The days when he owned an 8-foot python and went by the name "Psycho" have passed, but Rolf Jacobs of Cal State Long Beach remains an eccentric in the world of college basketball.
"He's a free spirit, he's going to be himself," Seth Greenberg, the 49ers' associate head coach, said of Jacobs, a senior who has stepped in as a starting forward two years after being dropped from the University of Arizona team for playing too roughly during practice.
"When they made him, they threw away the mold," 49er center John Hatten said.
Jacobs' father named him Rolf after the smartest man he ever knew, a fellow student at Oberlin College in Ohio, but Hatten calls Jacobs "Golf."
"In the hotels he makes calls home collect and you can hear him tell the operator, 'Rolf, like in golf, with an R,' " Hatten said.
Equipped with cleverness and sharp elbows, Jacobs wears No. 13 on his uniform and plays with little regard for his or anyone else's welfare. He is a good passer and makes deft moves to the basket--although he sometimes misses easy shots. But he often gets his own rebound, using his 6-foot-7 height and arms that fit into shirts with 37-inch sleeves.
"One thing about Rolf, you always get everything he's got," 49er Coach Joe Harrington said. "He puts out 100% all the time. I know he misses shots and makes turnovers, but you pick up the stat sheet and he'll have steals and assists and 8 or 9 points."
Jacobs has paid for his style of play.
"He's got scars all over his body; the kid looks like he's been in Vietnam," Hatten said.
Harrington says Jacobs tends to play too fast on offense, and the former Fountain Valley High School player agrees.
"I feel if I don't do something quick, somebody will take the ball from me," said Jacobs, who weighs only 190 pounds. "You can tell by looking at me that I'm not the strongest player.
The urgency he displays on the court can be traced to his childhood.
"I was incredibly hyperactive when I was young," he said. "I'm still going 100 m.p.h. too fast."
"It's just maturity, I'm not there yet," he said. "I didn't mature as fast as my friends. I'm still fighting the razor once a week--that's a joke about puberty. I'm not a very hairy person; I have about 12 whiskers. My friends in the eighth grade all looked like bears."
Monday night in Stockton, after the 49ers had defeated University of the Pacific, Jacobs sported a gash on the bridge of his nose--not surprising since he had spent most of the game entangled with other bodies.
"No, a ball hit me in the nose during warm-ups before the last game," he said.
Jacobs, 22, began his college career--and an unhappy experience--at Arizona.
"Me and (Lute) Olson never saw eye to eye," Jacobs said of the Arizona coach. "I just didn't work in the off-season like he wanted me to. I'm a typical California basketball player. When the season is over, I put the ball in the closet. There are other things in life. In California there are many things to do--water skiing, boating--but not in Arizona. The only things to do there were play ball and cruise up and down Speedway Boulevard (in Tucson)."
And keep his huge snake company.
"It was a quiet pet I could keep in my dorm room," he said of Caesar the python. "Something like a fish, good to look at."
The dorm's most eagerly awaited activity came once a month when, before a large audience, Jacobs would feed Caesar a rabbit.
Jacobs also has a fondness for spiders and will not hesitate to pick one up.
"But I'm afraid of things that fly and sting," he said, recalling a time in Tucson when a bee flew in his car.
"I got out and started running," he said. "Cars were honking."
He was nicknamed "Psycho" at Arizona as much for his maniacal tendencies on the court as for his resemblance to a young Anthony Perkins.
Jacobs did not play much his first two years with the Wildcats but at the beginning of his junior season had expected to be a key contributor.
"I'm determined to start or be the sixth man, I'm playing tough as nails (in practice)," Jacobs said. That, he said, displeased starters Sean Elliott, Tom Tolbert and Anthony Cook.
"Those kids are crybabies," he said. "They'd grunt, and the coaches would look at me."
One day, after Jacobs--unintentionally, he said--hit Elliott, the team's star, in the face while going in for a layup, Olson sent Jacobs out of practice. Shortly after, he was dropped from the team.
"He had a number of skirmishes," Butch Henry, an Arizona assistant athletic director, said this week. "Rolf's a nice kid, but he'd get in practice and elbows would start flying. He threw one elbow too many."
Jacobs enrolled at Cal State Long Beach in the fall of '87 and worked and went to school.
"I was a regular human being for a whole year," he said.
Out of habit, he played basketball three nights a week in church and industrial leagues. "As soon as this (his college career) is over, I'll probably do the same thing," he said. "My father played till he was 30; I guess I'll follow in his footsteps."