It's 9:30 p.m. at the godfather's pizza parlor just outside Provo, Utah, and the bachelor party that Michael Smith's best friends are throwing for him is beginning to run out of gas. Smith, a 6'10" forward from Brigham Young who was WAC Player of the Year last season, is getting married in four days to the extremely blonde Michelle Campbell, who was a cheerleader at Los Altos High School in Hacienda Heights, Calif., when Smith was the star of every sport he played there. It has been an exhausting night, and now Smith and friends are trying to squeeze in one more madcap revel before all those puppy-dog eyelids begin to droop.
If you have never been to a Mormon bachelor party, it goes something like this: First, you get about a dozen very nice guys together at about seven o'clock and you watch a little TV, preferably sports, occasionally spicing up the conversation with stories about particularly memorable chapel meetings. Then, around the seventh inning, with the game still on the line, you rise as one and head out to a pizza parlor. There, in a bacchanal of pepperoni and caffeine-free Coke, you indulge yourselves with a $4.95 all-you-can-eat feast in honor of the bridegroom-to-be.
At the end of this segment of the debauchery, someone stands up and tells racy stories about the groom's boyhood; tonight most of the tales have been gathered from Smith's mom. "And then there was the time Mike was driving through Barstow," the storyteller says, "and he was stopped for doing 80 in a 50 zone." Ouch! Stop it! You're a maniac! "And then there was the time Mike's dad caught him having his mustache bleached at a girl's house." Stop it! No, really! Please stop!
Well, it goes on in this ribald fashion until 10 o'clock, when the entire group once again rises in unison to go home to bed. For Smith, life has been one dizzying whirl like this ever since he returned from doing missionary work in South America two years ago. Tall and handsome with a flawless jump shot, he has been named a first-team GTE Academic All-America for the past two years—he has a 3.67 average and majors in Spanish—and this season he's a good bet to be an on-court All-America. Such achievements are old hat by now. The only grade lower than an A Smith ever got in high school was a B+ in a junior English class, and as a senior he was so popular he was elected student body president as a write-in candidate, easily swamping the other candidate, who had thought he was running unopposed. My gracious, this guy is too good to be true.
Aha! Not so fast. A little snooping around the BYU campus turns up some eyebrow-raising tidbits. It seems that on more than one occasion the good Mr. Smith has engaged in questionable behavior. "Michael came here with a lot of individuality," says Cougar assistant head coach Roger Reid. "I think we've gotten a lot of it out of him, but you never know when he's going to come up with something completely different."
Oh yeah? What kind of craziness was Smith up to? "He liked to leave his shirttail out until we told him he had to have it tucked in." Yikes! Not that!
What else? "He had a sweatband that he didn't want to wear on his wrist, so he wore it on his ankle," says Reid. "We had to get that off of him." Well, naturally. "And he likes to wear the drawstring of his uniform shorts on the outside of his pants." Oh, no! "And instead of having white drawstrings like everybody else, he changed his strings to different colors so they'd stand out." Rebel! Rebel!
"He doesn't want to be like everybody else," says Reid. "He's not a flake, not like a Jim McMahon or a Boz. It's not a calculated thing with Michael. He's just not like you and me."
Smith defies packaging, and not simply because he's a big man who led the WAC in both three-point shooting and free-throw shooting in the '86-87 season. In many ways he is the perfect emissary of the Mormon church—devout, doctrinaire and an articulate proselytizer—and yet he has often gone out of his way to be different. "They don't dig that stuff in Utah," says Smith's mother, Marie, drawing the state's squarish shape in the air with her fingers. "Utah is a box, and you're supposed to fit in it."
So Smith has a slightly altered code. "You can be a clean-living, perfect-standing member of the church in keeping with all the standards," he has said, "plus be a good kid and a good person and do good things—but not have to always look the part." Whenever he thinks a fashion statement is necessary, he can wear one of several rubber knee braces—each a different color to suit his mood. He's also adept at silk-screening and used to imprint on his game socks the number of points he expected to score. And last season he changed his uniform number from 34 to 4 because he thought a single-digit number looked better on a tall player. When one of the BYU broadcasters asked Smith about the switch, he pointed to a new recruit named Gary Trost and said that Trost had refused to come to BYU unless he could have number 34. Smith was so successful at keeping a straight face as he told this whopper that it was later reported on the air to the vast Cougar network TV audience.