Dennis Hopson's head is at odds with his body. His gracefully curving limbs give way to a Grace Jones noggin adorned with an aircraft-carrier flattop that is all stark geometry and right angles. It is the sort of haircut that in the middle of Ohio attracts attention. "I'm crazy," Hopson says.
He certainly is playing out of his gourd. In this, a rebuilding year at Ohio State, Hopson, a 6'5" senior swing-man, has been the Buckeyes' answer to Steve Alford, Ken Norman and Troy Lewis (not to mention Carl Lewis). With such distinctive calling cards as his one-handed rebounds, ambidextrous shooting and otherworldly hang time, the man they call the Menace is keeping Ohio State alive in the Big Ten all by himself.
"I've never coached anyone as talented as Dennis," says Gary Williams, the first-year Buckeye coach. "He is a beautiful player to watch." Having taken warmly to Williams's running, pressing style, Hopson has made the remarkable look routine. He has delivered a dozen 30-points-plus games this season, and by March he will probably pass Herb Williams to become the school's all-time leading scorer.
After Purdue's 75-73 victory in Columbus last Thursday, Boilermakers coach Gene Keady took note of Hopson's 35 points and smiled. "I guess we held him pretty good," he said. "That's under his average, right?"
Not quite. Hopson's 29.9 points-per-game mark is tops in the Big Ten. He is also fourth among the league's rebounders, fifth in steals and first in the hearts of the league's coaches, most of whom agree he is the best in the nation's toughest circuit.
Some vignettes from the '86-87 Hopsonian statistical orgy: Dec. 6, versus Ohio U.—Hopson achieves the first triple-double in Ohio State history...Dec. 28-30—Hopson scores 100 points in three games at the Rainbow Classic...Jan. 4, versus Indiana—Hopson eats a bad burrito, plays 10 minutes and retires, violently ill. He fails to score in double figures for the first time in 51 outings...Jan. 8, at Michigan—Hopson gets a cool 39 points...Jan. 15, against Northwestern—He has 31 points, 14 boards, 8 assists and 4 steals. "A one-man show," says Wildcats coach Bill Foster...Jan. 24, at Iowa—Late in the first half, Hopson spins out of a double-team to sink a lefthanded scoop shot. Even the Iowans cheer. Briefly. The Buckeyes upset the previously unbeaten Hawkeyes as the Menace finishes with 36 points.
OSU has appeared on national TV only once this season, but Hopson says the lack of exposure "really doesn't bother me." At least part of his family—Dennis is the baby among five siblings—makes the trip downstate from Toledo for every home game. "The people that are important have heard of me," says Hopson. Like pro scouts who rate him as the best big guard in the upcoming draft.
Purdue's Doug Lee was shaking his head after Thursday's game. "I was up in his face on most of those shots," said Lee. "I thought I did a pretty good job."
Hopson nodded earnestly. "He did, he did. That was as hard as I've had to work for 35 points in a long time," said the Menace, barely smiling.
Hurtling to a level all his own, Hopson is a singular showstopper.