The Future NBA All-Star.Previous installments: Part 1
, Part 2
, Part 3
, Part 4
, Part 5
, Part 6
A running subplot from the beginning of my first semester at college was whether my roommate would actually play for the school's basketball team once the season began. The team was nationally ranked and expectations were sky-high. There were a handful of solid players on that squad, but those rankings and expectations were due almost entirely to the presence of the Future NBA All-Star. The general feeling at the time was that the Future NBA All-Star could do almost anything and everything by himself, but the team was too small to be a true contender. There were other ranked teams in our conference, and they all appeared to have a size advantage over our team. Even assuming we could win our conference, there was plenty of size outside of it as well. That's where Mat came in.
The assumption was that if he chose to play, he would get significant minutes and play a major role. Even if he had no offensive game whatsoever -- and trust me, he didn't -- that wouldn't matter. All the team needed him to do was control the boards, block some shots and clog the paint. Everyone, even casual fans, believed his ability to accomplish those tasks was a given. After all, he was HUGE. With that kind of size, any idiot should be able to rebound and block shots, even if only by accident...right? Yeah, right. Anyone who believed that probably should have spent a few nights watching Mat's fellow countryman, Rik Smits, consistently fail to do those things for the Indiana Pacers. Maybe then what happened later would have been less of a shock.
But as I mentioned in a previous installment, a basketball player is often judged by his Tremendous Upside Potential, and Mat had that coming out of his freakishly big ears. Somehow, he became The Final Piece in everybody's mind, the difference between our team being an also-ran and a national champion. In retrospect, that might have been part of the reason women were flocking to his bed as if their vaginas were ticking time bombs that only his genitals could defuse.
There was only one wee-little speed bump on this presumed road to glory: Mat didn't want to play.
Mat and I had little (read that: no) common ground outside of basketball, so that was almost all we ever talked about. I have to admit, even I was obsessed with the notion that Mat could put our team over the top, so I asked nearly every day whether he'd made a decision. The answer was always no, he had not, and providing that information always left him looking somewhat drained and defeated.
The reality was, Mat did not feel ready to play competitive college ball, especially not for a nationally ranked team. Furthermore, his prep school coach had strongly advised him NOT to play, to spend his freshman year as a redshirt
. Not only would that provide Mat with the time necessary to develop some actual basketball skills, it would also give him a full four years of NCAA eligibility going into his sophomore year. That was important, because it would allow him to follow a five-year course plan. That meant fewer classes per semester, which is invaluable to a student athlete, particularly when said athlete didn't particularly care for attending classes anyway.
However, Mat was meeting some heated resistance to his redshirt plans. The coaches were whispering in his ear. His teammates were screaming into it. Everybody he met and talked to on a daily basis -- including his many hookups -- wanted to know whether he was going to play. The questions were coming from every direction, and Mat was getting sick of it. He wanted to end the farce and just say no, but the coaching staff wanted him to wait a little longer to make the final decision. (Or so I was told. This information all came second-hand from Mat.)
One of the major movers in the "Get Mat To Friggin' Play" campaign was the Future NBA All-Star. He had confided to Mat that he might declare himself eligible for the NBA draft after the college season ended. Once that happened, the team's championship window would slam shut. This, then, might be the team's (and, by extension, Mat's) last and only chance for a national title.
Now a few words about our Future NBA All-Star. By the numbers, he had an above-average pro career. He played 11 seasons, averaging just over 20 points and 6 rebounds per game while shooting 46 percent from the field, 34 percent in threes and 82 percent from the line. (For the sake of comparison, Dominique Wilkins' career averages are 24.8/6.7 and 46/31/81.) He made two All-Star teams. He even won a league championship, kinda-sorta.
Despite all that, the Future NBA All-Star was generally considered a disappointment at best and a flop at worst. Those feelings were based mostly on how amazing he was in college. And he truly was spectacular to behold, particularly on offense. He was strong, fast and outrageously athletic. He could dunk on anyone and stick jumpers from anywhere. I watched him throw it down over seven-footers. I saw him stick threes from just inside half court. He scored 49 points in a conference title clincher. He led the nation in scoring. He led the conference in rebounding. He became the only player in school history to record more than 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds, 100 steals, 100 assists and 50 blocked shots. And he did that in two seasons. Seriously, he could do anything
. I cannot stress this enough: It was like watching a basketball superhero, and I honestly thought: "Here's somebody who could become as exciting on offense as Michael Jordan." I really
believed that. And trust me, if you'd been watching him live at 18 years old, you probably would have believed it too.
I don't know what happened when he got to the NBA, but I can tell you this: The intensity he played with in college disappeared. He didn't appear to be trying as hard on a nightly basis (although he had some monster games). His body started to look soft. (Ben, my first post-college roommate, suggested that, "He got a $100 million contract and spent $80 million of it on Twinkies.") I once got to see him play against the Pacers in Indiana. He scored 20 points on 8-for-18 shooting and his team lost 108-97. His shots appeared casual and careless. (I seem to remember him attempting four or five slow-footed reverse layups.) The buddy who went with me to the game said, "That's the laziest 20 points I've ever seen." To give you an idea of the kind of effort he put forth, he was outrebounded 8-5 by his team's point guard.
But none of that matters. In college, he was a certified basketball stud and his exploits -- both in games and during practice -- were instant legends on campus. In fact, Mat swore he watched Future NBA All-Star grab a dollar bill off the top of the backboard. He even described the moment in graphic detail. I believed Mat's story for years, until Henry Abbott exposed the whole "makin' change off the backboard" myth for what it really is
. But the point is: Future NBA All-Star captured everyone's imagination. Mat's included.
One night, we were both in the room. I was studying, Mat was sitting in his giant chair watching MTV and listening to music at the same time. (He seemed to crave overstimulation.) The door was open, and, out of nowhere, in walked Future NBA All-Star.
I held my breath.
"Hey dog," Future NBA All-Star said. "Whatchoo doin'?"
"Nuttin'," Mat said. "Just watchin' some TV."
They continued to chit-chat for a couple minutes, and then Future NBA All-Star made the pitch.
"Look," he began, "you know I might not be comin' back. This is our chance. You play, we win it all. It's that simple."
Mat looked stressed. "I dunno, man."
"You play, we win it all," Future NBA All-Star said.
And that was pretty much it. Future NBA All-Star left and Mat didn't speak for the rest of the night. He even went to bed early by his standards, like 1 a.m.-ish. All I could do was kick myself for not...doing something. I figured I'd just ask Mat later to get me Future NBA All-Star's autograph.
The weekend arrived and Mat disappeared. He was gone when I came home from class on Friday afternoon and didn't return until after I'd gone to bed on Sunday night. I had a mildly entertaining weekend. Zach and I ordered pizza on Friday night. I met up with another refugee from Kokomo, Jason, for a few games of ping pong on Saturday morning. I also ventured next door to talk to Ron and his roommate, Nathan. Ron -- who had accidentally walked into my room mostly naked
-- was spacy and eccentric. Nathan was just eccentric. Despite his oddities (such as spiritual battles with his computer and a habit of singing Bible hymns into a handheld recorder), Nathan and I hit it off and became fast friends.
Nathan and Ron were part of a group of guys who got together every weekend to play Dungeons & Dragons. They invited me to the Saturday night gaming session. That was the first time I met BadDave. I say "met" because we barely spoke, either that night or any other night I roleplayed with this group. Ironically (but not surprisingly for that time), we just didn't click.
On Sunday morning I got up and played some pickup basketball. I even ran into one of the guys I'd played ball with on my first morning at school. His name was Joe. He had graduated several years before that, but instead of seeking gainful employment he went to Russia as a Christian missionary. Joe eventually decided that wasn't for him and returned to the states only to find out his degree was obsolete. For this reason, he had to go back to school for his master's.
Wow. I was being social, meeting people, making friends. It had taken a few weeks, but I was starting to get the hang of this college thing. The weekend was capped off by a particularly affectionate phone call from Aimee. She was going home the next weekend to celebrate her brother's birthday...and she wanted me to go home too so we could spend time together. Hoo-ah! I was in such a good mood that when Mat showed up with Jennifer, I didn't mind sandwiching my head in a pillow as they had noisy sex across the room.The official Livin' Large FAQ: Part 1
Labels: college stories, Future NBA All-Star, Livin' Large