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MIKE DOWNEY

COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENTS : He's Eager to Leave His Mark

March 27, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

A little after 7 o'clock Saturday morning at the Hilton downtown, one of the leaders of Team Illustrated was up and around. Damon Stoudamire was in the shower, soaping his tattoo. Damon has the old-English capital letters "DAMON" on his left bicep. He intends to add two more tattoos before leaving for the Final Four basketball tournament, which will tie him for the University of Arizona team tattoo lead with three.

Khalid Reeves heard the water running. He wondered why his Wildcat roommate would be up so early, even for a 12:40 afternoon game. He decided he didn't care. Reeves rolled over and went back to bed.

Stoudamire fast-broke. He stopped for nothing, except to brush his teeth. He even skipped his usual ritual, the one Reeves usually can't believe, the one where after a shower, Stoudamire powders, perfumes, creams, combs, primps, then irons everything he intends to wear, even his T-shirts and socks. It amazes Reeves, who complains, "It's like waiting for a girl to get ready."

Not this time. Five hours early for a date with Missouri, there he was, the Liberace of college basketball, on his way to the Sports Arena, sloppy and unshaven. Senior guard Dylan Rigdon tagged along. So did freshman Jason Richey. So did a coach. They were inside the gym by 7:45, shooting around. Stoudamire had stunk up this gym Thursday night against Louisville, or so he thought. And the thing he kept thinking was how much he hated stinking.

"Two for 12," he remembered. "Oh, man. I was nasty. I was ugly."

His game needed cosmetic help. Stoudamire didn't know where to go, to a Tucson tattoo parlor or a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon.

All season long, he and Reeves had fancied themselves the best backcourt in America, best-looking and best-playing. OK, they were on the small side, Stoudamire at 5 feet 11 and Reeves at 6-1, but they stood head-and-shoulders above guards everywhere. Or, to quote their coach, the tattoo-free Lute Olson, "I don't recall seeing anybody with two guys who can do what these two can do."

Stoudamire took shot after shot Saturday while other players were back in their rooms, watching cartoons. "Maybe 200," he said.

Reeves needed no practice. Reeves could shoot needles into cactus. He had nailed 29 points against Louisville, would nail 26 more against Missouri. He was a scoring machine, as one opposing coach from Washington State had called him.

Steve Fisher from Michigan had gone even further after a December defeat at Tucson, raving, "Khalid Reeves is as good a player as I've had the misfortune to sit on the opposite bench and coach against."

Stoudamire thinks of himself as being in the same class. Not educationally--he's a junior, a year behind Reeves in school. Athletically, though, he's pro-rated. Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino put the label "NBA lottery picks" on the two Arizona guards. He should have seen them here at the West Regional, where they lit up Missouri for 53 of Arizona's 92 points. It was not much of a catfight, this Wildcat-Tiger thing. Arizona had it in the bag almost from the beginning.

The losers looked bad. They missed more three-point shots (26) than most Sports Arena spectators do during Clipper halftime promotions. They were so bad, the player voted Missouri's most valuable by the folks from CBS fouled out with 7 1/2 minutes left in the game.

The winners looked good. They got 10 rebounds from Stoudamire, the smallest starter on the floor. They got 10 more from Ray Owes, who also missed all 10 shots he took but hoped nobody noticed. And eight more boards for Team Illustrated came from big Joe Blair, the human billboard. He has tattoos on his belly, breast and arm. Blair is about to set a new Final Four record for graffiti.

Olson's team is ready to make a run at the national title, barring a breakout of skin poisoning. He is one happy coach. All those people who have branded his Wildcats "chokers and losers," Lute growled, well, phooey on them. He never actually identified who they are.

Olson's wife is doing her part. Stoudamire was thankful to Bobbi Olson for taking her hex off, or at least reversing it. "She told me I was going to score 26 the other night, and I scored 11. So she told me I was going to score three points today, and I got 27. She's not so good at predicting my outcome."

Damon, the omen. He is not a predictable guy.

Slapping the calf of his left leg in the locker room, Stoudamire said, "I'm going to get my initials tattooed right here before we go to Charlotte. And a basketball-hoop tattoo, too."

To look as good as Joe Blair's?

"Well, looking good in the tournament," Stoudamire said. "You know. It's important."

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