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He's a Big Man on Campus : St. Bonaventure's Wagoner Delivers Swats in Punishing Manner

December 17, 1987|MIKE HISERMAN | Times Staff Writer

The word "swat" has serious implications when you attend a parochial school and have faced your share of ill-tempered nuns armed with paddles.

But not to Andy Wagoner, center on the St. Bonaventure High basketball team, who probably has more swats to his credit than the school's entire faculty.

Wagoner is the Seraphs' minister of defense. Thou shalt not take a shot from inside the key is a commandment he takes very seriously, and that is why he has become one of the most dominant players in the Southern Section's 1-A Division.

OK, that and the fact he is 6-6, 240 pounds.

Wagoner has offensive statistics befitting his stature as the biggest man on the campus of a small school, but they tell little about his true value to the team. He averages 15 points and 10.4 rebounds a game.

Even those 4.6 blocked shots a game are deceiving in their importance. Too bad they don't keep track of ABFIs (air balls forced by intimidation). Coach Marc Groff says Wagoner would be among the nation's leaders.

"His presence is felt most on defense," Groff said. "On offense, he gets double- and triple-teamed on every play and often he ends up kicking the ball back out. On defense, there's no way around him. He's not a great leaper, but he has great timing off the ball. Not every guy 6-6 gets those blocks."

St. Bonaventure, which had been a doormat among Tri-Valley League teams in the past, is off to a 5-0 start and Wagoner has been the center of attention.

"There are two games," Groff said. "One when Andy's on the floor and the other when he's not. He doesn't get into foul trouble too often, but when I have to take him out, the whole game changes. Those teams--their eyes light up and they go right to the basket."

And then there are teams like Nordhoff, which had to learn the hard way. The Rangers tried to go right at Wagoner in a game last Friday and came away with basketball seams imprinted on their foreheads. He blocked 8 shots, scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as St. Bonaventure won, 72-55.

"The crowd was going crazy," Groff said. "He's got quite a following in the senior class."

Despite the popularity, Wagoner remains the strong, silent type, his coaches say.

"He's a quiet and introspective person," said Groff, who recalls Wagoner as a freshman reading books in the locker room before a game.

"By nature, he's shy," said Paul Spinner, the football coach. "He rarely says anything on the field or in practice."

No, Wagoner lets his play do the talking. All year around.

In football, he played defensive tackle. Now there's basketball and in the spring he will probably play first base for the baseball team.

After that, he'll have to make a decision. Basketball is Wagoner's favorite sport, but his coaches agree that his brightest future may be in baseball.

"His physical makeup is probably more suited as a football player," Spinner said. "He's got good foot speed for his size. A couple of the colleges are looking at him as an offensive lineman."

But, so far, Wagoner doesn't seem to be seriously looking back.

"I've never taken football that seriously," Wagoner said. "I would like to play college sports, but I'll have to see. Whatever is the best choice at the time, I'll do. Even if it's no sports at all."

Wagoner has played varsity basketball for four seasons but played football only the past two--after some prodding by coaches and friends.

"We tried to get him out every year," Spinner said. "At a small school you can't afford to have big guys like him around and not playing football."

Wagoner started on the offensive and defensive lines as a junior but concentrated on defense last season and was first-team all-league.

Groff, who was then in his second year as coach, approached Wagoner about playing basketball at the urging of several teachers.

"Everyone said there was a 6-4 kid walking around campus and that I should look into it," Groff said.

At that point, the coach was open to all helpful hints and suggestions. The Seraphs had not been to the playoffs in basketball for six years. And they didn't make it in Wagoner's first year, either.

Since then, St. Bonaventure's winning percentage has been on the rise. In Wagoner's sophomore season, St. Bonaventure was 13-10 and made the playoffs. Last year, the Seraphs set a school record for winning percentage by going 15-8 and again qualifying for the playoffs.

The soft-spoken Wagoner allows that his progress as a player probably had something to do with the team's improvement. But that's about as cocky as he gets.

He seems an unwilling hero. "I just play," he said. "I like to score and I like the blocks, but I like all the facets of the game."

And the cheers of the crowd screaming for another swat? "I hear the crowd sometimes," he said. "Mostly I hear my dad. He's usually on the refs."

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