Oklahoma State players call their English teammate Big Al—he's as tall as Big Ben, but with less dependable hands. Cowboy coach Leonard Hamilton calls him by his last name. Bannister, which seems more appropriate, considering that he plays the low post and arrived with a wooden game.
At 7'4" and 280 pounds, Alan Bannister is the biggest player in the Big Eight. "When Big Al arrived here from England, it was sad," says former roommate Grant Buster, a team manager. "He couldn't even catch the ball." Bannister had only one move to the net, an incipient sky hook. Still, as a 245-pound freshman in 1985-86, Bannister started 19 of the Cowboys' 27 games, averaged 7.6 points and 4.5 rebounds and blocked 49 shots. He is now a third-year sophomore—he sat out last season with multiple stress fractures in his left foot—and things are looking up. "Bannister's improvement has been phenomenal," says Hamilton, "but he still has a long way to go."
Bannister has already traveled more than 4,000 miles from the Lancashire countryside where he grew up and up and up, even though his father, Neil, is just 5'11" and his mum, Dorothy, is 5'7". How did you get so tall, Big Al? "We had a tall mailman," Bannister says. At 13 he was 6'2". At 14 he took up basketball. By 16 he had reached 7'4". Doctors finally removed a benign tumor in his pituitary gland, and he hasn't added an inch since.
Basketball in England ranks somewhere between boccie and sumo wrestling. "I had to get out," says Bannister. The coach who brought him to OSU, Paul Hansen, was replaced last year by Hamilton, who was left with so little that he had to get his starting point guard, Jay Davis, from a fraternity intramural squad. The Cowboys went 8-20.
Undaunted, Hamilton plans to experiment with Bannister on and off the court. "I keep his tumor in my office," Hamilton says. "I'm going to attach it to our little guys. Before the season ends, I hope to have some seven-foot point guards."