Friday, February 26, 1999
has it all
The Fresno State guardBy Pat Bigold
has had a lot of fun against the
Rainbows and their fans
Chris Herren remembers the fan who came down from the stands at the Stan Sheriff Center last year and dumped a beer over his head.
It was right after Hawaii lost an 85-83 season-ending heartbreaker to Herren's Fresno State team in the NIT quarterfinals.
''He came out of nowhere," said the charismatic point guard who will play for the fourth and last time at the Stan Sheriff Center tomorrow night.
''But that's something you deal with, and it's no reflection on Honolulu fans who do what they're supposed to do. They harass and try to get in the heads of the opposing players."
It will take a lot more than a beer shampoo to faze Herren.
His storied collegiate career, which began ingloriously at Boston College, has made him the subject of some vicious taunting over the past few years.
But he can take it, baby.
In fact, the louder the better, and the tougher the crowd the better.
Want to yell something about his drug abuse problem in 1997? Go ahead. Want to get on him about the point-shaving allegations that were the subject of a federal probe his first year at Fresno State? Go ahead.
''People say a lot of nasty things and if you take it to heart, you'll never survive," said Herren, who has never attacked a fan.
''I would never do that because that's what fans are there for, and I respect that."
He said taunts about the drug problem he kicked have been the most familiar to him on the road. He can take it, baby.
''Tell 'em to show up," said Herren."I want to see 10,000 there like I'm used to. I want to see the people who have been screaming at me the past two years."
Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said he can't help liking Herren.
''He plays with the crowd," said Wallace."Most kids don't do that but he acknowledges them and they feed off that. And he feeds off them."
A grinning Wallace concluded,"Might be better to give him the silent treatment."
To understand what drives Herren, you have to know a little about Fall River, Mass., the blue-collar cauldron in which he was raised.
It's a nondescript former milltown still best known as the home of Lizzie Borden, who axe-murdered her parents in 1892.
It's a city that has had one of the country's highest unemployment rates. A city seduced and cruelly abandoned by the textile industry in the 1950s.
Herren is the main character in Bill Reynolds' critically acclaimed book,"Fall River Dreams," which focuses on how hard-working residents affix their hopes to the successful Durfee High School basketball program.
Ask him what Fall River has to do with the blood 'n guts way he plays, and he tells you,"Everything."
''I was raised to play that way. I feed off the negative jabs people take at me when I'm warming up. In the neighborhood where I grew up, that's how everyone played."
Herren said he's actually never gotten around to reading"Fall River Dreams," which paints a stark picture of his hometown and its people.
''I can tell you it's not the most peaceful place on earth but all my problems were my own doing," he said.
Herren, who had his family name and crest tattooed on an arm when he arrived in Fresno, continues to carry Fall River in his heart, and Fall River still loves him.
Even through the scandals.
His retired Durfee coach, Skip Karam, said 300 people paid $10 each to crowd into Jake's, a downtown sports bar, to watch Herren play Utah last weekend on a big-screen TV.
Herren, his older brother, Michael, and Patrick Ewing were the only Massachusetts prep players to ever be selected to the Boston Globe's all-state team three years straight.
''I think Chris turns some people off by the way he plays," said Karam."He's the type of player you'd die to have on your team, but to play against him, you hate him."
Herren relishes that relationship with Hawaii's vocal fans.
''They've loved to hate me since I've been coming there (Honolulu)," he said with a distinguishable chuckle over the phone from his home in Fresno,"but I love to hate them, too."
Rainbow fans detest the cocky smile Herren wears after he nails a big trey. They jeer his dare-ya-to-stop-me style of plowing to the hoop. They tell him where he can stick his effective passing game.
But he loves it, baby.
"You know I couldn't have asked for a better place to end my regular-season college career," said Herren."The fans there have always been great. They're definitely the top fans in the WAC."
But there's plenty of reason to dislike Herren here.
For one thing, he won't back down to anybody.
"If I did, my father would give me a smack," said Herren."That's how I was raised."
Bulldog teams featuring him in the backcourt are 3-0 at the Stan Sheriff Center since 1997, and 5-1 overall.
In that span, Herren has averaged 18.3 points per game against the Rainbows, shooting .500 from the field. He has hit on 40 percent of his 3-point attempts.
The worst news though is that his average balloons to over 25 points in Honolulu. That includes a memorable 35-point performance on Feb. 27, 1997, as Fresno State denied Hawaii's bid to clinch the Pacific Division title.
"I was just redhot that night," said Herren, who went 6-for-11 from 3-point range.
Who can forget that he beat out Anthony Carter last year for a first-team All-Pacific Division guard berth, or that he gave the shaka sign while being introduced to the crowd for the NIT quarterfinal game, and proceeded to help sink Hawaii with 14 critical points.
Herren said he's pretty impressed that a school way out in the Pacific has fans who care that much about the game he loves.
"I never thought the fans would be like that," he said."I had a different perception of how they would be. I thought they'd be more laid back."
He said he maintains friendships with Hawaii players he's faced.
The guy he considers his classiest opponent and best friend out here is Alika Smith.
"Will he be at our game Saturday?" asked Herren, who covered Smith like a blanket in the closing minutes of last year's NIT game.
"When he comes into Fresno, he gives me a call. I'll never forget playing against him."
Though Herren is known to talk some pretty good trash, he said he never used it on Smith.
"I would never talk to him because I respected him so much," he said. One thing Herren has in common with Smith is that, despite being the dominant player in his state during high school, he was never able to lead his team to a state title.
Herren said he plans to leave it all on the floor here tomorrow night. The Bulldogs are holding out hope for a NCAA tournament berth despite their 10 losses.
"But the NCAA committee doesn't tend to favor the WAC, and Hawaii knows that because they've been screwed a few times," said Herren.
When it's over tomorrow night, the German-Irish scrapper from Fall River said he'll turn to the fans who've enjoyed riding his back.
He'll smile, wave, and,''I think I'll blow 'em a few kisses."
Herren is expected to be taken in the NBA draft in June but he said he is not even thinking about that now.Married last summer to home state girl, Heather Gray, the couple are expecting their first child at the end of next month.
It's hard to know how high or where Herren will go in the draft. He has had a difficult comeback since a right ankle injury sidelined him for several games.
"I still don't have the explosiveness off my first step," he said.
Celtics coach Rick Pitino, who has been friendly with Karam for several years, is known to have a fondness for Herren. There's no question that having the gritty Massachusetts native on the roster would help ticket sales at the Fleet Center.
CHRIS HERREN VS. HAWAIIFeb. 1, 1997 at FSU FSU, 80-74 28 pts (9-17 FG, 5-10 3-pt) Feb. 27, 1997 at UH FSU, 98-80 35 pts (9-17 FG, 6-11 3-pt) Feb. 2, 1998 at UH FSU, 91-76 15 pts (6-12 FG, 1-4 3-pt) Feb. 28, 1998 at FSU UH, 92-78 13 pts (5-11 FG, 1-5 3-pt) March 19, 1998 at UH FSU, 85-83 14 pts (6-14 FG, 2-8 3-pt) Jan. 30, 1999 at FSU FSU, 93-66 5 pts (2-3 FG, 1-2 3-pt) Total: 18.3 ppg, .500 FG (37-74), .400 3-pt FG (16-40)