American Basketball Team Grows Playoff Beards
Think of Patriot League men's basketball, and what image comes to mind? Scrappy point guards? Six-foot-five centers? John Feinstein?
"Clean cut, I guess," offered American guard Steve Luptak the other day.
"I mean, you don't see a whole lot of beards or long hair," agreed teammate Bryce Simon. "Kind of the buzz cut, clean-shaven type of thing."
Which is why it's notable that at least five members of the Eagles are sporting various degrees of playoff beards as they prepare for Sunday's semifinal with Army. Yeah, Army. And you thought Duke-UNC was a culture clash? The guys at Army, generally speaking, do not grow playoff beards.
"I don't think anyone has facial hair on that team," AU guard Nick Hendra said. "They look like soldiers, pretty much, to be honest."
And the Eagles? Nah, not soldiers. Let's think of another word.
"Coach [Jeff] Jones made a comment in the weight room the other day about me looking Amish," Simon offered. "Or what else did he think I was?"
"Oh, a Hasidic Jew," Hendra remembered. "I told [Jones] he lacked the little spiral sideburns."
True that. Simon was actually the instigator behind this trend, and it started kind of randomly. A couple weeks ago the beard just started growing. He got his head shaved, but teammates talked him into keeping the facial hair. The Eagles started winning (11 straight and counting), the team-unity thoughts began, and Simon started recruiting followers.
"Honestly," he explained, "I just didn't want to be the only one."
(Feinstein, by the way, did a very nice piece on Simon recently, and yet there was nothing about his beard. "Yeah," the senior agreed. "He didn't ask too much about that.")
Anyhow, Luptak soon jumped on the beard bandwagon, and has wound up with the longest beard of his life.
"I mean, I've been known to be kind of scruffy at times," he said, "but I've never let it get this long before. I feel like Wolverine."
Hendra joined the campaign, pledging not to even shape his up.
"My goal is just to look as grimy and disgusting and nasty as possible, so that I strike fear in my opponent," he said. "That's the only reason."
Is it working, he was asked, after American's 22-point quarterfinal win over Lafayette. "Look at the scoreboard," he said. And what about the disgusting part, is that working? "Look at my neck," he said.
Sophomore guard Matt Wilson also signed up, though without Hendra's verve.
"I'm not trying to be disgusting," Wilson pointed out.
And senior guard Frank Borden apparently joined the effort as well, though there was some debate on that point.
"What's he doing here?" Hendra asked, during the impromptu post-game beard press conference. "Where is your beard? I don't understand why you're even here."
"I'm leaving now," Borden said.
Indeed, as NHL rookies have long known, the playoff beard can't always be counted on in the clutch. Certain parts of Hendra's face are boycotting the effort; "I'm 19, I don't turn 20 'till May," he explained. And Garrison Carr, last year's Patriot League tourney MVP, is opting to remain clean-shaven, though it wasn't an entirely voluntary decision.
"I wish I could join them and grown one too, but my beard doesn't allow me to right now," Carr said. "All I can grow is a little peach fuzz. But I'm down for it. I think it looks a little scary, if you ask me."
Regardless, the top-seeded Eagles don't want to look ahead or take anything for granted etc. etc. etc., but it's possible the beards will disappear before this season ends.
"Because IF we go to the tournament, I don't think we need to be looking like this," Simon said. "We need to go back to the clean shaven look."
I'd say that decades of Stanley Cup photos would argue otherwise, but who am I to judge? And if you're wondering whether I went to an American University sports journalism class last night, and, when asked to explain how the students should be blogging about March basketball, gave a long speech about playoff beards, the answer is yes.
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