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Long Luc Longley looked like a lighthearted leviathan layabout whose lethargy made losing likely. The languid, lackadaisical Long Luc and the lovable, but lately leaden University of New Mexico Lobos had lifted the locals' loathing to a loutish level.
Lo and below—and not just for the L of it—Lobo fans started booing. Longley could hardly blame them. "I'd probably bang off myself too," he was to say later, meaning, in his native Australian parlance, that he deemed himself worthy of derision. After all, it was one of those frequent times when Long Luc, one of the original boys of summer, looked as if he would rather be at the beach...on a boat...in the bush...or just lying around grooving to some music by, say, the Aussie heavy metal group, AC/DC.
Longley grew up in Fremantle, and on the night of Dec. 7 he seemed for all the world as if he were back there again rather than where he actually was, on his adopted home court in Albuquerque, playing against New Mexico's archrival, New Mexico State, and enduring scandalously rude taunts from several of what Long Luc calls "sepos." That's Australian for "Americans who are mostly full of it." In the manner of septic tanks. Not a nice thing to be at all.
The sepos' ire had been aroused because the Lobos, who have won 20 games or more in each of the last four seasons while somehow failing to make the NCAA playoffs, had figured to be much better this year. And yet they had failed miserably in their first real challenge of the new campaign, losing 59-54 at Arizona State two nights earlier. Longley had taken but seven shots in that game—"one per foot," as some nasty sepo said. (Long Luc is 7'2", excluding his red curls, which if he combed them straight up, Bart Simpson style, would make him 10'2".) And he had been outscored 19 points to 10 by a begoggled journeyman named Isaac Austin, whose only previous claim to fame came last summer while he played on a Pac-10 all-star team that toured West Germany. There, a newspaperman, for lack of a better nickname, dubbed him "the 2.06 meter, 125 kilo man." Upon espying Austin's 6'10", 250-pound frame before taking the court against him, Longley had no trouble coming up with a catchier descriptive, mumbling to a friend the non-Australian term "fat ass."
Now it was halftime of the game against New Mexico State, and the Lobos trailed 53-46. Longley appeared to be equally unimpressed by the smaller, runabout, gadabout Aggies. And the Albuquerque natives were restless. Every time Longley had touched the ball in the first half, he had obviously thought: pass first, think second, dribble third, think fourth and shoot absolutely last. As a result, he had taken but four shots, two of which were stick-back rebounds, which he made. And again he had been outhustled, this time by State's 6'7" forward, Tracey (Be) Ware, of whom Longley curiously wasn't.
This should have been a strange circumstance for a guy who's one of the two or three best college centers in the land to find himself in, but it was nothing new for Longley, who is candid about what he terms "my biggest weakness—inconsistency of mind-set." When Long Luc focuses on his role in the game, however, he is fully capable of sending most everybody else Down Under.
For instance, after some exquisite Longley passes helped pull New Mexico to within two points of New Mexico State with just under 12 minutes left in the second half, he simply flipped the game into his high pockets. Over the next 7:37, he scored 14 points, mostly on turnaround bankers, and he fed teammate Willie Banks with a Waltonesque rebound-whirl-and-rifle pass for another basket as the Lobos took an 86-81 lead. Ultimately, after the Aggies had come back to within one point, Longley rattled in a baby hook with 39 seconds remaining to clinch New Mexico's 94-88 victory and silence the sepos. He finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and the semiglowing tribute of his coach, Dave Bliss, who replied to those skeptics who wondered if Longley, with a little more desire, couldn't get 50 points and 25 rebounds in just about every game: "It's not that Luc doesn't want to dominate, it's just that he doesn't always know how to."
As a freshman, Longley, who's now a senior, rode the pine as a backup to a hefty upperclassman, Rob Loeffel. In his sophomore year, after he had eaten too much steak and pasta before a game against Arizona, Longley deliberately tried to vomit. He was leaning heavily against a towel rack at the time and, when the rack broke, Longley suffered arm wounds requiring 16 stitches. He then suited up and contributed 10 points and 12 rebounds in 39 minutes of an 80-67 loss that, nevertheless, made him a starter for good.
In his checkered career, Longley has exchanged butt whippings with future NBA first-rounders Alec Kessler of Georgia (Long Luc gave) and Felton Spencer of Louisville ( Longley took). In his junior year, he scored a mere nine points against New Mexico Highlands and 12 against East Carolina, but lit up Western Athletic Conference rival UTEP with 63 points, 32 rebounds and 11 blocked shots in three games. In the second of those games, a 61-56 Lobo victory in El Paso that denied the Miners a conference cochampionship, Longley traded elbows and harsh words with UTEP center Greg Foster, after which the laid-back Aussie actually got angry and buried the Miners.
"I think he worked up a sweat and grunted in the same game," says Lobo guard Rob ( Duke) Robbins, a close friend of Longley's. "Luc doesn't understand how Americans can get so excited about basketball. It doesn't have the same meaning to him. But when you're Luc Longley, you should at least put your hands up and call for the ball. Sometimes it seems he just doesn't want it. Luc's not lazy. He just has no clue about how good he can be."