to react to something like that, but I keep telling myself, 'If I do that, then they win.'''

Nolan Richardson's fabled Forty Minutes Of Hell hath lost some of its fury of late. Still, if his Razorbacks are not as refined as they once were, they remain rugged. Fortson maneuvered more easily around Arkansas than he had within Temple's tortuous matchup zone, but both teams provided plenty of bruises.

Seeking refuge in NBA

''If I turn pro (after the season), that would be the reason for me to go,'' Fortson said. ''To get away from this. In the NBA, it's one-on-one. If that one guy's beating me, I need to get in the weight room. But you don't get double and triple-teamed. There's no zone (defense).''

Like a lot of promising college players, Fortson may be more eager to embrace the National Basketball Association than he is prepared to play at that level. His shooting range is limited, and his ability to put the ball on the floor between shots remains an open question.

But what Danny Fortson does best, no one does much better. Within six feet of the basket, he is a steamroller with spin moves. ''The best power player in America,'' Huggins said Saturday.

''Fortson is probably the best power forward I've seen,'' Arkansas' Richardson said. ''He's got great hands and a great body and he's intimidating.

''We tried everything we could. We tried to double-down, double-up and it seemed he could just pick up five of our guys and throw them in the basket.''

According to UC's accounting, Fortson made only one field goal Saturday that was longer than he is. There was no need. Arkansas was so poorly equipped to contend with him close to the basket, and fouled him so frequently, that he could have claimed residency at the free-throw line. Fortson attempted 14 free throws Saturday, converted 13 of them, and maintained a stuff upper lip throughout.

'He kept his composure'

''Coach had a meeting with us yesterday,'' UC forward Ruben Patterson said. ''He told Danny to quit being the baby so much. Teams are going to try to get him in foul trouble, but he kept his composure tonight. He did good.''

Fortson did not check to see if the bite he sustained had broken his skin until a reporter raised the question long after the game. (Answer: It did not). He was more concerned about some stiffness in his back, another unpleasant reminder of Temple, but he was not being a baby about it.

''I knew sooner or later I was going to have a game like that,'' Fortson said. ''I'm not Michael Jordan or Oscar Robertson. I'm just a basketball player.''

Danny Fortson is an extraordinary basketball player, but he has not always been so resilient. You bite him now, he might swallow it.