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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT | J.A. ADANDE

The Smart Money Is on Utah's Doleac

March 21, 1998|J.A. ADANDE

If the meek are going to inherit the earth, then they'll have to take it away from the geeks. Remember all the nerds you teased in high school? They're the ones driving past you in the expensive cars with personalized license plates bearing the names of the software companies they started.

Now meet Michael Doleac. Don't let the big ears and bad haircut fool you. Not only is he smarter than you, he's bigger than you. And in a few months he'll be a millionaire.

He looks as if he should be selling fish food at a pet store. Instead he's the starting center for Utah in today's West Regional final against Arizona. In June he will be a first-round pick in the NBA draft.

All these things for a guy who's so uncool he considers classes a nice change of pace, a man who drew this half-praise, half-lament from Utah Coach Rick Majerus: "He's becoming a good competitor, but he's such a nice guy."

Don't sit around waiting for Doleac to change his approach. Or apologize.

"I like to do other things besides play basketball," Doleac said. "Basketball is probably the main thing in my life right now, but I don't do it 24 hours a day. When I'm not playing ball, I like to do other things besides just sit around and watch basketball. I try and get out, read books and go fishing, things like that.

"School is a good diversion too, sometimes. Honestly. You can only do so much ball in one day. When you sit there and you practice for three and four hours a day, it's actually nice to go to class and think about something else for a while."

Doleac must do more than relax in the classroom, because he is an Academic All-American.

He is a biology major who wants to go to medical school. This basketball thing keeps getting in the way. Poor guy. He has to contend with this 6-foot-11, 265-pound body that won't let him focus on the books, at least not while coaches and scouts are focusing on him.

He wanted to take the medical school admissions test, the MCAT, in April. Then he found out he was supposed to study 40 hours a week in the heart of the season.

"February through March Madness, I don't have 40 hours a week to study for the MCATs," Doleac said. "It's just an impossibility."

He had to take an incomplete in his organic chemistry class because of that darn NCAA tournament, although he managed to find time for a physics exam Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

The whole med school thing is simply going to have to wait. Not only does Doleac have an NBA body, he has developed good spin moves inside and a nice shooting touch up to 20 feet.

As a kid, Doleac didn't think about playing in college, let alone the pros.

"I wasn't recruited by anybody," he said.

Majerus, taking the advice of a friend, watched Doleac play in an AAU game at Wilson Junior High in Long Beach the summer after his junior year in high school.

Majerus invited Doleac, who lived in Portland, Ore., to attend Utah's basketball camp in Salt Lake City, then offered him a scholarship three days into the camp.

In college, Doleac didn't think about the NBA until his sophomore year, when he finally started to believe all the stuff Majerus told him about his chances of being drafted.

Perhaps one day after he's finished posting up NBA players he'll cut them up as an orthopedic surgeon. For now, he doesn't sound too unhappy with the life of a college athlete.

"I think we live like kings," said Doleac, whose only gripe is that he doesn't get enough tickets for all of his family members. "We get to travel around the country. We get to eat great meals, going out to eat every time we go out." (Not surprising on a Majerus-coached team).

"We travel in planes, we don't have to bus anywhere. We get a college education for free. I mean, this is a great time of life. I don't have to worry about a thing. They give us a check every month to live off. I just sit there, pick up the check, go to class every day and go to practice. I feel like we live a pretty good life. I couldn't ask for much more."

When the Utes go on the road, he doesn't play Sega Genesis or Game Boy. He sometimes plays chess with teammate Drew Hansen, a fellow Academic All-American who was a Rhodes scholar candidate. Hansen said he usually wins eight of 10 games, but Doleac won the last time they played, during a team trip to Sweden last summer.

"They had a life-sized chessboard in this park," Hansen said. "He actually defeated me there, in front of people. That was kind of a disappointment for me."

Doleac doesn't always show that kind of killer instinct on the basketball court. He lacks that Jordanesque burning in the eyes of great players that Majerus calls "the tremendous competitive will to win."

"It actually transcends everything else in their life," Majerus said. "Is that a good way to be? I don't know. I think Doleac's probably better off at the end of the day being the way he is."

Of course he is. Competitive athletes win games, but the geeks wind up winning everything else.

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