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At the least, he is the second-best redheaded pivotman ever—at passing the ball. (Sorry, Red Kerr.) "If Bill Walton wrote the book, Luc is almost finished reading it," says Bliss.
A clue to his potential came last summer when Australia lost 79-78 to the U.S. in the world championships in Buenos Aires; Longley contributed 15 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots while holding Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning to 2-of-12 shooting. "Luc wasn't just good, he was excellent," says Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who coached Team USA. "After struggling against the older international guys, he looked so comfortable against us. He was rejuvenated. He's fluid, very strong and has the great touch. I don't know Longley's age or how dedicated he is, but he can only get bigger. And in Buenos Aires, P.J. [Carlesimo, Coach K's assistant at the world championships] saw him at a disco. He can dance. He's socially adaptable as well."
For the record, Longley is 21, and his 7'2" frame holds 265 extraordinarily proportioned pounds. Does he need to get bigger? As for social life, he's well set there, too. For instance, Gary Colson, at age 53, was the Lobos' coach during Longley's freshman season, but the player and coach used to hang out together at Colson's restaurant, Ogelvie's, more as pals than as mentor and pupil.
Colson discovered Lucien James Longley in Perth while he was there recruiting Long Luc's good friend from the Australian junior national team, Andrew Vlahov, who is now a senior forward at Stanford. Luc's 6'9" father, Richard, was a professional football (Australian Rules) and basketball player who was still the starting center for his club basketball team, the Perth Wildcats, when he was 40 years old. Now he's an architect with clients throughout the Far East. As part of a halftime contest at a game in Albuquerque in January 1989, Richard, who for the first time was watching Luc play for the Lobos, came out of the stands, ripped off his dress shirt and swished a shot from half-court.
Longley's mother, Sue Hansen-Smith, is a 6'3" equestrian who has been divorced from Richard since 1984. In '86, she went off on her own—the then Not-So-Long Luc lived with Richard—to get a degree at the University of Hawaii. Now Sue lives in Albuquerque, working on her doctorate in education at New Mexico. One of Luc's younger brothers, Sam, 19, is 6'10" and an aspiring actor in Australia—"His selection of parts is somewhat limited," Luc says—while the other, Griff, 6'8", is a senior at Albuquerque High and would like to play for the Lobos. "But I think Bliss has had enough of Longleys," says Luc.
Not necessarily. On the day Colson was forced to resign by New Mexico in April 1988, Bliss, then the coach at SMU, went to the Dallas Mavericks' office and watched scouting tapes of the Lobos. Earlier, SMU had denied Bliss's star recruit, Larry Johnson, now the UNLV star, admission because of questions about his SAT test scores. Bliss was itchy. His in-laws lived in Albuquerque. He had heard of Longley. "What I saw was this skinny, unrefined 7-footer with great feet and hands. I was excited," Bliss says. All the same, there were rumors Longley would leave with Colson, who had been hired as an assistant coach at California and has since moved on to become the coach at Fresno State. "Or I could just as easily have stayed at home [in Australia] and played ball," says Longley. "Bliss talked some sense into me."
In person. In Fremantle. Bliss applied for and got the New Mexico job, and just before Longley went off to lead Australia to a semifinal berth in the Seoul Olympics, Bliss paid a visit Down Under, as much to introduce himself to Richard as to Luc. "I figured if I had a son going to school so far away, I'd want to meet his coach," says Bliss, who, while in Australia, survived bodysurfing in seven-foot swells and supped at Richard's home, a three-story loft in a formerly abandoned warehouse overlooking the harbor in Fremantle. There were huge, heaping bowls of pork chops and potatoes for dinner, but Bliss balked at eating the Aussies' beloved vegemite, the pasty extract that looks disgustingly like black peanut butter, never mind what it tastes like.
Bliss appreciated Fremantle's "slowed-down atmosphere of the '50s." He took a nap under a tree in a park. But Longley likens his hometown to San Diego in the '90s. "Laid-back, but without all the Southern California sepos," he says.
Longley, a sailing enthusiast, took a long while to get over the absence of water and boats in Albuquerque. He wears a Rolex watch from the 1974 America's Cup campaign of Southern Cross, given to him by his uncle, John (Chink) Longley, a member of the Aussie team headed by Alan Bond. Now he's content to strap on his knee-high sheepskin Ugg boots, climb into his four-wheel drive—the CD system packed with Cold Chisel, Hunters and Collectors and other Australian rock groups—and sneak off to a hideaway in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that is owned by one of his new American "mates," Bob Powell, a wineshop owner.
Longley shares an off-campus house in Albuquerque with John Gustafson, a TV cameraman, and Powell's son, Mike, a carpenter—"The candlestick maker will be moving in any day now," Longley says. Mike made Longley a bed that is nearly eight feet square. Aussie friends also seem to fly in regularly, bringing care packages of vegemite and Chocolate Chews from wallaby land.