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Calling the "Real Men of Genius"

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  • Calling the "Real Men of Genius"

    From NYT

    For These Men, Lots of Guts but Little Glory

    TORRS, Conn. — Their classmates notice that they are invited to the popular athletes' parties on campus. They wear exclusive athletic logo apparel, and they hang around the athletic complex. Once in a while, they even sign an autograph.

    So it is natural when a classmate eventually asks: What sport do you play?

    "And that's when I tell them I'm a practice player on the women's basketball team," Mike Cofrancesco, a junior at the University of Connecticut, said. "I get the weirdest looks. People say: `But you're a guy? Is that allowed?' "

    Cofrancesco is one of hundreds of men who have become volunteer practice fodder for women's basketball teams at dozens of universities across the country, a practice condoned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. At UConn, for example, Cofrancesco is one of six male students who spend afternoons banging under the boards with the stars of Connecticut's two-time defending national champions. And the all-Americans bang back.

    "I remember my first day, I was afraid I was going to hurt somebody because they're girls, plus they're famous girls from national television," Mike Harrington, another UConn practice player, said. "Next thing I knew, I was lying on my back. If you don't watch out, these girls will run right over you."

    Coaches at most of the country's major Division I women's basketball programs began using male students at least a decade ago. They did it, the coaches say, in search of a higher level of competition for the starters than their female reserves could provide. The men generally have been accomplished high school players who may have been good enough to play at the Division III level in college.

    "Over all, the men tend to be a little bigger and stronger," Gail Goestenkors, the coach of the women's team at Duke, said. "It quickens the pace of practices. You can see it. It also improves our physical post play. And it's good for team chemistry because we're not battling ourselves, we're battling someone else."

    But this arrangement leads to situations without parallel in most major-college athletics. There have traditionally been practice players whose role it is to help the varsity players, but at the end of practice, everyone heads to the same locker room. And every practice player could at least theoretically play in a game someday or maybe even earn a scholarship.

    The male players who practice with women's teams live in a different world. They must file all the same N.C.A.A. paperwork and meet the same academic standards as the female players, but they cannot travel to away games, cannot receive scholarships or payment, other than a limited amount of gear. And, obviously, they will never play in women's games.

    From the middle of fall to early spring, male practice players toil through hundreds of hours of practice; a typical assignment might be playing only defense for 150 consecutive minutes. But when practice ends, the women on the team go to their locker room and the men linger behind. After a recent UConn practice, the men changed out of their sweaty T-shirts in the front row of the basketball arena, then headed back to their dormitories.

    That is the contradiction of their athletic lives: They are on the team, and they are not on the team.

    "We definitely think of them as part of us," Connecticut's star, Diana Taurasi, said, "and part of the reason if we win."

    And yet, at last year's women's Final Four in Atlanta, while Taurasi and her teammates were in luxury hotel rooms, UConn's male practice players were at a budget motel on the outskirts of town, having reserved two $59 single rooms in which they would sleep six. The women flew to Atlanta. The men drove 12 hours through the night.

    When UConn won and celebrated another national title at center court, the practice guys, deep in the grandstand, were glad they were there — even if they had to pay for their tickets.

    It is the code of the male practice player that he must selflessly adopt a compliant role; indeed, it is how he is recruited. Although the Duke women's team had an announced tryout for male practice players this season, most teams find players by word of mouth. Women's coaches might scout intramural games, but they say they are primarily looking for players with the right attitude for an uncharacteristic assignment.

    "We have to find guys who are coming for the right reasons," said Bill Gould, an assistant of the women's team at Boston College, who is in charge of the Eagles' male practice players. "They have to understand that nobody we're going to play will try to make an alley-oop dunk, so don't do that in our practice because that's not helping.

    "We tell them that this isn't intramurals, so don't swear and don't complain about fouls. We pre-interview to get to know them. If somebody says, `Boy, your team is really hot,' chances are good we wouldn't invite him to practice. This isn't a dating service."

    The men participate in nearly all the same drills as the women, and they frequently have to learn the plays and routines of a coming opponent so they can simulate the opponent in practices.

    There are a few ground rules. While only a few of the male players are taller than 6 feet 4 inches, dunking is still frowned upon. The same goes for blocking shots. Common sense also says that an out-of-control fast break may be dangerous, so such highlight-reel play is discouraged.

    But that is it for restrictions. And what is left is lots of elbowing, shoving and wrestling under the boards, with consequences.

    Goestenkors said that her top player, Alana Beard, required 14 stitches in her forehead last season after she drew an offensive foul by standing in the way of a male practice player. "It was an accidental elbow," Goestenkors said. "It really couldn't be avoided. It was a drill for how to take a charge."

    At Boston College, Coach Cathy Inglese calls Matt Hasselbeck, who was once the quarterback there, the best male practice player with whom she has worked. Another former B.C. quarterback, Doug Flutie, came by and practiced with the women's team three years ago.

    The coaches say there is always plenty of give and take on the court, something they encourage.

    "I love it when one of our guys gives one of the girls a shot in the ribs and pushes her out of the way to get a rebound," UConn Coach Geno Auriemma said. "I've noticed that when the ball goes to the other end, I often see that same guy coming out of the pack with one hand over his eye where he got whacked. I just crack up. It's not about a girl playing a guy, it's about two kids asserting themselves as basketball players."

    Some of the men are minicelebrities on their campuses, especially in basketball-mad Connecticut, where local television stations sometimes broadcast snippets of the women's practices.

    "We get stopped for autographs," Ryan Murphy, a junior, said. "You try to talk them out of it, but they insist."

    In the dorms, practice players are also the oracles for what seems like a natural curiosity of other male students. "Everybody wants to know how good the girls really are," Cofrancesco said. "They say, `Could I take Taurasi?' And I say: `No, you couldn't. Not even close.' "

    Universally, the male practice players become ambassadors for the women's game.

    "I tell guys all the time that these girls are better than any other guy in the school who isn't on the men's basketball team," said Tom Marchitelli, a senior who is a practice player at Boston College.

    The women, meanwhile, seem to go out of their way to make the men feel appreciated.

    "I think everybody thanks them after practices because they are a great bunch of guys who are here to help us," Maureen Leahy, a senior center at Boston College, said. "The best is when I see them at home games and watch them in the stands. They're living and dying with us. You would think they were playing."

    Marchitelli said the women players at Boston College had drawn the practice players into the entire women's athletic department experience.

    "Whenever the girls go out partying or anything, they'll always call us," Marchitelli said. "We've met all their friends. I've learned a lot from how they look at and take pleasure in sports.

    "Except now, the girls on the softball team keep asking us when we'll practice with them."
    The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life. -TR


    Madyaks2 Thought Of The Day: I'm just as dumb as madyaks1.

  • #2
    I heard the Mizzou women's soccer team was looking for guys to practice with them back when I was down there. I considered going but had a schedule conflict. Would have been interesting.
    Dude. Can. Fly.


    • #3
      Originally posted by dvyyyyyy@Mar 5 2004, 08:37 PM
      I heard the Mizzou women's soccer team was looking for guys to practice with them back when I was down there. I considered going but had a schedule conflict. Would have been interesting.

      Yeah..those underwater basket weaving courses at MU were a bitch...did Jevon Crudup actually pass? or did he threaten to beat someone up??