Monday, June 29, 2009

Livin' Large: Part 1

Note: This is the first installment of a multi-part story about the first semester of my freshman year in college. During that semester, I lived with a member of the men's basketball team. That team was nationally ranked and featured a future NBA All-Star. Some of you already know where I went to school, others may suspect, and still others might figure it out over the course of this narrative. Nonetheless, I don't plan to divulge the name of the school, players or coaches involved. Other names might also be changed to protect the innocent.

Prologue -- Mid-July, several years ago: It was a lazy summer day, and I was at home doing something utterly meaningless. I can't remember exactly what that trivial activity was, but it might have been watching TV (probably old Celtics games I had on VHS), playing Super Nintendo (possibly Street Fighter or NBA Live), or maybe reading (I'm guessing Unfinished Business by Jack McCallum). Anyway, whatever I was doing, my time-wasting was temporarily interrupted by a phone call from a student assistant who was working for the dorm I would be moving into next month.

The reason for his call was to determine whether I would be willing to live with a student athlete. He said the possibility of that actually happening was remote, but the dorm had to have a contingency plan in case the student in question -- a Dutch-born basketball player -- couldn't be placed with another student athlete. I was mildly wary, but I said, sure, I'd do it.

He said, "That's great. But, uh, there are a few things I need to talk to you about. According to your housing form, you requested a roommate who's a non-smoker, who doesn't typically stay up later than 2 a.m., and who won't have more than four guests in the room at a given time. In order to put you on the list of prospective roommates for student athletes, I need you to waive those requests."

Honestly, I didn't remember making those requests when filling out my housing forms. Maybe my mom had done it. I had no idea. But I shrugged my shoulders and waived the requests without really thinking about it.

The student assistant thanked me and that was that. A week later, I received my housing contract in the mail. My new roommate was named Chad Riggle. Chad wasn't a student athlete. He was a sophomore engineering student from a couple towns over. As it turned out, Chad was the cousin of my soon-to-be girlfriend, Aimee, who described him as "quiet and harmless." Chad and I talked on the phone once. He told me in an exceptionally nerdy voice that he had a couch, mini-fridge and a microwave...which was fortunate, because I had nothing.

Late-August, several years ago: My first trip to school wasn't pleasant. I was in a car with three other people -- my mom, my aunt Peggy and Aimee -- and all my worldly possessions. And this particular car happened to be a two-door Buick Somerset. The car looked like this. Pretty small for four people and a lifetime's worth of possessions, right? Oh, and the air conditioning didn't work. It was 97 degrees that day.

My mom was entering the first stage of empty-nest syndrome, so she was angry and on-edge. My aunt, understanding my mom's volatile mood, was deathly quiet. Aimee, meanwhile, was reminding me why she didn't want to have a committed relationship with me (we were going to different schools, freshman year was hectic enough without a boyfriend, etc.). For my part, I was nervous to the point of near-illness. It wasn't that I didn't want to go away to college. I was more than happy to leave my hometown -- a teeny speck of burg known as Kokomo, Indiana -- in the rearview mirror. But I'd never been away from home before -- I'd never even gone to camp as a kid -- so I was a wee bit high-strung. So much so that, when we stopped for lunch, watching Aimee eat some pintos and cheese from Taco Bell almost made me throw up.

We got to the dorm and went through all the requisite check-in procedures. I filled out some forms, had my picture taken for my dorm ID card, and I signed up for my very first collegiate job...with the dorm's food service. Once we had all that squared away, my mom suggested we go find the room before pulling the car around.

Room 329 was located on the third floor of the building's northeast side. The dorm had opened in 1958 and was built to mimic military-style barracks. It was an all-male housing unit, and the combination of age, heat (remember, it was 97 degrees), lack of ventilation and dozens of sweaty dudes made the place smell like the world's largest locker room. The walk wasn't pleasant for me, and even less so for my female companions, each of whom looked like someone had pulled a dirty jock strap over her head.

When we got to the room, it was unlocked, which I found strange. (Upon check in, I was informed that Safety Rule #1 was "Always lock your door, even when you're in the room.") I walked in and immediately turned to my mom, told her to wait, and closed the door. I wasn't prepared for what I was seeing, so I was pretty sure she wasn't ready for it either.

There was a man laying in one of the two beds. Actually, he was more man-monster than man. He was a giant. And, within the confines of this tiny little room, he seemed beyond enormous. The best way to put it is he was Shaq-size: 7'1", almost 300 pounds. I think sometimes, as an NBA fan, it becomes all too easy to take for granted the sheer bulk of a muscled seven-footer...but not when they're right in front of you, and certainly not when you're trapped in a room the size of a large closet with them. To make matters even stranger, he had a shaved head (something that I had never seen in my hometown) and he was wearing nothing but a pair of bikini-brief underwear.

It was too much for me to take in. I just stood there, staring at him for several long seconds. He was reclined with his hands behind his head, and he didn't seem remotely alarmed or even interested in my arrival. Finally, I stammered out, "Uh, hi. Er, are you, uh, Chad Riggle?"

He sat up slowly and it was like watching a glacier move. He stuck out a hand the size of bucket and, in a low, booming voice, said, "No. I'm Mat [only one "t" because he was Dutch]. Are you Matt McHale?"

Ye Gods! The beast knew my name!

I shook his hand and admitted that I was indeed Matt McHale. He said, "Cool. I'm your roommate."

"No, you're not," I said, almost reflexively.

"Yeah, I am," he said with an air of complete finality. That settled that.

"Uh, okay," I replied, not knowing what else to do. "Well, I'm...going to move my stuff in now."

"A'ight," he said, and began to lay back down.

I took him in again and, noting the exceptionally tiny underwear, said, "Uh, my mom, aunt and girlfriend are going to be helping me." He said nothing. "Yeah. Three girls." Still nothing. "Do you understand what I'm saying? Three girls are helping me move in."

Finally, he said, "So?"

"Could you, you know, put on...something."

He heaved a deep, irritated sigh and pulled on a pair of shorts that were barely bigger than his underwear. But it was an improvement, and likely the best I could hope for under the circumstances.

I walked back out into the hall and closed the door behind me. My mom looked irritated and demanded to know what was going on. I said, "Well, my roommate is...not Chad Riggle."

"What?" my mom asked. "Who is it?"

I didn't know how to explain it, so I said, "Just come in. You'll see."

And they saw. But they could hardly believe it. Mat, though, was apparently used to people staring at him. He once again sat up and, to my great surprise, greeted them kindly and introduced himself. He even offered to share some of the Dutch marshmallows he was snacking on. They declined the marshmallows, but they were all very taken in by his presence, which kind of annoyed me.

Then we began the not-so-fun task of moving all my stuff in. I'll never forget this: While three women helped me carry my things up several flights of stairs, this huge, muscular guy just sat and watched. Not once did he offer to help, although he did flirt with Aimee every chance he got.

Fortunately, I owned almost nothing, so the moving-in process was mercifully brief. After finishing up, we all stood around making a little idle chitchat. Mat hadn't been interested in lifting or carrying, but he was more than happy to talk. He looooooved to talk, mostly about himself. I don't know whether it was his size or some natural charm I wasn't picking up on, but the women seemed to love him, and when I finally escorted them downstairs, they couldn't stop talking about how neat he was. Even my mom, who had been a total grump all day, repeatedly said, "Yeah. Yeah. He's really cool."

We exchanged the official tear-filled goodbyes, after which I watched them slowly drive away. Then I was alone...except for my new, titanic roomie, who was waiting for me upstairs. Only he wasn't. By the time I trudged back up to NE3, he had disappeared, like he was the world's tallest ninja or something. I didn't see him again until I woke up the next morning. And he wasn't alone.

Part 2


  1. I have little to say at this point, but I'll offer myself as a) corroboration and b) a different perspective if anyone wants do declare shenanigans or ask questions with an outsider's answer. I will protect names along Bawful's lines as necessary.

    As credentials, I lived on Bawful's floor that year, and was his roommate for the subsequent two years.

  2. matt, by god, if you don't post next part of your story soon i am going to die of particularly severe case of curiosity

  3. Dutch? I'm intrigued. Unfortunately despite my nationality my knowledge of Dutch ballers is very limited.

    Looking forward to the next installment - I hate to see a cliffhanger.

  4. It wasn't him, since the guy's name was 'Mat', but I went ahead and pictured Rik Smits as your roommate.

    Boy, I thought I wouldn't think of him the same way when I found out he was into motocross.


  5. Interestingly, every Dutch basketball player to reach any high level of play has been seven feet +. I still can't figure out the school, but if it isn't on the west coast then it has to have been somewhere in NC or NY.

    It would be so awesome if it was Rik Smits. But that guy is 40, so you missed out on The Toothpick.

  6. I have a story about the old roommate switcheroo. My sophomore year I received info about my roomie, but whenever I tried to contact him, I got nothing. So when I arrive at my dorm, there's a completely different name on our door, so I'm thinking "WTF?" It probably turned out for the best because my original roommate was named Chad Boner (no lie), and he would've hated me for making fun of his name. I also had a class with a girl named Crystal Seaman, and I struggled to keep from laughing every time the teacher said her name in class.

  7. I'd like to echo romaingary's above sentiment. You can't leave us with that kind of cliffhanger, come on! I'm hoping the other person he returned to the room with wasn't Aimee. Or your Aunt Peggy.

  8. Well nationally ranked is the most telling, but I got nothing, even after many, many searches.

  9. Oh man it's stories like this that make this blog so wonderful.

    And really, Bawful, 3 women to help you move in?

  10. NBA/ABA Players Born in Netherlands
    Beenders, Hank 1946-1948
    Elson, Francisco 2003-2007
    Gadzuric, Dan 2002-2007
    Hammink, Geert 1993-1995
    Nater, Swen 1973-1983
    Smits, Rik 1988-1999

    Smits seems to be the one to fit the Dutch born with a differently spelled name profile. But he might be a little to old. Gadzuric would fit the timeframe better, I think. However, no Mat on the list.

    Who is he ? I WANT TO KNOW !!! Like NOW, dammit !!

  11. First off, a Brazilian reader named Fogo! correctly identified my old roomie. I just want him to know that I am not publishing his comments even though it was awesome. This is because some of the stories are not flattering to Mat or my old school. To avoid any potential legal issues, I'm not naming names. I hope everybody understands.

    romaingary -- Next installment is tomorrow. I promise.

    Barry -- Sorry to say, this story will have several installments and several cliffhangers. But I promise they'll become increasingly outrageous.

    Story -- No, it wasn't Rik. Mat knew Rik, though. Or so he claimed.

    Buck Nasty -- If Rik had been my roommate, I'd have asked him why a 7'4" center only grabbed 5 RPG. And there might have been screaming involved.

    Will -- Chad Boner?!! Oh, man, that would have been THE BEST.

    Wild Yams -- No, Matt never came back with Aimee or Peggy. But he came back with plenty of other I will describe in coming installments.

    Victor -- Look, they WANTED to do it, okay? In future years, I moved in by myself, despite a growing amount of crap that would later take mutiple trips. BadDave never offered to help, either, for the record. But he did build our first loft, which nearly killed us, but still.

  12. It did not. That loft was so sophisticated it adjusted with your movements. Like all of my best cars, it didn't break until we were done with it.

    And no judging a man as he starts as a freshman. We would all be exposed.

  13. I had John Fagot as my first roommate. Not a D1 basketball player, but according to him that's just because he was too busy being awesome at everything(A bit of a topper).

  14. God, I hated all the moving in college. Every year you had to move all your stuff out, find a place for it for the summer, then move it in somewhere new three months later. Am I the only one who threw out about 90% of my "worldly possessions" when I graduated college and moved on? It was kinda depressing looking at the bulk of what I'd owned all there in the dumpster after graduation and realizing what a huge pile of crap it all was. That was college though: I bought a couch first semester of freshman year for one dollar at a thrift store and I had it my whole four years :)

  15. I have a guess. Where should I email my guess to?

  16. My guess is Francisco Elson.


    Enjoy that link, as it's got some Brandon Jennings 'highlights.' By that, I mean that he's talking trash on the Knicks, etc. It's pretty funny stuff.

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  19. Buck Nasty- If Jennings thinks he's good enough to start for the Bucks from day 1, I have a couple friends he should meet. Their names are Dunning and Kruger.

  20. Buck Nasty - Clearly Brandon Jennings didn't get the memo that the NAACP "buried" the N-word a couple years back.

  21. Bcstein - As bawful approves all comments, they'll never be seen. It's both a matter of respect and litigation. However, you are welcome to e-mail him at with your accusations. It's like Clue! Without Tim Curry. Which makes it Suck!

    FYI, this player bawful roomed with never made it to the NBA.

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  24. Well, my first comment ever will never see the light but at least I got a mention from Bawful himself!

    And I dont know if I should feel proud or worried for knowing so much about a basketball blog haha

  25. ive spent the last 20 minutes trying to figure out exactly what country you're from if you're dutch.

    wiki is no help

  26. @StottsEra

    I hope this was a joke, dude....

  27. Geert Hammink; played with Shaq at LSU...

  28. Ah well, I can understand it's confusing for foreigners. We are Dutch (and we talk Dutch), live in Holland ánd the Netherlands which means "low countries", and Belgium was considered one of the low countries also, so there you have it... Confusion all over tha place.

    Also, I have no idea which player it is, especially if he didn't make the nba. But I'm curious, since he may have played in the Dutch league which means I may have seen him play.

  29. Well I wasted an hour of my life to figure out just who the hell this guy is, and too my surprise (and delight) I finally succeeded. The best part is knowing who the mysterious NBA Star is...he was one of the goofier players (and we had our fair share of goofy players) on my favorite NBA team. Hopefully you will post some great stories about him as well. I can't wait!

  30. I feel like I'm watching an episode of Murder She Wrote and Bawful is Angela Lansbury.....if Tom Bosley doesn't make an appearance in this Jessica Fletcher tale, I am going to be severely disappointed.....

  31. Hey Fogo!, would you happen to be the same Brazilian-basketball/Corinthians fan I have in my MSN list?

    PesGaming and all!

  32. Come on, Barry! Of course it is me! You know I have a great taste for forums and blogs!

    And what are the odds of a brazilian finding his old dutch buddy from an english soccer forum in an american basketball blog?

    Basketbawful bringing friends from all over the world together!

  33. Did you go to unc in the early to mid 90's? Thinking its Serge Zwikker and the nba star speigel is referring to is Rasheed.

  34. This was better than Harry Potter. I hope the ending doesn't suck like 7.

  35. PK - You are awesome. I now have a picture of bawful riding an old bike in a tweed dress in a quaint town with a cheesy piano playing.

  36. I just now decided to see if I could use Google to figure out who this mysterious player was and where Mr. Bawful went to college, and thanks to some clever Googling (found it on my second search) the answer was revealed to me by a comment from none other than Mr. Bawful himself, posted on another blog back in 2006 :)

  37. Fogo! you legend, I guess this is a small internet world after all.

    How'd you guess who the Dutch baller in question was? You know Dutch basketbal better than I do!

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  39. I'll bet you went to school in the middle of a cornfield in the shadow of a smokestack. You might even have hung out at the 'Chocolate Shop'. :-)

  40. I was a freshman at the same time as you at the same school. My brother saw this post and forwarded it to me after realizing who you were talking about. I played bball (LOL) with your roomate at least once and met him at a party as well. This should be some funny stuff (I'm just read the first page).

  41. Wow...this all brings back some old memories. I too lived in this dorm on the 3rd floor just down a few rooms amd remember Mat very well and had a few drinks with him from time to time. Brett was a cool R.A. though. He caught me with my girlfriend at the time in my room and alcohol, but just told me to be quiet about it.

  42. Lol...wouldn't be...let's call it "Willy" hall? For the sake of being anonymous, that's what I will call it. I was there too right down the hall a few rooms.

  43. Awesome story so far, you've got me hooked - gonna be reading the rest of this for the next few hours, thanks!!

  44. LOL, I can't believe I just found this. I was in SW3 of the same dorm that year. I was just talking with my roomate from then about the shot/pass off the shot clock.

    We sat with him in the dinning hall a few times, he was always by himself...

    I think we did some bad things to his bicycle seat late at night a few times too...