Senior guard Kerry Kittles, the reigning Big East Player of the
Year, stands in front of the altar at St. Thomas of Villanova
Church. The Pastoral Musicians perform One Bread, One Body.
Kittles is 6'5" and 179 pounds of long limbs and sharp angles--a
Keith Haring figure in pressed shirt and slacks. The worshiping
assembly rises from its pews and gathers near him, fellow
students streaming toward him across the marble floors. As they
reach him, Kittles places pieces of consecrated bread in the
hands of the devoted and says, "The body of Christ," to which
they respond, "Amen."
The eucharistic ministry is not for the weak of spirit or of
faith. In his nearly five years of teaching theology at
Villanova, Father Ed Hastings had never recommended it to any
Wildcat player--until Kittles. "Kerry has a reflective quality
and a depth that really impressed me, from his writing to what
he would say in class," Hastings says. There was something
special about the way he played, too, says Hastings, a guard for
'Nova in the early 1970s: "I loved his unselfishness on the
Indeed, Kittles believes it is far better to give than to
receive; for him, hoops purgatory is having to look at a stat
sheet on which his field goals attempted exceeds his points. So
last winter, while he was in the midst of averaging 21.4 points
on only 15.3 shots a game, Kittles was attending eucharistic
minister training sessions and learning to give Communion, which
he did for the first time in September. As he spreads out on a
couch with his 84-inch wingspan and discusses his lay ministry,
Kittles's angular face has a serene cast.
"I feel like I can do anything now, like I don't have any
boundaries," he says. "Being able to [serve the community]
relaxes me so much it's amazing. Someone told me this once, and
I think it's true: that life is kind of like driving in a car.
You can see what's ahead of you, and in the rearview mirror you
can see what's behind you, but everything's going so fast on the
sides as you pass by that you can't appreciate it. [Serving the
community] like that makes you stop and see how beautiful nature
is, how lucky you are to be here. It brings to light so much."
The road that brought Kittles from St. Augustine High in New
Orleans to his heavenly experiences at Villanova seemed in the
early going to be a dead end. In April 1992, six months after
Kittles signed his letter of intent, 'Nova coach Rollie
Massimino left for UNLV, and Kittles, stung by what he perceived
to be disloyalty, had no interest in suiting up for Massimino's
successor, Steve Lappas. So on his second day at work, Lappas
flew to Kittles's home to smooth things over. "People had told
me he was a real outgoing, vibrant kid," Lappas says. "But after
I got there, I said to myself, Damn, that's not the vibe I'm
As Kittles recalls, "I was looking at the wall, thinking about
what I have to do when he leaves, who I have to call."
Confronted by TV reporters when he emerged from the house,
Lappas tried to put an optimistic spin on the meeting, only to
tune in to the late news that night and hear Kittles offer a
somewhat frostier assessment. But Kerry's parent--Acosta, a
casino security guard, and Mary, a hospital clerk--prevailed on
him to give Lappas another chance before deciding to transfer
(his first choice was Tulane) and lose a year of eligibility.
Kittles did. "We weren't [buddies] or anything that second
time," Lappas says. "But he cracked a smile."
"Let's say I started to look at him," Kittles says. "It was a
matter of trusting him, and since I've done that, he's done
everything right for me."
Lappas did not see Kittles play in person until the Wildcats'
first practice, after which he anxiously gathered his
assistants. "We've got a problem," Lappas said. "Our best
player's a freshman, and the guys on our team don't know it."
Although Kittles was Louisiana's Mr. Basketball in '92, he was
known as a slasher with a suspect jump shot. Lappas saw that rep
erased on the spot; Kittles was not only a slasher and a shooter
but also a divine creator. He understood the game's flow and
could exploit its most minute openings with a sure flick of the
wrist or a clever backdoor cut. "I don't force things," Kittles
says. "I take my time and let things come to me."
His offensive efficiency rests largely on his never resting; he
gets half a dozen of his points every game through constant
motion and prophetic anticipation. "If you're guarding him and
he doesn't have the ball, you'd think that would be good,"
Villanova guard Kevin Cox says. "But it's not." Kittles fired an
ungodly 57% from the field in conference play last
year--including 45% from beyond the arc--and poured in 44 against
Boston College on a mere 23 shots.
While he usually evokes a Big Easy fluidness on the floor, he
can conjure a little Big East brashness as well. First, there
are the socks: Kittles wears the left one high on the calf, the
right one low around the ankle. It's the look his high school
team favored, but it passes for styling now. The Wildcat coaches
first took notice of 6'5" freshman Howard Brown of Pottstown,
Pa., because he sported Kittles-like lopsided hosiery. And then
there are Kittles's fashionable facials. "Last season he dunked
all over a guy from Providence," says Wildcat center Jason
Lawson. "Took off from, like, the dotted line. Nasty."
Still, critics quibbled with Kittles last season for not being
nasty enough in the Cats' 89-81, first-round, triple-overtime
loss to Old Dominion in the NCAA tournament, a disappointing end
for a team that had won the Big East tournament less than a week
before. Kittles took only one shot in the overtimes; at the end
of regulation, he had the ball in his hands in a 1-4 set and
dished off to Jonathan Haynes, who missed an open 15-footer at
the buzzer. Mention to Lappas that most go-to guys prefer not to
give it up at such moments, and brace for a rhetorical storm.
Voice quavering, Lappas points out that Haynes had nailed a
similar jumper off a Kittles feed to beat Florida 72-70 earlier
in the year. "We got a star who's in the flow," he says. "You
know what that is? Is that a knock? Not if you want to win
Kittles may remain steadfastly unselfish, but he has changed:
Consider that the taciturn teen who had to be cajoled into
attending Villanova three years ago turned down NBA lottery
money last spring to stick around for his senior season. Kittles
struggled with his decision--"My heart was set on staying, but my
mind was saying, Get out of here," he says--but in the end felt
that he was enjoying college and wanted to finish his degree in
management. He also knew he could grow more in his mastery on
the court and through work with the church.
Even Cox, Kittles's road roommate, has returned to grad school
at Villanova after deferring an opportunity to make big
bucks--albeit mere tens of thousands--as an accountant for Ernst
& Young in Chicago. "Part of my decision to come back was just
to be able to watch Kerry play another year," he says. This is,
after all, a chance for Cox to pull off the road of life for a
while and appreciate something special.
COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART/ALLSPORT USAAfter netting the Big East title last year, Kittles returns to 'Nova with higher goals. [Kerry Kittles cutting net from basketball hoop]
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Kittles is setting new standards in scoring efficiency as well as in hosiery style. [Kerry Kittles]