Kyle Guy’s hairstyle started with a challenge. While preparing for his freshman season with the Virginia basketball team, Guy agreed to grow out his hair as long as his personal trainer in Indianapolis would grow out his beard.
“He’s bald,” Guy explained, feigning sadness.
Guy’s hair — the sides, in a remnant of his former buzz-cut, are still closely cropped — grew long enough for him to pull into a knot on the crown of his head right around the time the Cavaliers left for an exhibition tour of Spain in August. Guy figured in Europe his hairstyle would fit right in, so he decided against cutting it.
“It’s just the European style,” he said. “I like soccer a lot, and it’s sort of normal there, so I just decided I was going to go for it. Little did I know that it was going to get this much attention — it’s got its own Twitter page.”
It also has inspired its own taunt from opposing fans at arenas across the country, jeered in the same cadence of the more familiar “air-ball” chant:
The hotshot freshman guard with the hipster ’do has attracted a lot of chatter across college basketball, but he is only the latest Cavalier to fuel conversation that seems more suited for a barbershop than a basketball court. As sure as fans are to see a group of disciplined, uncontroversial players in Charlottesville, they’re going to see some funky hair as well.
The Cavaliers (14-3, 4-2 ACC), who are ranked 16th in the country entering Saturday’s game against visiting Georgia Tech, embrace their reputation for being conservative. The program returned to national prominence under a clean-cut head coach who frets when reporters admit they have heard him curse during games. Its victories are built upon a slow tempo and an unflinching dedication to defense.
The program attracts a certain type of player, and those who don’t fall in line are dismissed. Malcolm Brogdon, the most decorated player of Coach Tony Bennett’s tenure and arguably the program’s most high-profile current representative in the NBA, was so identified with his seriousness and maturity that Cavaliers teammates called him “Uncle Malcolm.”
So for many Cavaliers players, hairstyle is a form of self-expression within a famously strait-laced program. Junior forward Isaiah Wilkins can rattle off his teammates’ hair flair of choice without pause, from senior guard London Perrantes’s gravity-defying high-top fade to the trendy swoosh shaved into the left side of junior guard Devon Hall’s otherwise buzzed cut.
“Last year, Geezy had his thing going, Malcolm grew out kind of a ’fro — that was nasty,” Wilkins began, referring to graduates Anthony Gill and Brogdon before moving on to current teammates. “I had long hair for the first couple games; London’s been growing out his hair; DT [Darius Thompson] had his little blond streak. Devon had his part and his waves; Justice [Bartley] has his waves that he really, really cares about; sometimes Marial [Shayok] grows a ’fro,” Wilkins said before drawing a breath.
“Honestly, it’s cool! We’ll take that. We’re not cool in other ways, but we’ll take the hair.”
Perrantes’s hair adds a good few inches to his 6-foot-2 frame, and has become so associated with the senior guard that he took a new official team picture this year for his player page on Virginia’s website. That’s unusual — the team usually sticks with the photo taken when players enter the program. But instead of the close crop a younger Perrantes brought to Charlottesville, the guard’s hair barely fits in frame in his new photo.
“It’s all about player identity,” Perrantes said. “People have their thing. [Sophomore center] Jack Salt has his seven-foot-tall thing; this is what I do. I gotta be tall, too.”
And they can change their look on a whim.
“I only played in braids for one game, and we won that game,” Wilkins said of his hairstyle for Virginia’s victory over California in December. “But it’s just a feel thing, it’s just my vibe. I like my hair.”
Credit Gill, who is playing professionally in Turkey, as the pioneer. In treating fans to two years of his eccentric ’do — buzzed around the sides and a little bit along his hairline with a mop of long, free-flowing curls on top held back by a thin headband — Gill helped create a new tradition.
Gill joked often last season about his legacy.
“My hair’s always going to be on top, until I graduate,” he once deadpanned in ranking his cut above all of his teammates. “And even then I think they might retire my hair in the rafters.”
Guy doesn’t mind the attention, even the negative sort from opposing fans. “It sort of just describes me, my personality. I like to be different, to get out of my comfort zone,” he said.
“It’s like that for all of us. We’re all unique in our own ways, we don’t really care what anyone thinks about us. Just take it with a grain of salt.”