North Carolina may have a reputation as the IBM of college basketball—the buttoned-down Big Blue of the hoops scene—but there is one Tar Heel free spirit who is excited about going to Seattle for reasons other than playing in the Final Four. Junior forward Dante Calabria, a major Pearl Jam fan, can't wait to visit the home of the grunge-rock movement.
"I'm into the alternative style," says Calabria. "I hope Pearl Jam comes to see us play."
Even if his musical idols did show up, Calabria probably wouldn't get the attention that more-heralded teammates Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace do. But his outside shooting may prove to be just as vital to the Tar Heels' title hopes. At 6'4" and 186 pounds, Calabria is about as small as a small forward gets at the college game's uppermost level. But he creates trouble for taller players by going outside, where he hits 52.4% of his three-point shots, putting him second in the nation in that department.
A native of Beaver Falls, Pa., the town that gave the world quarterback Joe Namath, Calabria was a quarterback, too, until he gave up the game after the ninth grade. "I loved to get hit," he says. "Other guys liked to juke around, but I tried to run over guys." That's sort of the way he plays hoops, too. He leads the Heels in such dirty-work tasks as diving for loose balls and taking charges. "Dante is a tough kid who does all the little things that don't show up on a stat sheet," says guard Donald Williams.
Off the court Calabria often sports an earring, and when the season is over he gets the chance (literally) to let his hair down. Last summer he was spotted wearing a very un-Carolinalike do rag and, even worse, playing pickup games on the Duke campus. He caught a lot of flak when a local TV station ran videotape of that double sacrilege.
The chastened Calabria then spruced up his act and reported clean shaven for fall practice. But after the team's trip to Seattle he says he wants to get a tattoo, and he plans to have his wavy hair braided. That would explain why he declined to join starters Stackhouse and Williams when they had their heads shaved before the NCAA tournament began. "You can't get your hair braided if you're bald." said Calabria, his logic as impeccable as his, uh, heady play.
All of those fashion statements contribute to Calabria's own grunge movement in Chapel Hill. Most of the time he can be found wearing his favorite denim shorts—the ones with the ever-widening hole on one side—yet he still feels at home, oddly enough, in a conservative program where conformity is a way of life.
But there's still nothing he would like more than to meet Eddie Vedder, the lead singer for Pearl Jam, a band so into hoops that it originally went by the name Mookie Blaylock, a homage to the Atlanta Hawks' point guard. Rock lore even has it that the title of the group's album Ten refers to the jersey number Blaylock wears.
"Maybe they could name their next CD 24," says Calabria, who wears that number for the Heels. "That would be cool."