LOUISVILLE, Ky. — You need to know about Kyle Guy’s hair. You need to understand it, and not because it’s so fascinating, though it is. He buzzes most of it down to the nubs, but the top of his hair — the circle around his scalp — grows out. He pulls it into the shortest of ponytails. A man-bun, you might call it. Or a top knot.
It’s ridiculous, whatever it is, and that’s what you need to know about Kyle Guy:
He knew it was ridiculous when he did it. And he knew, this reigning IndyStar Mr. Basketball out of Lawrence Central, that it would get attention when he started playing games at Virginia. He knew opposing fans would hate it. He knew they’d yell at him. Laugh at him. Make fun of him.
He did it anyway.
“I’m not scared about what anybody thinks of me,” Guy was telling me Wednesday night from the KFC Yum! Center, where the No. 11-ranked Cavaliers manhandled No. 7 Louisville 61-53. “I couldn’t care less. I just do me, and I let other people do what they want to do.”
On the road, they want to taunt him. When Guy’s only 3-point attempt on Wednesday night missed everything, Louisville fans abandoned the tried-and-true “air ball” chant and went with something else:
“Man-bun … man-bun … man-bun.”
After it was over, as Guy’s family — brothers, cousins, mom, dad, stepmom and stepdad — waited for him in the mostly empty arena, I found his father. And Joe Guy told me he didn’t know about the new look until his son tweeted a photo from campus.
“No, not surprised,” Joe Guy was saying, laughing. “By no means. He has the confidence. Believe me.”
This is Kyle Guy. What is growing atop his head could become the most famous hairdo in college basketball — not because it looks ridiculous, but because the player underneath it, this Virginia freshman from Indianapolis, is well on his way to becoming an ACC powerhouse’s next big thing.
* * *
Virginia needed a basket.
The Cavaliers had dominated Louisville for 31 minutes, taking a 56-35 lead with 9:07 left, but over the next seven minutes they made zero field goals and one free throw. Louisville had made it 57-48 and the crowd of 21,676 was standing and here comes Kyle Guy back into the game. Virginia coach Tony Bennett calls a play with 2:03 left. He calls it for Guy, who runs the baseline and comes around a screen and catches the ball 18 feet from the basket and is rising and firing and now the crowd is sitting down.
Virginia leads 59-48. The uprising has been shot down. The game is essentially over.
“We were leaking oil,” is how Bennett described those final minutes. “We needed someone to make a basket.”
Bennett then says aloud what he was thinking on the sideline as Louisville was rallying and Virginia was missing seven straight shots:
“Who do you have,” Bennett was asking himself, “that can go get a bucket?”
Kyle Guy always could get a bucket. At Lawrence Central he was an offensive genius, throwing no-look passes and dunking on people and burying 3-pointers and putting his finger to his lips to shush the opposing crowd.
And boy did his mom hate that.
Kyle Guy was confident all the way back to middle school, hoisting two-handed set shots and talking trash with the other team, and there was this one game when he was talking to another kid and his mom, Katy Fitzgerald, had had enough.
“Kyle you stop right now,” she yelled during a break in the action, “or I’ll bench you myself!”
Kyle Guy tells me that story and is laughing. His mom’s the one who taught him to believe in himself, not to worry about what others are thinking, and he reminds her of that constantly.
And now, Virginia is believing in Guy.
Last time out, Virginia visited a Cal team on Dec. 21 riding a school-record 27-game home winning streak. With the Cavaliers clinging to a 54-52 lead, Virginia senior London Perrantes told Bennett to draw up a play for Guy, knowing Cal would foul — and knowing Guy would make the free throws.
With 15.9 seconds left Guy hit both ends of the one-and-one, finishing off his 17-point night and Virginia’s 56-52 win.
* * *
All he does is smile.
Kyle Guy is the first Virginia player on the court for pregame shooting Wednesday night, running to the ball rack and taking out a half-dozen balls for his team to shoot, and he’s the last one to leave. In between he smiles almost constantly, singing along to the rap playing over the loudspeakers and smiling at teammates and at the basket when his shots go in and at himself on the rare occasions they don’t.
He’s a special shooter, this freshman from Lawrence Central. He was special in high school — making 43 percent of his 3-pointers as a junior and senior — but has hit a new level in college.
“Every open shot you think is going down when he gets it,” East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said after Guy scored 13 points in Virginia’s win Dec. 6. “He’s got a chance to be the next really good one here for Virginia.”
In the latest NCAA statistics, Guy entered Wednesday ranked third in the country at 60 percent from 3-point range (18-of-30). Nobody else in college basketball was hitting 60 percent on 3-pointers and 53-percent on 2-pointers — nobody but Guy. And just three players had scored at least 100 points with three turnovers or less: two seniors, and the freshman from Virginia.
And Lawrence Central coach Al Gooden, he’s not surprised.
“Virginia’s got some good ballplayers, and defenders can’t focus strictly on Kyle Guy,” Gooden was saying this week. “I thought this might happen.”
But this? This? At Virginia, Guy is sixth on the team in minutes (17.7) but second in scoring (9.3 ppg). He would lead the ACC in 3-point shooting and assist-turnover ratio (6 to 1) if he had enough minutes.
Freshmen at Virginia don’t do this, not for Tony Bennett. Malcolm Brogdon, a two-time All-American and the 2016 ACC Player of the Year at Virginia, averaged 6.7 ppg as a freshman. Justin Anderson, an NBA regular for Dallas, averaged 7.6 ppg as a Virginia freshman. Perrantes, a preseason ACC Player of the Year candidate as a senior, averaged 5.5 ppg as a freshman.
Kyle Guy is topping them all in significantly fewer minutes. He’d play more, but Guy’s defense isn’t quite where Bennett wants it to be. Virginia led the nation in scoring defense in two of the last three seasons, and leads again this season at 47 ppg allowed. Players have to defend at Virginia, or they don’t play.
And Kyle Guy is just so skinny.
He’s working at it, harder than you can imagine. Virginia has given him a daily goal of 4,100 calories, and Guy keeps tabs of his daily tally.
“I’m eating a lot,” he says, “even when it’s uncomfortable.”
Guy played at 159 pounds when he won Mr. Basketball. Virginia weighs its players each day, and it’s a special moment when he sees a new number. The other day the scale said 172.
“That was big,” he says, and he’s not kidding. “There’s not another player on the team under 195. Guys (on the other team) see my stature and their eyes light up. I take pride that I don’t back down from anyone.”
The pounds are coming. So is the defense. The offensive ability, well, that’s always been there. Guy enters the game Wednesday during a timeout with 15:03 left in the first half, smiling as he checks in, smiling bigger as he returns to the huddle. He quickly hits a 16-footer, and a student in the Louisville band yells: “You gonna let a guy in a man-bun score on you?”
After the game is over, the truth comes out: Guy’s hairdo is Derick Grant’s fault. Grant is Guy’s personal trainer from Indianapolis, a former Harlem Globetrotter who told Guy in January it was time to get ready for college. Grant said he wouldn’t shave his face if Guy didn’t cut his hair. For months they kept at it, Grant growing a beard and Guy growing out his buzz cut. It was after he got to campus in Charlottesville, Va., that Guy tried out his current look. He planned to cut off the man-bun by now, but told his mom he can’t.
“He says the haters hate it,” Katy Fitzgerald was telling me Wednesday. “And so he won’t cut it.”
Guy is standing with us, and objecting half-heartedly.
“I’m going to cut it after the season,” he says.
“Probably,” he says.
Guy’s stepmother, Amy Guy, playfully reaches into her purse.
“We have scissors,” she says. “Actually they’re right in here…”
Guy laughs and shakes his head: no. The man-bun will stay for now. A player has to be awfully good to wear his hair like this, and Kyle Guy is not afraid.