Betsy had such a crush on Randolph Keys that when the bus dropped him off after school, she would meet him with her big moony eyes and walk him home.
"It was kind of embarrassing," Keys recalls.
Betsy was the Southern Mississippi senior center's first real fan. She was his heifer, the only pet he ever had while growing up the 11th of 13 children on a Collins, Miss., farm. Keys used to shoot baskets off a board nailed to a backyard pine tree, while Betsy stood by in the old corral. He weaned her and raised her, but he never once milked her. "I just couldn't do that," he says. "She's practically my daughter."
Keys had to give Betsy up—he sold her to the mailman—when he went off to Southern Miss, 25 miles down Highway 49, but it doesn't seem to have affected his game. Last season he led the Golden Eagles in scoring (16.4 points a game) and rebounding (7.9), and helped them win the NIT. He was named tournament MVP after amassing 24 points and nine rebounds against Nebraska in the semis and adding another 18 points and nine boards against La Salle in the final.
You would never guess from looking at this 6'8½", 195-pound athlete that he wore braces on his legs until he was three. "Randolph was just plain bowlegged," says his mother, Hershey Lee. "It didn't stop him from doing anything. It just made him pigeon-toed." At one time Randolph had to wear his left shoe on his right foot, and vice versa. The children at school called him Crooked Leg. "It wasn't until I got older that they gave me a little respect," he says. "My nickname changed to Tree."
Keys toured Europe over the summer with an NIT all-star squad. At a bullfight in Seville, Spain, he watched in utter disbelief as the matador sliced off the fallen bull's tongue. That night Keys was enjoying what he thought was a dinner of pork.
"How did you enjoy the bull tongue?" asked the waiter.
Keys cringed. "I couldn't say anything," he says. "I just put my fork down and didn't eat any more. I mean, how could I ever explain it to Betsy?"
With his 16.4 average, Keys kowtows to no one.