Sunday, March 23, 2003

Bookends on XU's roster

Caldwell, West two peas in XU pod

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - "Ask him about his chest hair," David West said. What?

"He's like Austin Powers," said West.

Actually, what West said was, when it came to chest hair, Ryan Caldwell made Austin Powers look like a cue ball. Or something like that. It's plush shag carpeting in there. "Rhino wears two shirts," said West.

Caldwell calls West "The Black Mr. Clean" and is amazed that West - who Rhino says is cheap - pays a barber to have his head shaved. After UC's Jason Maxiell taunted West in print before the Crosstown Shootout, Caldwell was the first person to call. "Dave, he's gonna kick your (butt)," Caldwell decided.

That's OK. West was the first to call Caldwell "Rhino," and not because his first name is Ryan. At 6-5, 250, Caldwell moves the earth when he walks. West tells Rhino he should be playing football.

They're very good friends.

The national Player of the Year candidate, and the player who has played 30 minutes his entire college career. The player who is a first team All-American, and the player who isn't first team on his own team.

Human highlight film. Human victory cigar. Best of friends.

"He'll be one of my groomsmen when I get married," Caldwell says.

"I won't forget how important he has been to me and this team," West says.

They play cards and video games together. They go out to eat on the road together. They call each other by their middle names. You can bet nobody else calls West "Moorer" or Caldwell "Garrett."

They consult each other regularly. When West wanted advice on declaring for the NBA draft, he confided in Caldwell. "Do what makes you happy," Caldwell told him. "I'll support you whatever you do."

Ask Caldwell of his best memory of their time at Xavier, he says, "The best memory is yet to come, when we graduate together."

This is the way it's supposed to work. You go to school four years, you come out a better, wiser person for the people you've met and the experiences you've had. The friendships and the growing are as important as the grades.

Most places, the basketball team is an entity unto itself. The players are students to the extent their names are at the registrar's office. They're enrolled. Their college experience is defined by hotel rooms and three-hour practices.

Here's what Caldwell and West said when I asked them, "What will you take from your four years here?"

Caldwell: "The whole experience. I met friends for life. All the places I've seen. The coaches. I've been to three NCAA Tournaments."

West: "The experience. The opportunity to mature. The atmosphere, the friends you make."

They gave the same answer. In a few months, West will be a millionaire preparing for the NBA. Caldwell will be looking for work. They won't forget each other.

Garrett and Moorer had at least one more college practice to attend Saturday. "You're too weak," Caldwell might have said, while defending West with a forearm to the spine.

"You're a redneck," West might have answered, knowing Caldwell's love for country singers Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw.

The tall, gangly kid from North Carolina and the large, wide kid from McNicholas High School. Black guy, white guy. Regular-guy superstar and ego-free encourager. Best of friends. Sometimes, college works.

"Give it to me, Garrett," West will say today, right before Xavier plays Maryland. It's what he always says.

"Kick some (butt)," Garrett will answer, like always.

"I'll miss that," West said.



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