“It has its good days and its bad days,” Nick Wright told me, before bursting into hysterics.
What does that mean, I asked.
“It has its highs and its lows,” he said, and started laughing again.
“We have like 10, 20 different names for Frank’s back,” Josh Hicks told me.
I mean, I’ve done far too many items to count on basketball nicknames, but I’ve never done an item on nicknames for a back.
“Oh yeah, Fatback, Bigback...” Trian Iliadis explained. “Anything that has back in it and describes something huge, then yeah, that’s Frank’s back.”
So here’s the story. Hassell — who averages a team-best 15 points and 9.6 rebounds a game — has a large back. He’s 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, after all. He also has Scoliosis, a curving of the spine. Which means that teammates make fun of Hassell not only for having broad shoulders.
“You ever seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa?” Richard Ross asked me. “There you go. There you go. Just like a bent staple. You ever seen a staple come out crooked and it’s bent?”
“He runs like a little pregnant woman,” Dimitri Batten said.
“He kind of walks with, I don’t know if you’d call it a hunch or whatever,” Iliadis attempted. “Kind of keeps his arms to the left. I don’t know how to explain it. He’s got a crooked back, I guess.”
“He has a little bit of a twist to him,” agreed Taylor, the coach. “My kids have a pretty good sense of humor. They give each other crap: little legs, big heads.”
As for the actual Scoliosis, it apparently doesn’t impact Hassell’s game. He gets seen by a chiropractor, but so do plenty of his teammates. Sometimes it gets sore, but he’s still the team’s hardest worker.
“It gets tight here and there, but I just stretch it out,” Hassell told me. “It’s sore sometimes, hurts sometimes, sometimes it feels good, just like other peoples’ knees or ankles.”
He found out about the Scoliosis when he was 17, but said it didn’t really alter his game. Taylor, meantime, said that Hassell entered ODU with “big, broad shoulders” and “nice-sized hips,” and just needed to trim the baby fat and add muscle. And once he did, apparently, his teammates began making fun of his back’s immense size.
“It’s fairly large and wide and large, little on the crooked side,” Wright said.
“Huge,” Kent Bazemore said. “Planes can take off and land on it, stuff like that.”
“You could pretty much fit two of anybody on the team on his back,” Iliadis said. “It’s good, because we’ve been on his back for the last few games, and he’s been carrying us.”
“Some people say his back is like a JumboTron,” Ross said. “The other day one of our coaches called him USS Hassell, because he looks like a big boat.”
Hassell was probably more interested in talking basketball than backs. He told several media members that this season would have been a failure without an NCAA tournament berth, and that they expect to win multiple games, and that they think they could play with any team in the country.
“That’s why we’re in the tournament,” he said. “If you’re a team in the tournament and you don’t feel like you can play against anybody in the country, you shouldn’t be here.”
Still, he isn’t averse to playing the back game. Like, I asked him to describe the Blaine Taylor mustache.
“Big,” he said. “Like my back.”