Not to say that Big Nasty is a big phony, but Arkansas forward Corliss Williamson cheerfully admits that his on-court persona is mostly an act. The Nasty side of the 6'7", 245-pound sophomore will be on display this weekend in Charlotte, where Williamson promises to be his usual fierce self against Arizona on Saturday in the Final Four. But beneath his intimidating facade there's a softer, un-Nasty side that dotes on his pet. O.K., his pet is a boa constrictor, Little Nasty, but it's also worth noting that Williamson, a communications major, has chosen drama as a minor, because he likes to assume different personalities. "You can be a good guy or a bad guy," he says. "You can be a woman or you can be a child."
Big Nasty a woman?
"Aw, you know what I mean," he says, lowering his shaved head and smiling sheepishly. "Acting is a chance to have fun away from basketball."
He can use the breather. In the Razorbacks' 76-68 win over Michigan in Sunday's Midwest Regional final, Big Nasty went head-to-head with Juwan Howard, the Wolverines' splendid 6' 9", 250-pound junior. Howard outscored Williamson 30-12 and outrebounded him 13-6. But the Wolverines paid so much attention to Big Nasty inside that the Hogs' outside shooters were left open to nail 10 three-pointers, to only three for Michigan.
"Juwan is the best player I've gone against this season, but the best I've ever gone against is Shaquille O'Neal [in an AAU summer tournament]," Williamson said after the game. "All I remember is getting dunked on hard."
By making six of his 10 field goal attempts on Sunday, Williamson, the SEC Player of the Year, improved his two-year NCAA tournament stats to 53 field goals in 72 attempts, a .736 clip that has him well ahead of Bill Walton's career record .686. (At least 70 field goals are required to qualify for the record.)
Although Williamson remembers being "almost anorexic" as a young child, he filled out so well that as an eighth-grader he shattered a backboard with a dunk. When he signed with Arkansas in 1992 after one of the greatest prep careers ever in the state, some people figured he was making a mistake, because the Razorbacks' run-and-gun game was so dissimilar to the deliberate offense run by Williamson's Russellville High School team. But Big Nasty helped prepare for Hog coach Nolan Richardson's up-tempo game by playing in an AAU summer league.
As a freshman last season Williamson missed 13 of the Razorbacks' first 14 games with a stress fracture of his right foot. Upon returning he averaged 14.6 points and a team-high 5.1 rebounds. Last summer he moved his game up another notch by playing with Duke's Cherokee Parks and Georgetown's Othella Harrington on a U.S. team that won a gold medal in an under-22 tournament in Europe.
This made Williamson tougher, but he remains so laid-back that he has to psych himself up for home games by going into the weight room, putting a rap music tape into his headset and pumping iron for an hour. On the road he does push-ups and sit-ups. "That's the way I get into an aggressive mood," Williamson says. His teammates know he's ready when he goes bouncing around the locker room, punching them in the chest.
Fortunately for all concerned, Big Nasty's punches are just love taps. He literally doesn't know his own strength, because he never pays attention to how much weight he is lifting. But Richardson insists that Williamson is, "pound for pound...maybe the strongest basketball player in the world."
"Those are nice words," Williamson said when told of his coach's remark. "I wish I heard them every day in practice." Then he smiled a most un-Nasty smile.