Los Angeles — Rookie forward Mark Aguirre of the Dallas Mavericks, at 240 pounds and with an upper body that resembles a telephone booth, looks like a middle linebacker who somehow excels on a basketball court.
Even more unusual is the fact that Aguirre, the No. 1 pick in last June's National Basketball Association college draft, brings as much finesse to his game as he does power and has hands the size of frying pans. He doesn't just palm the ball, he surrounds it.
While Mark isn't exactly a soloist, he was the lead shooter during his years at DePaul University, a man as used to having his way with the ball as Arturo Toscanini was in front of a symphony orchestra. It was this kind of take-charge play last year that made him a consensus All-America.
Asked if a man who was so much of an individualist in college wouldn't have trouble adjusting to his team-oriented system, Coach Dick Motta replied:
''The reason we drafted Aguirre is because we are an expansion team and we needed a dominant player, someone who could do for us at some point in his career what Larry Bird does for the Boston Celtics. As a coach, you become more flexible with a talent like that, because you know he's going to make better players of those around him.
''We needed that kind of leadership on the floor and we also needed someone we could get the ball to when the clock is running down and you absolutely have to have the basket. Mark still has a lot to learn, but he's doing some of that for us already, and with experience he'll get even better.''
Even though most NBA teams had scouts trailing Aguirre for three years, there was always the question of his height - whether at 6 ft. 5 in. he should be a small forward or a shooting guard in the pros.
Mark seems to have answered that question rather quickly with an average of around 24 points a game from the corner, a flair for rebounding that stresses position rather than jumping ability, and enough speed to be a threat on the fast break.
''College basketball to me was always a game of adjustments and I found the NBA to be the same thing, only tougher,'' Aguirre told me during a stopover in Los Angeles to play the Lakers. ''It's also a mental as well as a physical one, because the schedule is so much longer in the NBA that even now games are starting to blend together.
''I've never been a person who was concerned with pressure, because if the talent is there it is going to come out,'' he continued. ''If you don't try to force things and just try to let the game unfold in front of you, you can create openings. That part of it isn't any different from the college game.''
What is different, Aguirre says, is coming into an expansion situation after playing for a college powerhouse that was 79-10 during his three years, including an appearance in the NCAA playoff semifinals his freshman year.
''While there is a lot of talent on the Mavericks, we're still trying to build ourselves up depthwise to where we can compete with the league's established teams, and you don't do this overnight,'' Mark said. ''I'm used to winning and here we don't win that much. But if the progress is steady, I can live with it, and we should all get better the longer we play together.''
Aguirre says the thing that has surprised him the most is how much more defense is played in the NBA than appears to the spectator watching the game in the stands or on television.
''The defense in the NBA is primarily physical and much better than it looks, '' Mark said. ''At first I couldn't believe how much the defensive man could get away with without drawing a foul - how much holding and pushing off the officials let go.''
''It was an adjustment until I got smart and realized that the same options on defense were available to me,'' he added. ''I'm a much better defensive player here than I was in college, and that's the reason.''
As for getting his shots, Aguirre by now has convinced just about everybody that he could play one against five in a silo and still score.