At first, Longley and New Mexico's black players had difficulty comprehending each other's vernacular. But teammate Rob Newton's impersonation of the Aussie's twang has become spot-on, making it easier for both sides to communicate. "Luc seems like he's about 30 years old anyway," says Lobo forward Vladimir Horowitz McCrary, a transplanted Jamaican who was not named after Jerry Lee Lewis. "He just sits there observing the rest of us go crazy."
Ironically, Longley got his chance to play full time at New Mexico only after his easygoing buddy Colson was replaced by strict regimentarian Bliss—one of those fortunate (Bob) Knight school graduates. "Colson and Bliss are like cheese and chalk," Longley says in the Australian version of apples and oranges, but he readily adjusted to the coaching change. He showed a hunger to learn, he rose at dawn to lift weights and he practiced free throws at midnight, improving astronomically, from a 39% shooter as a freshman to an 82 percenter last year. And yet in games Longley alternately appears to be an all-world monster and a lost soul, his Kewpie-doll face contorted in confusion. Often, too, he seems not to care.
Following that miserable no-show against Arizona State, for example, Longley joked with reporters as if he truly didn't realize he had played like that old Aussie antihero Crocodile Dumbdumb. Lobologists question his competitiveness, pointing out Longley's upper-class background and lack of a need for basketball. But Australians are among the fiercest fighters in sport, witness their country's tradition in tennis.
If the nonchalant giant rap sounds familiar, that's because it is. In recent years such ascendant collegiate centers as Virginia's Ralph Sampson, Navy's David Robinson and Florida's Dwayne Schintzius have all been branded as dispassionate hounds. Well, two out of three ain't bad.
"Of course I'm trying," Longley says. "I'm just not sure how to raise my intensity every game. Getting revved up doesn't come easy to me. Some time ago I wasn't confident I could play pro ball. But now I'd do anything to make it. Basketball is a game of increments. It has to be learned gradually. I'm getting the skills down now. The intensity will come more gradually. It frustrates me to know the pro scouts want to see me play hard every second and I don't do it. But they must realize you learn as you go. I know I'll get there."
Longley's confidence level hip-hops like one of Australia's desert kangaroos. A month before his signature game against Mourning in the worlds, he played so poorly at the Goodwill Games in Seattle that he lost his starting job on the Aussie team. Last Saturday, in a rematch with New Mexico State—which undoubtedly will win 25 games and be a dangerous crew come NCAA tournament time—Longley scored 16 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and blocked six shots. But, he was shut out over the game's final 15 minutes, and he failed to take even a single shot in that time as the Lobos lost 72-64.
That was evidence again that Long Luc remains puzzled by his—what?—avocation. "I am both amused and entertained by American basketball," Longley says. "I don't want to step on any toes here, but that's not condescension. It's just so unbelievably important here. I have great fun playing the game. I appreciate it. I just don't know whether I understand it."