Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/21/2008 03:01:00 PM
Breakfast With Ms. Smith
OMAHA, Neb. -- It was your run-of-the mill breakfast, with french toast and hash browns, omelettes and home fries spread across a table at an Interstate-side Perkins on Friday. Except the three other people in the booth on this, the morning after 11th-seeded Kansas State upset sixth-seeded USC in a first-round NCAA tournament game at the Qwest Center, were not fellow sportswriters. Across the table was Fatima Smith, the mother of Wildcats star freshman Michael Beasley, and her 4-year-old daughter, Tiffany, who drew me a fine picture of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. On my side was her 10-year-old son, Malik, who schooled me in a best-of-three series of tic-tac-toe -- played in crayon -- on the Perkins kids' menu.
Ms. Smith -- don't call her Ms. Beasley, as she says O.J. Mayo still insists on doing -- has become a mini-celebrity in her own right this season, authoring regular posts under the heading "Mama Sayz" in the blog of Wichita State's K-State beat writer Jeffrey Martin. She also gave SI's Grant Wahl one of his better mailbag nuggets of the season -- a story about Mayo trying to recruit her son to USC at the 11th hour before Signing Day in 2006. All of this made her a natural interview candidate for for the Tourney Blog, so we set up this meeting on the off-day before the Wildcats were to meet third-seeded Wisconsin with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
Rather than following the standard Blog Q&A format, we'll offer up five things we learned from Ms. Smith, who, as Grant has already stated, is not only the mother of college hoops' most talented player, but also one of the best "mom interviews" in college hoops:
1. She has turned into an NCAA junkie, to the point that she was listening to a tourney segment on Colin Cowherd's XM Radio show when she picked me up at my hotel. She didn't understand the RPI or even brackets before friend-of-Mike Kevin Durant started playing for Texas, but now, she says, "I'm glued. I record the shows that I normally watch -- like American Idol -- just so I can watch games live." And not just K-State games, either. "You have to watch everything, to see what's going on as far as rankings. Sometimes I think, 'Why do they have the AP and the Coaches' rankings? Why don't they just have a mom's ranking?'"
2. She's an active enough fan on the Internet that she used to post on K-State message boards, sometimes to comment on the team, and other times just to dispel rumors about her employment status. (Smith and three of her other four children moved to Manhattan along with Mike, and she now manages receptionists at a medical practice.) "People might post on there that, 'Oh, she doesn't work,' or 'she quit her job,' or 'she's leaving town,' so I have to go in and make my presence known. To that stuff, I just said, 'Somebody needs to tell my employer that, because good grief, they still require me to come in."
Malik shows off his tic-tac-toe triumph.
3. I asked her what the flipside of that O.J. Mayo story would have been like -- if O.J. had come to Manhattan this season to play with Mike and fellow freshman Bill Walker. "Can you imagine O.J. in Manhattan?" she said. "A lot of people couldn't imagine Michael in Manhattan either, though. Coaches were recruiting Michael and telling him he shouldn't go [to K-State] because it's so secluded, or it's in the middle of nowhere. ... But Michael needed to be in a small environment so he could stay focused on that tasks at hand. It worked out for the best." She said she thought Mike might be able to put up numbers similar to Durant's, since they had followed similar paths as MVPs of the McDonald's All-America Game, but was worried about the pressure the media would put on her son. "If he didn't perform up to their standards, the media would have beat him down so bad," she said. "But boy, he just came out and ripped it apart. And I couldn't have been happier."
4. Mike has quite the reputation as a prankster (see the SI article on him), but teammates Walker and Ron Anderson were actually behind one of the season's best pranks. Ms. Smith had let her Chrysler Pacifica get dirty enough around the time of Mike's birthday -- Jan. 9 -- that it was possible to write on the back window, and Walker and Anderson smeared out a message that requested, essentially, that motorists honk if they were interested in relations (the PG word for it) with Mike. For good measure, they included Mike's actual cell-phone number. Ms. Smith unwittingly drove around Manhattan for part of a day before discovering it, but when she did, "I called [Mike] immediately, found out who did it, and asked him, 'Why would you let them do that to your own mother's car?' He just laughed. I said, 'Your own mother had to ride around with something like that on her car,' and he laughed again.' I didn't think it was funny. He thought it was funny."
5. Apparently there is one athletic activity at which Mike is not superhuman: bowling. Malik recently had his 10th birthday party at a bowling alley in Manhattan, and Mike was, to put it gently, no Pete Weber. "He has a god-given gift for sports," Ms. Smith said of Mike. "If you give him a baseball bat, he'll hit the ball. If you give him a golf club, he'll hit the ball. If you give him a bowling ball, he's gonna make sure the ball gets in the gutter. He can't do it. He ends up cheating." (Malik chimed in at this point to explain Mike's process of cheating at bowling: "He just walked all the way up to the pins, threw the ball at them ... and he still didn't get them all down.")
Frustrated by his lack of success on the lanes -- "our form was like him on the basketball floor, and he was like a guy who doesn't get off the bench," Ms. Smith said -- Mike took to harassing the other bowlers. "He was pulling people's arms, bumping into people, throwing balls down your lane at the same time you threw one, all because he didn't want to lose," she said. Even in a sport at which he was hopeless, Mike had found a way to change the game.
"It was sad," Ms. Smith said. "I couldn't even get my form down, because I had to look over my shoulder for him sneaking up on me. So the next time we have a bowling party, Mike isn't going to be invited."
For those who haven't followed KState this season or haven't had the pleasure of reading "Mamy Sayz" on the JMart "KStated" blog, Ms. Smith has been a real treasure.
She and her family have completely embraced the KState community, and it's been a real mutual affection society. She was active on KStatefans.com last season when we were still recruiting Mike, and even at that point she was wonderfully open and humorous.
Even if Mike decides to go pro after this season, the whole KState family has been blessed by the whole Beasley clan, and they will have our support and appreciation always.