IT'S 9:30 P.M. AT THE GODFATHER'S PIZZA parlor just outside Provo,
Utah, and the bachelor party that Michael Smith's best friends are
throwing for him is beginning to run out of gas. Smith, a 6 ft. 10
in. forward from Brigham Young who was WAC Player of the Year last
season, is getting married in four days to the extremely blonde
Michelle Campbell, who was a cheerleader at Los Altos High School in
Hacienda Heights, Calif., when Smith was the star of every sport he
played there. It has been an exhausting night, and now Smith and
friends are trying to squeeze in one more madcap revel before all
those puppy- dog eyelids begin to droop.
If you have never been to a Mormon bachelor party, it goes
something like < this: First, you get about a dozen very nice guys
together at about seven o'clock and you watch a little TV, preferably
sports, occasionally spicing up the conversation with stories about
particularly memorable chapel meetings. Then, around the seventh
inning, with the game still on the line, you rise as one and head out
to a pizza parlor. There, in a bacchanal of pepperoni and
caffeine-free Coke, you indulge yourselves with a $4.95
all-you-can-eat feast in honor of the bridegroom-to-be.
At the end of this segment of the debauchery, someone stands up
and tells racy stories about the groom's boyhood; tonight most of the
tales have been gathered from Smith's mom. ''And then there was the
time Mike was driving through Barstow,'' the storyteller says, ''and
he was stopped for doing 80 in a 50 zone.'' Ouch! Stop it! You're a
maniac! ''And then there was the time Mike's dad caught him having
his mustache bleached at a girl's house.'' Stop it! No, really!
Well, it goes on in this ribald fashion until 10 o'clock, when the
entire group once again rises in unison to go home to bed. For Smith,
life has been one dizzying whirl like this ever since he returned
from doing missionary work in South America two years ago. Tall and
handsome with a flawless jump shot, he has been named a first-team
GTE Academic All-America for the past two years -- he has a 3.67
average and majors in Spanish -- and this season he's a good bet to
be an on-court All-America. Such achievements are old hat by now. The
only grade lower than an A Smith ever got in high school was a B+ in
a junior English class, and as a senior he was so popular he was
elected student body president as a write-in candidate, easily
swamping the other candidate, who had thought he was running
unopposed. My gracious, this guy is too good to be true.
Aha! Not so fast. A little snooping around the BYU campus turns up
some eyebrow-raising tidbits. It seems that on more than one occasion
the good Mr. Smith has engaged in questionable behavior. ''Michael
came here with a lot of individuality,'' says Cougar assistant head
coach Roger Reid. ''I think we've gotten a lot of it out of him, but
you never know when he's going to come up with something completely
Oh yeah? What kind of craziness was Smith up to? ''He liked to
leave his shirttail out until we told him he had to have it tucked
in.'' Yikes! Not that!
What else? ''He had a sweatband that he didn't want to wear on his
wrist, so he wore it on his ankle,'' says Reid. ''We had to get
that off of him.'' Well, naturally. ''And he likes to wear the
drawstring of his uniform shorts on the outside of his pants.'' Oh,
no! ''And instead of having white drawstrings like everybody else, he
changed his strings to different colors so they'd stand out.'' Rebel!
''He doesn't want to be like everybody else,'' says Reid. ''He's
not a flake, not like a Jim McMahon or a Boz. It's not a calculated
thing with Michael. He's just not like you and me.''
Smith defies packaging, and not simply because he's a big man who
led the WAC in both three-point shooting and free-throw shooting in
the '86-87 season. In many ways he is the perfect emissary of the
Mormon church -- devout, doctrinaire and an articulate proselytizer
-- and yet he has often gone out of his way to be different. ''They
don't dig that stuff in Utah,'' says Smith's mother, Marie, drawing
the state's squarish shape in the air with her fingers. ''Utah is a
box, and you're supposed to fit in it.''
So Smith has a slightly altered code. ''You can be a clean-living,
perfect- standing member of the church in keeping with all the
standards,'' he has said, ''plus be a good kid and a good person and
do good things -- but not have to always look the part.'' Whenever he
thinks a fashion statement is necessary, he can wear one of several
rubber knee braces -- each a different color to suit his mood. He's
also adept at silk-screening and used to imprint on his game socks
the number of points he expected to score. And last season he changed
his uniform number from 34 to 4 because he thought a single-digit
number looked better on a tall player. When one of the BYU
broadcasters asked Smith about the switch, he pointed to a new
recruit named Gary Trost and said that Trost had refused to come to
BYU unless he could have number 34. Smith was so successful at
keeping a straight face as he told this whopper that it was later
reported on the air to the vast Cougar network TV audience.
Smith's ever-changing form of self-expression is hair. At various
times he has bleached his mustache, bleached his hair, permed it or
worn it in a rattail, a bowl haircut or a flattop. ''Smitty has a
thing about hair,'' says Darren Fortie, a BYU football player who
used to room with Smith. ''He'll make a free throw and look over at a
guy from the other team and say, 'Nice 'do, dude.' '' Smith has also
devised an unusual way to communicate with the other Cougars during
games: He lifts his foot straight out in front of him after he makes
a free throw and touches his teammates' upraised toes -- a foot five.
In fact it seems that Smith's theatrics have made him the BYU
player most despised by WAC road crowds since Danny Ainge's memorable
days of whine and poses. While Smith is regarded as something of an
eccentric by the Latter-day Saints at Brigham Young, the most
conservative campus in one of the country's most conservative states,
he is widely reviled as a holier-than-thou hot dog whenever the
Cougars leave Provo. ''The fans get all over me,'' he says, ''but I
thrive on that. We get teased a lot by opposing teams because we're
different. I think it's because we preach a religion that makes
people on the outside see us as thinking we're better than everybody
else. We believe that ours is the only true religion. Other religions
have elements of truth in them, but ours is the only church that has
the whole truth.''
BYU's student body is fair-haired, fair-skinned and fairly
insular. Like all the students at Brigham Young, Smith had to sign a
contract agreeing to obey the church's strict rules before he could
attend the school. ''I think one of the big reasons for Michael's
success is his values and his beliefs,'' says Daren Davis, another
former Smith roommate.
Smith, who was a high school All-America in both football and
basketball at Los Altos, chose BYU over hundreds of other schools.
''Everybody in America wanted Mike,'' says Reid. ''To be quite
honest, if he hadn't been an LDS ((Latter-day Saints)) person, we
would never have gotten him.'' One of the most ardent suitors was
Notre Dame's Digger Phelps, whose first words to Smith during his
recruiting visit to Hacienda Heights were, ''I always wanted to coach
a Jew, but I never thought I'd get a Mormon.'' He didn't.
The football teams Smith quarterbacked at Los Altos lost only one
game in his four years there, and in his senior season he completed
252 of 383 passes for 3,437 yards and 40 touchdowns to lead the
Conquerors to a 14-0 record and the championship of Southern
California. He twice led Los Altos to the Southern California
semifinals in volleyball. And if he had not injured his hip by
falling through an open sewer grate as he was leaving a church
function (of course) on the eve of the basketball quarterfinals, he
might very well have carried the Conquerors to that championship.
When it came time to decide * which athletic talent he would employ
in college -- the choice that was left open to him when he was
recruited by BYU -- he opted for his first passion. ''I've played
basketball since I was five,'' he says. ''I've loved it all my
After starting several games at forward as a freshman at BYU,
Smith had to decide whether to return for his sophomore season or
leave for two years on a church mission, something that more than 70%
of the men and 10% of the women at BYU volunteer to do. Coach Ladell
Andersen gave Smith a week to decide his future, and Smith spent the
time fasting and praying. ''It was something I always wanted to do,''
he says, ''but when it came time to go, I wasn't so sure I wanted to
leave basketball, leave my girlfriend, leave my car.'' His prayers
were answered, he says, by ''a burning confirmation in my heart that
what I was doing was right.''
Smith spent 21 months in Argentina, much of it knocking on doors
in remote Andean villages canvassing for converts. ''To be out there
living that, to be engaged in that all day long, was so thrilling,''
he says. ''It was by far the most rewarding two years of my life --
the most joyful, but also the most difficult. There were times when
I'd go months without a conversion.'' Smith participated in some 40
conversions, but in making the decision to interrupt his basketball
career and go on the mission, he says, ''the first person I converted
was surely myself.''
He played basketball only twice while he was in South America,
once in an effort to ingratiate himself with the people of the
village of Esquel by helping them defeat a team from Buenos Aires
(he scored 41 points). Despite the layoff, Smith stepped right in
upon his return to BYU for the 1986-87 season and became the Cougars'
leading scorer and rebounder. Fennis Dembo, the showboating Wyoming
star who's now with the Detroit Pistons, approached Smith at the Pan
Am Games trials in the summer of '87 and expressed the prevailing
skepticism about Smith's spectacular comeback. ''What's the deal on
these missions?'' Dembo asked. ''You just hide out for two years and
work out, right?''
Smith had by then begun to establish himself as a free spirit of
near Dembonian proportions in the WAC. ''A lot of it started when I
first got back from my mission,'' he says. ''I was so happy to be
back playing basketball, and I wasn't embarrassed to show my
exuberance on the court. People had forgotten who I was. The high
school All-Americans I had played with were now seniors, some of
them were college All-Americans, and I was this nobody. I decided I
wasn't going to let people forget me.'' He hasn't. Last season he
averaged 21.2 points and 7.8 rebounds. ''You won't find another
player in the country with better offensive skills,'' says Reid.
''How many 6 ft. 10 in. guys can take it inside and post you up, or
go outside and shoot over you?''
Smith's only discernible weakness is his defense, a liability for
which Andersen has often openly criticized him and which has
occasionally caused some friction between the two. After last season,
Smith considered leaving school for the NBA. Says Brian Taylor, a
senior guard on last year's team and Smith's best friend, ''I think
there were a lot of things that went into Mike's decision to stay,
including being a good Mormon. We feel like we're playing for what we
believe at BYU.''
Smith quarterbacks an intramural football team at Brigham Young
called Throw Deep, and occasionally he wonders whether he could have
been part of BYU's tradition of outstanding quarterbacks: McMahon,
Steve Young, Gifford Nielsen. So do others. ''There isn't a soul who
knows him that doesn't wonder what might have been -- a 6 ft. 10 in.
quarterback at a school that passes that well,'' says his mother.
''The BYU football coach will always wonder, I'll tell you that. When
Mike plays intramural football now, other players just sit on the
fence around that field and watch with their mouths hanging open.''
And with their drawstrings tucked in, no doubt.