The best thing Skip Prosser can say about Torraye Braggs is that he likes to keep him at a distance. Xavier basketball works best with its coach on the bench and its center on the floor.
''He's really an important player for us,'' Prosser said Saturday afternoon. ''It's hard for us to win games against the good teams, especially away from home, if he's sitting next to me.''
When Braggs is burdened by foul trouble, the Musketeers make a much easier target. When the referees allow him some latitude, Braggs is one nasty beast.
Three days after fouling out with two points at George Washington, Braggs tormented Virginia Tech with 24 points and 11 rebounds in Xavier's 77-66 victory at Cincinnati Gardens. The point total matched Braggs' career high, and his foul problems were so fleeting as to be no factor.
''You could see from the stat sheet,'' said Xavier guard Lenny Brown. ''When Torraye's not in foul trouble, he's a force inside. He just brings that other dimension to our team.''
Prosser lectured the Muskies at length afterward, disturbed that a large early lead had not led to an early knockout, but Braggs gave him reason to boast. When the big guy is in the game, the Muskies have a muscular presence in the middle and become less reliant on their full-court press. If Torraye Braggs has begun to grasp that message, Xavier might make a nice run in March.
Refs should warn him first
''Referees usually warn you before they call a foul,'' Braggs said. ''What I'm doing this year is paying attention to what they're telling me. I feel like if I don't get a chance to play, I've let down the team . . .
''I don't want to be the one to beat us. I'd like to be the one who leads us to the victory.''
Though Braggs leads the Muskies in no significant statistical category, it might be argued that Xavier's success is directly proportional to his presence. Since the 6-foot-8 Californian arrived from San Jose City College before last season, the Muskies are 30-6 in games he has finished and 4-4 when he has fouled out.
He was charged with two fouls Saturday, but the first of them was a technical rather than a reach and was not called until the game's 16th minute. Able to act out his aggressions underneath without concern for the consequences, Braggs seized seven offensive rebounds and attempted 10 free throws. In a related development, the Muskies stormed to a 23-4 lead, and were thereafter on cruise control.
Fouls inevitable for big men
''I could have had 34 points,'' Braggs lamented later. ''I had a lot of turnovers (six). I had the ball slapped out of my hand a few times. You can't dwell on it, but if you make a mistake, it's usually a mistake you shouldn't have made.''
Fouls are almost always regrettable, but for a player in Braggs' position they are nearly inevitable. With his wide wingspan and nimble feet, Braggs is often the player who initiates Xavier's full-court pressure. It is a treacherous assignment, for it typically requires him to crowd a quicker player while simultaneously avoiding contact. In the half-court, Braggs is the last line of defense before the basket, forced to contend with slashing guards and vigorous exchanges of elbows.
''He's always going to get a couple of fouls, just because of the role,'' Prosser said. ''We ask him to do a lot. He's on the front of the press, and then we ask him to go down and guard big guys. It's a little Jekyll and Hyde-ish. He has to be intelligent, know when to trap, and then he has to turn into a monster.''
Saturday, Torraye Braggs played his varied parts with precision. He was a monster who left no tracks, a mighty force with dainty footsteps. Except for six minutes of rest breaks, he kept a respectful distance from Skip Prosser - out in the center of the action.
''Sometimes you have to back off so you can be on the court,'' Braggs said. ''But if you don't get any fouls, you can play aggressive the whole game.''
When there are no whistles while he works, Torraye Braggs can be terrific.