It all begins with his incomprehensible hair, that amalgam of political punk and shaved spaghetti, an every-parent's-nightmare kind of cut. Dwayne Schintzius, Florida's enigmatic junior center, gets his locks styled in biweekly hour-long sessions down at the Mane Stop on University Avenue in Gainesville. This is irony clipped and dried: Even late in his high school years Schintzius would sit in the family car pouting and clawing the seats whenever his mom took him to the barber.
"Kids ragged you when you got a haircut." Schintzius says. "They called out, 'Hey, Stupid' and stuff. I already looked stupid being so tall. When I had to get a haircut, I was a Double Stupid."
And so, off on his own at the big university up the interstate from his home in Brandon, Fla., near Tampa, the kid went whole hog with the Dwayne-Do or, as some teammates call it, the Lobster—burr short on top, boxed on the sides, feathered oh-so-scraggly down the back in the fashion of, uh, a crustacean's tail. It's a signature look, and it screeches freedom, cool values, distinct dudeness. Throw in Schintzius's nifty sneer and generally sullen public attitude, and what you have is every denim ed pseudohood who ever squealed out of a sock hop in his white-walled dragmobile wearing a cigarette pack in the sleeve of his T-shirt. Except that this one is seven...foot...two.
Schintzius has been razzed about his height for as long as he can remember. "I've tried to hide from it," he says. "I've spent my life trying to avoid situations where I'd get hurt, verbally assaulted. It still happens all the time. So I try to avoid crowds, and people in general."
January 16, 1989
When he went to Gainesville as a freshman in 1986, an athletic department psychological profile indicated he had a residue of pent-up anger. "I never let my emotions out," Schintzius says. "I was taught never to fight, that I was too tall and might hurt someone. I don't remember the last time I cried. I've got a lot of negative energy built up inside me."
During the warmups before his first college game, at Florida State, Schintzius kicked at the home team's mascot Seminole. The gesture was harmless and accompanied by a laugh, but it presaged Schintzius's status as college basketball's most unsettling character—and its foremost bad boy. Early in his freshman year, a couple of youngsters approached Schintzius with the inevitable question: How's the weather up there? He spat on them and said, "It's raining." Recalling the incident, he shakes his head and says, "That may sound crude, but at the time it was hilarious."
Subsequently, he has stuck out his tongue during games, jawed with referees and pranced in high-step to celebrate a score. More seriously, he has yelled at his coach, deliberately fouled and tried to injure other players, and quit on his teammates. What makes it all so frustrating to those around him is that Schintzius is a greatly gifted athlete, possessing exceptional potential for a big man, with shooting and passing talents reminiscent of Bill Walton's.
"I've been basically a brat, a horse's patoot," says Schintzius. "I'm probably the most hated player in the country." He smiles as he says this, still looking amazed that he could ever have been such a thing. Or still might be.
Kids just want to have fun, but giants never can. It is Schintzius's curse to be both at the same time, and in search of a role in adult society that he can't quite figure out. In the movie Big, Tom Hanks plays 13-year-old Josh Baskin, who finds himself in an adult body. Josh gargles chocolate sundaes, spits out caviar and experiences every manner of role-confusion imaginable to a little boy thrown into a grown-up world of contrivance. "I don't get it," Josh says of a new idea for a toy. "A building turns into a robot? What's fun about that?"
As late as his junior year in high school Schintzius didn't know what to do with his life. He didn't even know whether he wanted to go to college. He was still a kid, lost and drifting. But because he was tall, he was expected to play basketball. He didn't get it. A kid turns into a basketball player? What's fun about that?
Nonetheless, he went up the road to Gainesville to play basketball. And nobody would say he didn't play well. In his freshman and sophomore years Schintzius led the Gators to 46 victories and the only two NCAA tournament appearances they have ever made. Over those two seasons he averaged 12.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots. Yet the reign of Dwayne has been rife with controversy.
As a freshman, three days after a terrific performance against Purdue in the NCAA tournament, Schintzius accompanied Florida coach Norm Sloan to a press conference at New Jersey's Meadowlands, where Schintzius boasted of what he would do with his upcoming opponent, Syracuse's junior center, Rony Seikaly: take it to him, get him in foul trouble, beat him, etc. "I sat there," recalls Sloan, "and Dwayne basically took over the press conference. It was astonishing. At one point he said, 'I know I'm great; I just have to stop talking about it.' "
Seikaly proceeded to jump all over Schintzius's bewildered head, scoring a career-high 33 points to Schintzius's six in an 87-81 victory for the Orangemen. The emotional debris left behind by that failure—Schintzius was labeled the Mouth of the South, not to mention a big-game choker—affected him throughout his sophomore year. In an 80-68 loss to Pittsburgh on national TV, Schintzius spent most of the game hanging his head so he wouldn't have to watch Charles Smith, the Panthers' pivotman, outscore him 30-2. "Dwayne was so afraid of bombing, he could do nothing but bomb," Sloan says.
In the SEC tournament last March, Florida was trailing Georgia 72-70 with two seconds remaining and a Gator at the foul line. During a timeout before the free throw attempt, Schintzius refused Sloan's request to reenter the game for a desperation tip-in. According to Schintzius, "It was a misunderstanding. I had already taken myself out of the game mentally. There had been a fight, bad calls. I was bitching, moaning. I had gone into my shell. I was through for the night. I wasn't even in the huddle. I was looking at the girls in the stands. Coach says he said, 'Do you want to go back in?' I said, I beg your pardon?' I hadn't even heard him. He said, 'I thought so.' "
Says Sloan, "Dwayne froze up on me. He has this technique he's developed to block out people. He can be looking at you, staring, and he doesn't respond to anything. Hello? Is anybody home? Nothing, stoic. That's how he was that night. He'd never trusted coaches. I'd seen it before. It wasn't a big deal to him, but we had to have a talk after that."
On the flight home and in several meetings that followed, coach and player ironed out their differences. For one thing, Schintzius's hair ceased to be an issue. "He thinks it looks great," says Sloan, "but I told Dwayne he doesn't have to look at it from the back. I finally realized his hair was nonnegotiable."
The two also agreed that Schintzius would have to learn to cope with frustrations on the court and with the taunts and tall-jokes off it. "I know I should appreciate my height more than I do," Schintzius says, "but sometimes I can't handle it." Additionally, Sloan and his staff said they would try to "understand" Dwayne better.
This looked to be easier duty than expected after Schintzius had an encouraging off-season, when he almost made the Olympic team. During the trials, he gained weight (he is now a hulk of 265 pounds), strength, maturity, confidence and a sense of priorities while rooming with former Navy star David Robinson. "I had always thought I was too good to be coached," says Schintzius. "I was major cocky, the supreme one. Temper tantrums, loafing, negativism—I had all the bad-actor stuff. I just didn't care. But I worked my butt off in the Olympic trials and loved it. I was gung ho to play. I showed myself how good I could be. Last year at Florida we had a lot of guys out for themselves, including me. But that's over. I've grown. I know an NBA contract and a lot of money are out there for me if I shape up. And I will."
Which made it all the more shocking when, on the morning (2:15 a.m.) of Nov. 5, Schintzius emerged from a car outside the Animal House nightclub in Gainesville and wielding a tennis racket in a crowd, hit a Florida student named Paul Sullivan. Sullivan told police at the scene he wanted to press charges for assault, but Schintzius later apologized and the charges were dropped. Still, the university's office of student affairs found Schintzius guilty of violating the student code of conduct and suspended him for the first four games of the season.
Though Schintzius acknowledges his mistake—"I was just out for some crazy times," he says—the adults concerned have been less circumspect. Sloan was furious at the length of the suspension. Schintzius's father, Ken, a deputy sheriff in Hillsborough County, Fla., says his son suffered under a "kangaroo court," and Dwayne's mother, Linda, told The Orlando Sentinel, "Dwayne was just being typically 20 years old again. [He had been 20 for 21 days.] He just thinks college is fun, fun, fun."
Fun? "He had a crazed look in his eyes," says Sullivan. "He said he was going to mess us up. Later he said he'd had a real bad evening up to that point. Listen, I felt for him when I got to know him. People who've had classes with him say he's a total idiot, but I don't think he's half bad. He seemed really sincere in his apology."
So far this season Schintzius has weathered with equanimity the hundreds of tennis balls thrown at him at Florida State and the chants of "Bor-is, Bor-is" at Illinois, but Sloan has warned him that he has run out of second chances. Says Sloan, "The next incident...that's who Dwayne Schintzius is."
Who exactly might that be? Jose Ramos, Florida's freshman guard, says he used to watch Schintzius on TV. "I thought he was a real jerk," says Ramos. "But Dwayne has to endure so much total——, even on this campus. People call him a dork, and he has to take it. But he's matured so much." Alas, Ramos, who is now Schintzius's roommate, was indefinitely suspended last Saturday for threatening Sloan during practice.
Yet despite all the off-court woes, Schintzius, two or three times a game, will do something that takes the breath away: a quick jump hook off the glass, an over-the-shoulder baseball bounce pass through traffic, a one-motion catch and tip-in, a rip-away rebound and three-quarter-court fling-ahead assist. Still, Sloan's system positions Schintzius at the high post rather than taking advantage of his enormous capacities down on the block. "Dwayne's our best passer," says Sloan. "If he disappears from the game, it's my job to get him to come back."
The truth is, Florida's guards are too inexperienced to get the ball to Schintzius down low. Meanwhile, he passes up 10 to 15 shots a game that he should be under orders to fire, and his peculiar avoidance of the paint becomes manifest in low rebound totals and in the fact that he has never attempted more than eight foul shots in a game.
Florida's SEC opener, a 111-101 loss to LSU in Gainesville, was a case in point. Schintzius went up against the Tigers' pivot combo of Geert Hammink and Richard Krajewski. They were raw meat for the lion, but when Schintzius, who made 11 of 20 shots and only three free throws, for 25 points, refused to take over the game, LSU's remarkable freshman guard, Chris Jackson, did—to the tune of 53 points. The guardless Gators suffered a veritable replay against Ohio State two and a half weeks later, when Jay Burson burned them for 37 points to lead the Buckeyes to a 93-68 victory. Schintzius had 19 points.
Florida, which was 6-7 at week's end, has gotten off to a dismally disappointing start. Yet Schintzius was averaging 18.7 points and 9.5 rebounds. After having had his tonsils removed this summer—"worst poisoned golf balls the doctor ever saw," he says—Schintzius's stamina problems have vanished as well. And a steady girlfriend. Lynn Avery, whom Schintzius met in astronomy class, must surely mean that increased stability is in the stars.
"I'm not into psychoanalysis or attitude," says Marty Blake, the NBA scout of scouts. "I only grade a guy on his athletic ability. But do I like Schintzius? The fact is, there are no centers anymore. This one can run the floor, pass, shoot, handle it and bump people. He busted his ass at the Olympic trials. What's not to like? He's 7'2" and he's still only a kid."
The rumor mill has Schintzius leaving Florida for the big bucks after this season. But his brother, 6'8" Travis, who got suspended from his high school's opening game for showing disrespect to a Spanish teacher by raising his voice, will be a freshman at Gainesville next fall. Dwayne says he wants to play with him. Or hit the clubs with him. Or get suspended with him. Something.
Besides, turn pro while still only a kid? Schintzius doesn't get it. What's fun about that?