EAST LANSING — No need to speak. No need to look. The great pairs just know each other’s moves. Shawn Respert brings the Swizzlers. Eric Snow brings the Gummi Bears. So much for the snacks.
And in the hotel room, Respert watches cartoons, until the soap operas come on and Snow gets the remote control.
And when it’s time for the team meetings? Snow wears the watch — so Respert doesn’t have to.
“If he wore it,” Snow says, laughing, “we’d be late for everything.”
Side by side by Spartan.
The best part of college basketball, to the fans, is the action. But the best part to the players is the friendships they make. Do you remember meeting your best pal in college — maybe wandering helplessly around campus or hanging a poster in a dorm room? Did something just click?
Well. Had you been there that summer afternoon back in ’91, when a beefy, trash-talking Snow and a skinny, sweet-shooting Respert first met one another
— or should we say banged into one another, because Snow began guarding Respert in a pickup game and taunted him with “You’re too light in the butt,” and Respert responded by dropping a long shot and saying, “You need to come out here, big fella, if you want to guard me” — well, you never would have thought they would click and be pals.
Best pals. But they are.
“And complete opposites,” Respert says.
“Yeah,” Snow says, “I’m the responsible one.”
“You say 6:00 to Eric, he’s there 10 minutes early.”
And you, Shawn?
“I’m there right at 6.” He feels Snow’s eyes burning the back of his neck.
“Well . . . maybe 6:05.”
They leave today for what could be their last road trip together at Michigan State, four years of college basketball in their emotional suitcases, and maybe Snow, 21, is first on the bus and maybe Respert, 23, is last and it doesn’t matter. I have seen many players call each other “my main man.” I have never before seen a pair like Snow and Respert, with such affection and respect for one another.
And they’re in the same backcourt?
“You always hope for good chemistry between your players,” admits their coach, Jud Heathcote. “Sometimes you get it between a little man and a big man. But with Shawn and Eric out there together, you can see the results because they’re such great friends.”
Mr. Swizzler, Mr. Gummi Bear.
Side by side. Felix and Oscar of the backcourt
“Give me an example of what you can do on the court with one another that you couldn’t do with an equally talented stranger,” I ask them.
“Well,” Snow says, locking his hands behind his smoothly shaved head,
“when we come down on the break, I just know when he wants the ball; his eyes get big so you can see the whites in them.”
“And when I make a steal,” Respert says, “with someone else I might have to look where they’re going, but with Eric, I can just throw it downcourt, because I know he’ll get it.”
With Respert’s 25.5 points a game, and Snow’s countless assists and flypaper defense, they are arguably the best backcourt combo in college basketball. The are un-arguably the Felix and Oscar of the guard position. If Respert and Snow were sandwiches, Snow would be something tidy, like cucumbers
and tomato on cracked wheat bread. Respert would be a tuna sub.
“We are opposites on everything, everything!” Respert says, his voice rising. “He’s bald-headed, I’m hairy; he likes playing the radio, I like playing video games; he’s 100 percent student-athlete and I’m . . . “
“I’m 75 percent.”
Well. At least they’re honest. Deeper qualities
And perhaps that’s where it begins. Snow, from Canton, Ohio, is the studious son of a two-parent home, and Respert, from Detroit, is the well-mannered son of an equally proud set of parents. You find your friends in values, and these two seem to share not only a love for the game, but for deeper qualities.
When you ask Snow, for example, his favorite thing about Respert, he does not say, “Jump shot.” This is what he says:
“Shawn has great morals.”
And when you ask Respert the nicest thing Snow ever did for him, it is not
“covering for me in class,” but this: “Eric looks out for my little brother,” Mike, also on the team. “He talks to him and helps him. I’m kinda slow to do that, because I don’t want Mike to feel pressure. So Eric’s taken him in.”
It’s almost too good to be true, right?
Well. Let’s face it. College sports are full of bad fruit, players failing drug tests, taking money from agents, wanting a condo instead of a dorm room. So why ask questions when the two biggest stars on this Michigan State team turn out to be a case study for well-rounded friendship?
“If you both make the NBA,” I ask, “and someone on the team already has your number . . . “
“I’ll ask for Shawn’s, No. 24,” Snow says.
“I don’t know about asking for his,” Respert says, “he wears 13. That’s kinda unlucky.”
Hasn’t been so far. They hit the road today, their final tournament, the 85th college game they have started together, side by side. The hotel room, the TV, it’s all mapped out. Also the supplies. Gummi Bears. Swizzlers.
“And Hi-C,” Snow says.
“Yeah, ” Respert says, “lots of Hi-C.”
Who’s in charge of food on this team?