It all begins with his incomprehensible hair, that amalgam of political punk and shaved spaghetti, an every-parent's-nightmare kind of cut. Dwayne Schintzius, Florida's enigmatic junior center, gets his locks styled in biweekly hour-long sessions down at the Mane Stop on University Avenue in Gainesville. This is irony clipped and dried: Even late in his high school years Schintzius would sit in the family car pouting and clawing the seats whenever his mom took him to the barber.
"Kids ragged you when you got a haircut." Schintzius says. "They called out, 'Hey, Stupid' and stuff. I already looked stupid being so tall. When I had to get a haircut, I was a Double Stupid."
And so, off on his own at the big university up the interstate from his home in Brandon, Fla., near Tampa, the kid went whole hog with the Dwayne-Do or, as some teammates call it, the Lobster—burr short on top, boxed on the sides, feathered oh-so-scraggly down the back in the fashion of, uh, a crustacean's tail. It's a signature look, and it screeches freedom, cool values, distinct dudeness. Throw in Schintzius's nifty sneer and generally sullen public attitude, and what you have is every denim ed pseudohood who ever squealed out of a sock hop in his white-walled dragmobile wearing a cigarette pack in the sleeve of his T-shirt. Except that this one is seven...foot...two.
Schintzius has been razzed about his height for as long as he can remember. "I've tried to hide from it," he says. "I've spent my life trying to avoid situations where I'd get hurt, verbally assaulted. It still happens all the time. So I try to avoid crowds, and people in general."
When he went to Gainesville as a freshman in 1986, an athletic department psychological profile indicated he had a residue of pent-up anger. "I never let my emotions out," Schintzius says. "I was taught never to fight, that I was too tall and might hurt someone. I don't remember the last time I cried. I've got a lot of negative energy built up inside me."
During the warmups before his first college game, at Florida State, Schintzius kicked at the home team's mascot Seminole. The gesture was harmless and accompanied by a laugh, but it presaged Schintzius's status as college basketball's most unsettling character—and its foremost bad boy. Early in his freshman year, a couple of youngsters approached Schintzius with the inevitable question: How's the weather up there? He spat on them and said, "It's raining." Recalling the incident, he shakes his head and says, "That may sound crude, but at the time it was hilarious."
Subsequently, he has stuck out his tongue during games, jawed with referees and pranced in high-step to celebrate a score. More seriously, he has yelled at his coach, deliberately fouled and tried to injure other players, and quit on his teammates. What makes it all so frustrating to those around him is that Schintzius is a greatly gifted athlete, possessing exceptional potential for a big man, with shooting and passing talents reminiscent of Bill Walton's.
"I've been basically a brat, a horse's patoot," says Schintzius. "I'm probably the most hated player in the country." He smiles as he says this, still looking amazed that he could ever have been such a thing. Or still might be.
Kids just want to have fun, but giants never can. It is Schintzius's curse to be both at the same time, and in search of a role in adult society that he can't quite figure out. In the movie Big, Tom Hanks plays 13-year-old Josh Baskin, who finds himself in an adult body. Josh gargles chocolate sundaes, spits out caviar and experiences every manner of role-confusion imaginable to a little boy thrown into a grown-up world of contrivance. "I don't get it," Josh says of a new idea for a toy. "A building turns into a robot? What's fun about that?"
As late as his junior year in high school Schintzius didn't know what to do with his life. He didn't even know whether he wanted to go to college. He was still a kid, lost and drifting. But because he was tall, he was expected to play basketball. He didn't get it. A kid turns into a basketball player? What's fun about that?