College Basketball Players Opposing Fans Love to Hate in 2015-16
Certain players become enemies in opposing teams' arenas.
Typically, only star players can be hated, so in most cases being disliked by opposing fans is a compliment of sorts, even a sign of respect. Seldom does a reserve extract much emotion from fans on the road.
It usually takes time for players to become hated, and building up a dislike for a player is more difficult these days because the best players are often in college for only a season or two.
No current player attracts the wrath once directed at Christian Laettner, who spent four years at Duke playing top-flight basketball and building opposing fans' animosity. It is no coincidence that Laettner was a four-year starter who was National Player of the Year in 1992, when the Blue Devils won their second consecutive NCAA championship. Had he been a pedestrian player on an unsuccessful team, no one would have cared.
We offer 10 players who seem to be disliked outside their home arena. Often, it is simply their high level of play that draws the ire of opposing fans. Sometimes, it is something else.
Brice Johnson, North Carolina
North Carolina big man Brice Johnson is a beast. He is the leading scorer (16.7 points per game) and rebounder (10.2 boards per game) on a team that looks like a national title contender. He is the main cog in what may be the best and scariest frontcourt in America.
Johnson's 39-point, 23-rebound, three-block performance in the Jan. 4 victory on Florida State's home court probably makes him unwelcome in any ACC gym other than the one in Chapel Hill.
However, Johnson's on-court behavior focuses additional attention on him. He frequently complains about calls and adds an expressive show of emotion whenever he does something notable during a game.
According to Greg Barnes of Scout.com, Johnson admitted to reporters that arguing calls is part of his game. Coach Roy Williams is aware of Johnson's emotional and demonstrative on-court behavior, per Barnes:
You guys have seen him for four years. He’s demonstrative when I ask him what he wants for lunch. It’s just him. … When a call goes his way, what is he? He’s demonstrative. Against him, like that? He’s demonstrative. When he dunks the ball, what is he? He’s not the little flower. He stands there and growls and pounds his dadgum chest like he’s done something. That’s him.
That kind of personality may serve Johnson well and may energize the Tar Heels at times. However, it does not play well on the road.
Ron Baker, Wichita State
A 2014 Fox Sports story by Sean Keeler put it elegantly: "Girls love him. Opposing fans hate him."
Ron Baker is the kind of player you love if he is on your team. He came to Wichita State as a walk-on, made an impression with his constant dive-for-the-loose-ball hustle and became a star on an emerging national power. Yet, he retained that rural demeanor and politeness, as well as his mop of hair.
"Yeah, he's quite the favorite of a lot of people," Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said, per Keeler, "but especially young ladies. And some older ladies as well."
It's sweet story—a little too sweet for fans of opposing teams. His willingness to sacrifice his body at any opportunity does not get the same positive response away from home. Too much hustle is annoying to supporters of the other team.
Few would pay attention if Baker were just a role player. But he is a two-time, first-team all-conference selection who is the leading scorer for a Wichita State team that is alone in first place in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Roosevelt Jones, Butler
Hatred is not quite the right word to describe opposing fans' feelings toward Butler's Roosevelt Jones. Frustration or annoyance is a more apt term.
Opposing fans get perturbed when this guy, who does not look like a basketball player and does not shoot like a basketball player, runs rings around their team.
One look at the 6'4", 227-pound wide body suggests Jones would be too slow to compete on the Division I level. The fact that Jones, who is listed as a forward, often assumes the role of point guard makes it even more difficult for opposing fans to accept that this guy is actually beating their team.
He almost never attempts a jump shot; instead, he makes an impact with a variety of drives and inelegant push shots.
Matt Giles of the New York Times noted last March that Jones attempted just three jumpers in his first three years at Butler. When you see his odd shooting style, you understand why he's just 69 percent from the line this year. That only serves to heighten the frustration of opposing fans, who can't understand how this guy can be leading the No. 23-ranked Bulldogs in assists (4.6 per game) and rebounds (7.0) and be second in scoring (14.6 points).
Nathan Baird of the Lafayette Journal & Courier referred to Jones' old-school, below-the-rim game as "unorthodox genius." Muttering fans who support the other team probably have another name for it.
Bryce Alford, UCLA
Being a coach's son opens Bryce Alford up to criticism. As Nicole Auerbach USA Today noted, "For two long years, Bryce Alford has heard his critics. They've been loud. They've been relentless."
Doubters suggested nepotism was the reason he was getting court time at a prestigious basketball school like UCLA.
"I'm under the microscope 100 percent of the time," Bryce said about playing for his father, Steve Alford, per Auerbach. "It's just something that comes with having the last name of Alford. Being able to play for him at a school like UCLA, you get a lot of heat. It's been something that I've had to go through for my entire first two years. I know it's not going to stop."
"And," his brother Kory said, per Brian Bennett of ESPN.com, "being a point guard at UCLA, it's times 50."
Now a junior, Bryce Alford at least has proved he belongs. He is the leading scorer on a Bruins team that has beaten Arizona and Kentucky; however, his status as a star at UCLA does not enhance his likability on opposing teams' floors.
While Alford is the guy who makes the game-deciding shots, as he did against Arizona and Arizona State, few are willing to give him his due, especially away from home.
"If Bryce Alford had a different last name and played for a different team, in my opinion, the accolades and respect he would get nationally would be far more than what he gets right now playing for his dad at UCLA," Arizona coach Sean Miller said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Rico Gathers, Baylor
Baylor forward Rico Gathers may be the most intimidating player in college basketball. Opposing fans may not hate him as much as they fear him.
“He’s incredibly strong and has a will to rebound and compete,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said, per John Werner of the Waco Tribune. “He embraces physicality. He might not be the tallest, but he is the strongest out there. You add that to his will and desire to rebound the ball.”
The 6'8", 275-pound Gathers is averaging 13.9 points, but more indicative of his impact are his 10.9 rebounds per contest. He averaged 11.6 boards last season.
Mike Huguenin of NFL.com named Gathers as one of the 10 players in last season's NCAA tournament who could play football, adding this appraisal: "He isn't the most graceful guy on the court, but he is a physical, and intimidating, presence."
But, as Werner wrote, "As intimidating and fearsome as Gathers looks on the court, he’s just the opposite off the court."
Gathers added another reason for opposing fans to dislike him when he was arrested in June for allegedly shoplifting $171 worth of merchandise, per the Waco Tribune. However, that ill will could turn to sympathy when Matt Norlander of CBS Sports reported that Gathers, his wife and his infant son must get by on about $15,000 per year.
Kris Dunn, Providence
With the possible exception of Michigan's Denzel Valentine, no player in college basketball can beat you in more ways than Providence guard Kris Dunn. His destructive power makes him an enemy of opposing fans.
Dunn is probably not the most popular guy around Omaha, Nebraska, after he hit a game-winning shot in the Friars' two-point victory on Creighton's home court this month.
Dunn is averaging 17.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.4 assists, but his most annoying statistic to opposing fans is probably his 3.07 steals per game, which ranks second in the country. Nothing rankles a crowd more than the home team losing the ball on a theft, particularly if it leads to an easy basket.
Observers with no stake in the game love to watch Dunn, but to opposing fans, he is a constant thorn in their side. If anybody can handle the pressure of stardom, it's Dunn, who has overcome a difficult childhood and numerous injuries to arrive at the elite level, as Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe outlined.
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
Playing for a Kentucky team coached by John Calipari automatically makes Wildcats point guard Tyler Ulis the target of hate from some people outside of Lexington. Steve Serby of the New York Post tried to explain why Calipari is hated, and that feeling trickles down to his players.
But there's more to it for the 5'9", 155-pound Ulis, whose size belies his self-confidence, authoritarian style and, sometimes, belligerence. Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal noted as much when he wrote of Ulis: "He famously got into a heated argument with 6'11", 270-pound DeMarcus Cousins during a pickup game on his recruiting visit to UK. He played (very well) with blood streaming down his face during a win at rival Louisville. He nearly came to blows with a 7-footer from Auburn in the SEC tournament." The 7-footer noted by Tucker was Trayvon Reed, who is actually 7'2".
That feistiness does not go over well on the road.
Even teammates are not immune from Ulis' tenacity. He often yells at fellow Wildcats, and C.L. Brown of ESPN.com noted Ulis even pushed Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere in a huddle during the UCLA game when the latter failed to secure a rebound.
Ulis is a cocky team leader in a small body. Opposing fans hate that.
Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette
Louisiana-Lafayette forward Shawn Long is 6'9", 245 pounds and rebounds with a ferocity that makes him attractive to NBA scouts but not to opposing fans.
A senior in his fourth year as a starter, Long has become well-known in the Sun Belt. For the fourth consecutive season, he is averaging a double-double, and this season's numbers of 18.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game are particularly scary.
He might not be quite as hated this season since the Ragin' Cajuns are struggling with a 5-8 record after winning 22 and 23 games the previous two seasons. Nevertheless, he is still an unwelcome sight in opposing arenas.
Grayson Allen, Duke
Duke is probably the most hated basketball program in America. The International Business Times even took up the question of why the Blue Devils are so hated in an article last April.
Therefore, it is almost a requirement to mention at least one Duke player on a list of the most hated players. Guard Grayson Allen is the choice here, primarily because he is the team's top scorer and its most indispensable player. It is no coincidence that Allen's two worst games came in Duke's two losses: a 2-of-11 shooting performance against Kentucky and a 3-of-18 showing against Utah.
Allen sometimes appears to give the impression that he is concerned more about himself than the team. That is what coach Mike Krzyzewski implied in his assessment of Allen's play in the early-season loss to Kentucky.
“He told me it didn’t look like an emotional, into-the-game face,” Allen told Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn regarding the coach's message to him after that performance. “It didn't look like I was thinking about us as a team, I was only thinking about myself and how I was playing.”
Allen seemed to solve that problem in the games that followed, but his penchant for getting knocked around, either because he is diving for a loose ball or hitting the floor after being fouled, seems to rub opposing fans the wrong way.
“Grayson plays such a physical game,” Krzyzewski said, according to Laura Keeley of the News & Observer. “He either usually gets knocked to the floor, or he falls to the floor because of his Herculean plays that he makes. Stuff like that, that’s who he is. Such a unique, good player. A really good player.”
That reckless abandon plays well to the home fans, but it is not received as well on the road.
Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma
Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield received a standing ovation from the Kansas crowd after he scored 46 points in the Jayhawks' riveting victory on Jan. 4. It's safe to say Sooners forward Ryan Spangler would not get that kind of reaction in an opposing gym.
Ryan Aber of the Oklahoman reported that the day before Oklahoma's game against Iowa State that Cyclones fan Ryan Gray tweeted, “Today is the first day of my biannual I Hate Ryan Spangler event.”
Everything about Spangler's game irritates supporters of the opposition. He's big (6'8", 234 lbs). He plays a physical game, as evidenced by his 10.5 rebounds per game. He is a hard-nosed hustler and just a bit nasty out there. Add in the fact that Spangler is a senior and people have had four years to get to know him on the court, and you have a perfect fan's enemy.
“The players that work hard, dive on the floor, rebound, do a little trash-talking, they hate,” Spangler told Aber.
Hield provided, per Aber: “If I was playing against him, I’d be mad at him, too."
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