One NBA scout calls Calvary "a Charlie Hustle with talent" who could go late in the first round of this summer's draft, and there's no question the Vanilla Gorilla (as opposing fans have taken to calling him) has his athletic bona fides in order. With a 400-pound bench press and a standing leap to 11'4", Calvary is responsible for some of the most eye-popping highlights of the past two seasons, including dunking over a stunned Kenyon Martin against Cincinnati in December 1999 and shattering a backboard against New Mexico last month. (Vials of the shards, complete with a certificate of authenticity, are available for $10 a pop.)
Calvary's dunks are even more remarkable, however, for his reactions to them. Not a peep. Not a single pointed finger. Nothing. "I don't want to turn this into the XFL," he says. "If we want to go back to tight shorts and hook shots, mat's fine with me."
Junior point guard Dan Dick-au tells a story about the time he and Calvary were watching a Tennessee game in which Vols forward Ron Slay started dancing after merely drawing a foul on a layup attempt. "I said, 'Casey, look at this guy, this is ridiculous,' " Dickau recalls. "Casey got mad. He was, like, 'That's just stupid.' "
Dickau, a transfer from Washington, has contributed a surprising 16.7 points and 6.6 assists a game, which keeps defenders from converging on Calvary. According to Few, it's no coincidence that the Zags are 13-0 when Dickau finishes a game. ( Gonzaga was leading Arizona in November before Dickau broke a finger, causing him to miss the next nine games, four of them losses.)
Still, it remains to be seen whether the Zags, one of five teams (along with Duke, Florida, Michigan State and Purdue) to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the last two seasons, can replicate their recent accomplishments. While Gonzaga has a couple of impressive nonconference road losses—narrow defeats by Arizona and Florida—winning the West Coast tournament will be the only way for the Zags to guarantee themselves an NCAA bid. "If we need it, I hope the memory of what we've done in the tournament will linger in the committee's mind," says Calvary, citing Gonzaga's upsets of Stanford, Florida and St. John's in the last two years' NCAAs. "We've proved in the past that we deserve to be there."
Western Kentucky Sleeper
The Tallest of The Hilltoppers
Chris Marcus, Western Kentucky's 7'1", 285-pound sophomore center, may still have a lot of growing up to do, but he's becoming a big-time big man. In only his third year of playing organized basketball, Marcus was third in the nation in rebounding (11.7 per game) and 11th in blocks (3.3) through Sunday, and he's the primary reason the Hilltoppers were atop the Sun Belt Conference East with a 10-2 record (17-6 overall). Moreover, this self-described "quiet giant" has generated quite a buzz among the dozens of NBA scouts who have added the unlikely destination of Bowling Green, Ky., to their itineraries this winter. "He's better than Michael Olowokandi was at the same age," says one scout, referring to the Pacific center who was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft. "I don't think he's ready for the NBA yet, but he's got an unbelievable wingspan and he gets to the rim really quick. I'm not sure the sky's the limit, but right now I don't see a ceiling."
That's high praise considering that Marcus's career almost never got off the ground. He didn't decide to play basketball until just before his senior year at Olympic High in Charlotte. "Everybody told me to play because I was tall, but my heart wasn't in it," he says. Even though he spent long stretches on the bench, Marcus impressed Clemson assistant Dennis Felton, who was recruiting two of Marcus's teammates. Felton was intrigued by Marcus's soft hands and shooting touch, and after he was hired as the coach at Western Kentucky in March 1998, he offered Marcus a scholarship. "I told him that developing his personality was going to be as important as developing his skills," Felton says. "He had to come out of his shell."
Marcus agreed to redshirt his freshman year to help ease the transition to college life, but he was plagued by homesickness and several times considered dropping out of school. Marcus began last season as a reserve, but he progressed rapidly after Felton inserted him into the starting lineup in the Hilltoppers' fifth game. He finished the season as the Sun Belt leader in rebounds (9-5 per game) and was named the league's newcomer and defensive player of the year.
Marcus has lost 30 pounds since arriving at Western Kentucky, and after starring last season as the Hilltoppers' weakest player, he's now their strongest. He has also evolved into an efficient offensive player, having made 52.5% of his shots while leading Western Kentucky in scoring (16.2). "He's still learning something every time he steps on the court," Felton says. "He's also changing the way everybody plays us. Nobody guards us man-to-man anymore."