As a senior at Cleveland's Central Catholic High, Earl (the
Squirrel) Boykins was a 5'8" point guard famed for dropping
50-plus-point games on taller defenders in playground matchups.
As a sophomore at Eastern Michigan, Boykins was 5'7" and was
known as the Earl who bested a Duke in the first round of the
1996 NCAA tournament. This season, Boykins, SI's choice as the
best small player in the land, swears that the height at which
he's listed, 5'5", is accurate--though at the rate he's going,
he'll wind up a Boguesian 5'3" by the time he reaches the NBA.
Boykins can explain his steadily shrinking stature. He says he
couldn't get recruited at anything less than 5'8", so that's how
tall he said he was to anyone who asked. His coach during his
first two seasons in Ypsilanti, Ben Braun, wouldn't permit him
to be listed at less than 5'7", lest others think that the only
person to have offered Boykins a scholarship was crazy. "You
signed a guy how tall?" someone asked Braun before Boykins's
"I'm either going to look like a genius or incredibly stupid,"
Says Boykins, "I figured it was my duty to make him look smart."
Only since Braun left for Cal a year ago has Boykins been able
to fess up--or down--to his true height. Boykins's figurative
stature, on the other hand, has been steadily growing, along
with his scoring average, which in college has risen from 12.5
to 15.5 to 19.1 as his height has dropped.
Much credit for Boykins's success is due his father, Willie
Williams, a 5'8" Cleveland cop who's a fixture in the city's rec
leagues. Williams once stashed the three-year-old Earl in a gym
bag to save the cost of the boy's rec center entrance fee. A
year later Williams gave his son a tennis ball because Earl's
hands were too small for anything bigger, and Earl would dribble
the ball all day and hold on to it while he slept. By the time
he was 13, the son was playing in his dad's games. "You play
with grown men all the time," Boykins says, "you get used to
Contact he can deal with. Boykins has size-9 1/2 feet and can
bench-press nearly twice his 143 pounds. Losing he has a harder
time with. After Boykins missed several critical shots during
Eastern Michigan's loss to Bradley in the first round of the
1995 NIT, Eagles sports information director Jim Streeter found
him literally hiding in his locker.
Though Boykins can shoot the three, his favorite move is a sort
of Ypsi doo. "He'll go into the lane, only he won't go all the
way to the hole," says his roommate, forward James Head. "He'll
float a shot, [Jeff] Hornacek-like." Once the ball has glanced
off the backboard and through the hoop, Boykins will flash a
grin at the man over whom he has just scored--or at the opposing
team's heckler who called him Webster.
Last year Boykins was cut from USA Basketball's 22-and-under
team because of his size. "You're disappointed when you play
well enough to make the team and come up short," he says,
intending no pun. He tried out again in June, and this time he
made it. At the World University Games in Italy in August he led
the gold-medal-winning Americans in scoring, assists and
three-point shooting percentage. Last week he was named USA
Basketball's Player of the Year for 1997.
"He works so well with what he's got," says his Eagles backcourt
mate, Derrick Dial, "it's like it wouldn't be fair if he were
Boykins no longer fits into a gym bag. But maybe next year.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER READ MILLER Out of Proportion That's what the effectiveness of Eastern Michigan's Earl Boykins on the basketball floor is in comparison to his diminutive stature (page 86). [Earl Boykins wearing very large sneakers and dribbling oversized basketball--T of C]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER READ MILLER [Earl Boykins wearing very large shoes and holding oversized basketball]