You've heard ofthe movie Glory Road, right? The inspirational story of the 1966 Texas Westernbasketball team that won the NCAA title with an unheard-of five blackstarters?
Well, this is theflip side of that story. I was tipped off about it by A Million Little Piecesauthor James Frey. It's the Wyoming State University basketball team--the onlyNCAA Division I school in the country right now starting five whiteplayers.
"To behonest, it's been hell," says WSU's courageous black coach, MarlinStreeter, 43. "Some people just aren't ready to see five white guys outthere. It triggers something deep inside them."
Wyoming State,located in Casper, is 17-5 overall yet has not cracked the Top 25. They've beenheckled, mocked and ridiculed everywhere they've played. They've heard,"Crackers!" and "Damn! Where's my sunglasses?" One sign readALL WHITE? THAT AIN'T RIGHT!
"I was outthere for the opening tip at Fresno State," says starting Ghosts centerChip Lovington III, "and the ref goes, 'Son, five white guys isn't abasketball team, it's an insurance firm.' It gets old."
It's not likeStreeter set out to thumb his nose at the you-need-blacks-to-win culture ofcollege basketball. His team's makeup was born of desperation.
Because WyomingState hasn't had a winning season in 14 years, and because Casper's blackpopulation can be counted on Bart Simpson's fingers, good black players weren'texactly wearing out Streeter's cell number. And then one day, while speaking atthe Bemidji (Minn.) Elks Lodge, he looked out the window and noticed a 5'9"white kid named Schuyler Olson making 20-footers like they were layups.
It took somesweet-talking to get him to come to Casper. Olson's father, Prescott, is theregional sales director for Wonder bread, and Schuyler had his future alreadymapped out. But when Streeter finally got him to sign with the Ghosts, thecoach realized he might be on to something.
He startedscouring the country for talented whites--at country clubs, squash courts andVolvo dealerships. He found power forward Chad Melman Jr. at his wife's bookclub. He persuaded point guard Cheddar Smithson to give up his belovedhorseback riding and join the team. The white flight to Casper was on. And didit go over well with the team's previously all-black roster?
"Hell,no!" says backup forward Tayron Wilson. "We were like, 'You're bringingin all white guys? On purpose?' I kept looking for that Punk'd dude to showup!"
The interactionwas rough at first. Streeter wanted the team to dress alike on road trips, butthe black players refused to tie their sweaters around their necks. "And wetold them they can stick their Docksiders!" says sixth man Antoine Davis.One night there were even fisticuffs over a John Tesh CD on the team boombox.
On the court itwas worse. Streeter exhorted his starters to take the ball hard to the hoop anddunk it, but they'd insist on just laying it in. "It wasn't 'white mencan't jump,'" says Wilson, "it was 'white men won't jump!'"
But when WyomingState lost four of its first five games, a miffed Olson approached Streeter andsaid, "Coach, with all due respect to your expertise, and certainly with anunderstanding of your desires to grow this program, we feel we're not beingallowed to play the style of game that will bring us success."
In other words,they wanted to make a minimum of 10 passes on each possession. Run backdoorplays. And wear very tight, high Larry Bird shorts.
The Ghosts reeledoff 11 straight wins. Their games became the place to be for celebrities likeMartha Stewart, Clay Aiken and Pat Boone. Then they got cocky, getting blownout at Air Force. "They were at the club all night," Streeter growls."The Young Republicans club." After some serious stair-running aspunishment, they've won five more since. Now they're white-hot. Ghostscheerleaders even have a new chant:
Don't need nobrothers
To stage a thrilla!
We rock your world with
All in all, it'sbeen an amazing season in Casper. Streeter and his players have learned aboutprejudice, tolerance and, in the end, the common bond that makes thempersevere: hoops.
And whether ornot they win the NCAA title as Texas Western did, Streeter says he alreadyfeels like a winner. Why?
"I just soldthe movie rights!" he says. The working title?
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"At the opening tip in one game," says Ghostscenter Chip Lovington III, "the ref goes, 'Son, five white guys isn't abasketball team, it's an insurance firm.' It gets old."
PETER READ MILLER