Left Coast Report: Year of the Fat Boy

February 12th, 2008
The Chinese New Year, the year of the rat (perhaps a good omen for Coach K), is upon us. However, on the west coast it is the year of a plumper, more rotund, creature – the fat boy. Armed with his sweaty back, gut swinging low-post drop step and point-blank lay-ins, the fat boy is all the rage in the Pac-10 and WCC.


Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, Robert “Tractor” Traylor, and most recently Glen “Big Baby” Davis, college basketball has always loved its overweight stars. Yes, big guys are great for giving nicknames (always demonstrating the lameness of nicknaming a wing or guard), but a large part of the fascination with these glandular giants is tied to our ability to relate to them.


Like a fat kid looking at Levi’s in the husky section, the fat basketball player typically finds himself alone, contemplating his stature, as his teammates fast break down the court. To ignore the taunts of childhood and the ribbing of coaches and teammates, it takes a special type of athlete, with a special type of appetite, to be an overweight superstar.


America is full of fat people, but very few of them are able to compete as top tier athletes. It is in the familiar American stature of these players that fans more easily see themselves. While the lightening quick Derrick Rose may amaze us, we can’t relate to him. And while we have next to nothing in common with a 6’8” 300 pound giant, we are able to see humanity through his gut. Sitting on our couch, or squeezing into a seat at a game, we can look to the court and see a bit of ourselves out there competing.


In the WCC the two most dominate big men are “Big” John Bryant and Omar Samhan. Bryant looks like Thurman Murman in “Bad Santa” and Samhan not only looks like the jerk kid in “Mean Creek” but has the attitude to match. NBA scouts may gossip like teenage girls over the build, athleticism and length of big men like Josh Heytvelt and Diamon Simpson but college fans should cherish the four years they get to watch their obese brethren out-work, out-hustle, and out-produce these future NBA players.


At 6’10” and 305 pounds Bryant, a junior at Santa Clara, averages a double-double in league play. He leads the league in rebounds, field goal percentage, blocks and is second in points per game.


Meanwhile, Samhan, a sophomore at Saint Mary’s, is listed at 6’11” and 265 pounds and appears to wear about a C-cup. He averages almost 13 points and eight rebounds a game, while also providing attitude and swagger to a team attempting to trump Gonzaga as the top team in the WCC. Both Samhan and Bryant have lost weight this season. But like a fat kid at a public swimming pool, both still wear undershirts to hide their physique.


It is in their self-consciousness that I find myself relating to, feeling sorry for, and eventually rooting for these young men. Even as Samhan flipped off the crowd at Gonzaga last year, I found myself smiling. It was a victory for fat kids, for the American everyman. Samhan’s gesture was immature, crass, and bush-league, but I couldn’t blame him for it. I was jealous that my favorite team, the Zags, could not summon the same anger. But how could they? How could a group of well-recruited, chiseled athletes summon the aggression of a fat kid? They couldn’t.


In the Pac-10 Kevin Love, Aaron Baynes, and John Brockman, while less fat than their WCC counterparts, are nonetheless cut from a mold that makes them questionable at the next level. Baynes looks as if he appeared from Dwight Shrute’s beet farm; Brockman while not fat, is built more like a defensive lineman than a future NBA star; and Love may be a lottery pick, but his weight will likely be mentioned as often as his outlet passing ability come draft night.


Love and Brockman may be the two most valuable players in the Pac-10. Baynes, while much less productive than Love and Brockman, has nonetheless surprised many in the Pac-10 with his solid play for the Washington State Cougars. Baynes looks like the portly part of a comedic duo next to his awkwardly skinny four man, Robbie Cowgill.


The fat boy is not only thrashing its way through the West, crushing pretty skinny people like the monster in “Cloverfield,” but is emerging as a force in the NBA too. Glen “Big Baby” Davis slipped in the draft due to his weight “problem” but is quickly becoming a huge contributor for the first place Boston Celtics. Meanwhile, a bigger, older, fatter man has once again dominated headlines by being traded from the worst team in the East to the best team in the West. The sports world will be following Shaq as he attempts to silence his skinny loving critics one more time and win his fifth championship ring with a third team.


I implore college basketball fat boys to not succumb to the school yard taunts of fans, teammates, and coaches. Instead, feed your hungry guts, and continue to reign like well-fed kings over the west coast, swallowing up rebounds, taking high percentage shots, and strolling up the court as your teammates waste their energy on the fast break.