The story goes like this: There's this tall high school sophomore and he has no interest in sports whatsoever, which is just as well because he's clumsy and uncoordinated anyway. He's into Band. Not a rock band, or a rap band - nothing hip like that - but the School Band. He plays trumpet and cornet.
One day he's walking home from band practice, and he walks past the school gymnasium, right past varsity basketball practice. The coach looks up and sees him and takes in the size (6-foot-3, 190 pounds). The kid passes the eye test, so the coach stops him and asks him why he's not playing - basketball, that is, not the cornet."Well, I've never played, and I'm not very coordinated," the kid says.
The coach invites him to come out for the team anyway, and the kid was right. He's not coordinated. His new teammates make fun of him. At their urging, he tries a dunk. He runs toward the basket with both arms raised high in the air, holding the ball aloft as if he were trying to keep it above water. When he reaches the basket, he can't figure out which foot to jump off of. But this is not the worst of it. The new guy doesn't know the rules of the game; doesn't know that to run with the ball, it must be dribbled first. He shows up for practice in football shoes.
"I was ignorant of the game," says the kid now, with a laugh. He can laugh now. It's OK to laugh when you're a sculpted, hardened 6-foot-6, 245-pound, all-conference power forward for the Wyoming Cowboys, and you've got an all-world scowl. It's OK now that you have a body that makes football coaches drool and opponents wilt.
It's OK when your name is Reginald Slater, and some coaches think you're the best athlete in the Western Athletic Conference. It's OK when, just four years after you first took up the game, you lead the WAC in rebounding and shooting accuracy and probably (though unofficially) dunks. Nobody's laughing now at Reggie Slater.
Short of height, he makes up for it with quickness, speed, jumping ability, athleticism, strength (he can bench press more than 300 pounds) and, yes, coordination.
Physical? The cover of the Wyoming media guide shows Slater stepping through a hole in a concrete wall. That about says it all. Even his teammates complain frequently about his pushing and grabbing in practice, but that's always been his way. Even during that first year as a high school sophomore, the cornet player was physical.
"I was from the rough part of town," says Slater of his Houston upbringing. "They didn't care what we did on the court. I was more physical than anyone else."
He played a lot that first year, and was quickly smitten with the sport. He stayed after practice regularly to work on his game, and he played right through summer. By the time he was a senior, all but one of the Southwest Conference schools were recruiting him. Of course some of the schools wanted him for other duty - football, not The Band. But Slater wanted to get away from the SWC and all its NCAA troubles, so he wound up at Wyoming, where a ton of seniors were graduating (read: instant playing time).
After a quiet freshman year, Slater averaged 16.7 points and 11.3 rebounds per game last season. This year it's more of the same - 21 points, 11.9 rebounds, 62 percent shooting from the field - for a team that sports a 13-2 record.
No wonder University of Utah coach Rick Majerus has had trouble sleeping this week. On Thursday night in Laramie, his Utes will face Slater and the Cowboys in a showdown for first place in the WAC.
"Slater is a lotto pick (in the NBA draft)," says Majerus. "No. 1, he's got that body. He's Charles Oakley, with the ability to score."
Of course a lot of people think Slater is in the wrong sport. High school coaches tried to lure him to the football field, but his Mom wouldn't let him play. She was afraid HE would get hurt (imagine that). Wyoming's football coaches keep asking him to try out for their team as a tight end, but Slater confesses, "I don't even know what those people (tight ends) do. I still don't understand football games."
We can see it now. There's this kid, you see, and he's never played football in his life, and one day he's walking past the football field, right past football practice, when the coach sees him . . . .