Wyoming’s Un-Sweet 16: No. 6 Michael Smith vs. No. 11 Norm Ellenberger
LARAMIE -- There's a few things that can land you on a list like this one.
Beating Wyoming with regularity certainly makes you a thorn in the side. Making stupid decisions will also draw the ire of fans. Being an all-round jerk will do it, too.
This is our version of the Un-Sweet 16, pitting the biggest villains in Wyoming Cowboys basketball history against one another and eventually crowning the worst of the worst. This won't be our opinion, it's yours. You can vote for who will advance to the next round by clicking on the box at the bottom of this page.
We did our best to round up the ultimate enemy of the Cowboy State. We reached out to people in the know, from different decades of UW hoops. Don't be surprised to see plenty of rivals on this list.
Here's today's matchup:
No. 6 Michael Smith vs. No. 11 Norm Ellenberger
Sometimes a guy can be considered a villain simply because he's just that good.
That guy was Michael Smith.
Only Danny Ainge finished with more points in BYU basketball history. Smith, a Hacienda Heights, Calif., product, netted 2,319 of those during his four-year career in Provo. Standing 6-foot-10, this guy was ahead of his time when it came to big men hitting shots. Check out these numbers: .507 from the field, .430 from three-point range and .878 from the free-throw line. No other Cougar in program history has been that successful from the charity stripe.
His 922 rebounds is also the standard at BYU.
Here's some other maddening numbers: 6-2.
That was BYU's record against the Cowboys during Smith's tenure. Technically he was 6-1. He missed the 1984 loss with tonsillitis.
In 1988, Smith was named the WAC Player of the Year after averaging 26.4 points per game. He was also a consensus Associated Press All-American.
Remember former BYU quarterback Jim McMahon? Smith was the polar opposite. The perfect Latter-Day Saint, fresh off a two-year mission in Argentina from 1984-86. Here is an excerpt from a Sports Illustrated story about Smith titled "All-everything Michael Smith is talented, studious, reverent and, by BYU's staid standards, a wild and semicrazy guy."
"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."
While partying has never been popular in Provo, Smith was a "rebel" at that institution. He wore a sweatband on his ankle, left his shirt tail untucked and wore his drawstring outside of his basketball shorts. It was even a different color.
Hopefully sarcasm is your strong suit.
His hairstyles also made him a lightning rod: Perms, rat tails, bleach jobs.
Admit it, you go after the guy on the court with the goofy 'do.
"In fact it seems that Smith's theatrics have made him the BYU player most despised by WAC road crowds since Danny Ainge's memorable days of whine and poses. While Smith is regarded as something of an eccentric by the Latter-day Saints at Brigham Young, the most conservative campus in one of the country's most conservative states,
he is widely reviled as a holier-than-thou hot dog whenever the Cougars leave Provo," The SI article continues.
''The fans get all over me,'' Smith said, ''but I thrive on that. We get teased a lot by opposing teams because we're different. I think it's because we preach a religion that makes people on the outside see us as thinking we're better than everybody else. We believe that ours is the only true religion. Other religions have elements of truth in them, but ours is the only church that has the whole truth.''
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Speaking of colorful characters, our No. 11 seed, Norm Ellenberger, was that and more, roaming the sidelines in Albuquerque from 1972-79.
His Lobos teams played a frantic, fast-paced style of basketball. Ellenberger, who was also an assistant at New Mexico from 1967-72, fit that mold, sporting turquoise necklaces, bell-bottomed jeans, long hair and a stylish mustache. He brought showmanship to The Pit, one of the most electric buildings in the sport.
Nicknames like "Stormin' Norman" don't just fall out of the clear blue sky.
He snagged some nice recruits, too, like Michael Cooper, who went on to star for the Los Angeles Lakers. Cooper took the JUCO route to New Mexico. So did plenty of other players under Ellenberger. Quick fixes meant more wins, at least in that program.
Ellenberger compiled an overall record of 134-62. The Lobos claimed two WAC Championships and a pair of trips to the NCAA Tournament. He also won 10 games against Wyoming in 14 tries.
That's the good news.
Where do we begin? "Lobogate"
An NCAA investigation detailed 34 recruiting violations from forged academic transcripts to illegal payments for school credit doctoring to gambling. The UNM basketball program eventually landed on probation and was banned from the postseason for three seasons. Ellenberger was fired in late December of 1979.
Some players under Ellenberger weren't exactly choir boys, either. Charges ranged from credit-card fraud to armed robbery to aggravated assault to grand theft auto. Illegal gambling, though, was under the spotlight in a 1980 Sports Illustrated article titled "A scandal that gets worse and worse."
Let's put it this way, the FBI is not in the New Mexico booster club.
"Although no indictments concerning betting and narcotics have been returned, probes are continuing into the following:
• Whether there was a relationship between Ellenberger and (Former assistant John) Whisenant and a group of well-known local gamblers. Whether these gamblers sometimes traveled with the team.
• Did Ellenberger and Whisenant bet? How much and how often and on what sports, and were they heavily in debt to bookmakers?
• Whether there was a relationship between the gamblers and some New Mexico players, who reportedly received cash gifts for good performances, and whether the gamblers helped the university recruit by paying $1,000 cash bonuses to prospective players.
• The possibility of fixed games.
• Whether any of the gamblers who hung around the New Mexico team had organized crime ties in Las Vegas.
• Whether there was overt use of cocaine in the New Mexico locker room and whether a local politician helped supply some Lobo players with drugs."
The criminal charges against Ellenberger didn't stick, but he would never be a college head coach again. He did serve as an assistant at UTEP and Indiana before moving on to the NBA's Chicago Bulls. He was also on the staff of the WNBA's New York Liberty in 2012.
Ellenberger died at his home in Watersmeet, Mich., in 2015.
"Norm had a great basketball mind but he also understood that, in order to fill those big arenas, some showmanship went with it," former Bulls head coach and friend Tim Floyd told the El Paso Times. "You had to get people in those arenas. Away from that, Norm was just so down home. He was so much all about everyone else and not himself. New Mexico has never retrieved the greatness and excitement that Norm built there."
WYOMING'S UN-SWEET 16 SERIES:
Monday: No. 1 Reid Family vs. No. 16 Paco Larsen (Reid Family moves on with 95.5% of the vote)
Tuesday: No. 2 Danny Ainge vs. No. 15 Antonio Davis (Ainge moves on with 93.4% of the vote)
Wednesday: No. 3 Rick Majerus vs. No. 14 David Turcotte (Majerus moves on with 92% of the vote)
Thursday: No. 4 Frank Arnold vs. No. 13 Lee Cummard (Arnold moves on with 74.8% of the vote)
Friday: No. 5 Larry Eustachy vs. No. 12 Joe Scott (Eustachy moves on with 58.1% of the vote)