by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

SEATTLE — Anyone from North Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma or California can skip this column. Save your strength. As fans with teams in this year’s Final Four, you already know whom you are rooting for. Besides, you have no time to read. If you are truly the robust, manly, college basketball fanatics America is so proud of, you are busy throwing up in a beer can.

No. This is for the masses left behind. The fans whose schools were knocked out early in the tournament. (Did I say Michigan? Did I say Michigan State? I didn’t say that! Did I say that?)

Whom do you root for? How do you choose?

I go with the Wacky Guy Theory.

Here’s how it works. I pick one Wacky Guy from each team, one who stands out from the rest of the good soldiers. If I like him, then I like his school.

And I root for it. Some call this the Colorful Angle Theory. Others call it the Black Sheep Theory. Others call it the What The Hell, It’s Better Than Flipping A Coin Theory.

Whatever. Here are your candidates. Oklahoma State

This is easy. The Wacky Guy on the Cowboys also happens to be their best player. He is 7-foot center Bryant Reeves, a large young man who has the honor of knowing that the first time the strength coach saw him naked, his reaction was: “He needs a bra.”

Bryant, who gives new meaning to the words “pale” and “fleshy,” goes by the nickname “Big Country.” That’s because he’s from a town so small (Gans, Okla.) it could fit in one of his shoes. “We have three buildings . . . and one stop sign. The reason the stop sign was put there, so people coming through would have to stop and get a whole view of Gans before they left.”

Country humor. Bet someone in a barber chair thought that one up.

“How many people in your town, Bryant?”

“Oh, 218 or 220.”

Must depend on who’s visiting.

Anyhow, on Friday, Bryant made Wacky Guy history by smashing a backboard during a practice drill. He slam-dunked and — “CRASH!” — down it came, in a million pieces. Some of them lodged in his head and neck. Not to worry. When you’re a Big Country, what could bother you?

“There were still some pieces stuck in my hair,” he said. “So I took a quick shower.”

You’ll identify Big Country today by the way the light reflects off his scalp.

Speaking of scalp, Big Country possesses a common ingredient in the Wacky Guy category: bad hair. He sports the cut most of us know as buzz, crew, or Dad With A Razor. The hair seems to grow straight out from his forehead, and is shaved to the stub. In this way, he has something in common with . . . UCLA

George Zidek, the 7-foot UCLA center — who will square off on Reeves in today’s first game — shares the bad hair trait of a typical Wacky Guy, but has an excuse. Until a few years ago, George was fighting communism in Czechoslovakia. Who had time for a blow-dryer?

“I came to UCLA by accident,” he said Friday. “I left Czechoslovakia and was planning to go to another school. But I saw some brochures from UCLA and I liked it.”

There wouldn’t be any women in bathing suits in that brochure, would there?

Not that such things faze George. This is a guy who has made academic All-America with a 4.0 average in economics — and until he got here in 1991, English was hardly his mother tongue.

Not that economists speak English.

What’s more, George wasn’t even George when he got here. He was Jiri. He changed his name. Why he went with George and not, say, John, Paul or Ringo, I don’t know. I do know he has a hook shot. Righty and lefty. How many guys do that anymore?

Also, one journalist described him as “the worst jumper and least-gifted athlete in UCLA’s seven-man rotation.”

You gotta like that. North Carolina

The Tar Heels are usually known for discipline, short hair and cliche-ridden news conferences. If basketball were pie, they would be rhubarb. Dean Smith, the coach, likes it that way. He runs a tight ship. All of which makes Wacky Guy candidate Dante Calabria even more of an anomaly.

Calabria, a truly small small forward at 6-feet-4, sports a flopping mop that belongs less in the Carolina basketball tradition than in Pearl Jam — which, not coincidentally, is his favorite group. Calabria goes up for a rebound, comes down with the ball? Three seconds later, his hair comes down, too. While others see this trip to Seattle as a visit to hoop heaven, Calabria

dreams of sneaking out to a grunge club.

With a name that sounds more like an Italian fashion designer, and a playing style that has him diving for loose balls and shooting three-pointers at 52.4 percent, well, Dante is your guy if everyone else on the floor looks the same.

By the way, his favorite book is “The Autobiography of Mario Lemieux.”

“I’m into the alternative style,’ Calabria has said.

Dean Smith must need new glasses. Arkansas

It is hard to find a Wacky Guy on a team that is the defending national champions. Besides, if you call a Razorback wacky, Nolan Richardson calls a press conference to say he doesn’t get any respect.

But never mind all that. The one Arkansas player you can definitely get behind is Dwight Stewart. In fact, you and several friends can get behind Dwight. He fills a room, as they say, at 6-feet-9, 275 pounds.

Yet what stands out about Stewart is his face, which is truly childlike. It honestly looks like someone plucked an 8- year-old’s head and stuck it on a professional wrestler’s body.

More amazing, Stewart is a senior, and is 23 years old. He is a terrific outside shooter and always seems to hit a shot when you least expect it.

Alas, his hair is simply normal. But as fans who must revert to Wacky Guy Theories, we should know we can’t have everything.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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