MarTavian Steelmont would like you to know that, despite being the most highly touted recruit in the history of college basketball, he is just a normal, eighteen-year-old kid. He sleeps in an extra-long twin-sized bed and eats whatever Portola serves in the morning. He studies hard for his exams and struggles with his entry-level Anthropology courses.
He also averages just over 30 points per game as a true freshman, the highest in the nation.
When I meet with MarTavian on a Friday afternoon to discuss the feature I’d be writing on “Realmont”—one of many nicknames that have stuck during his landmark freshman season—he is eager to show me his world.
Standing six feet nine inches, he ducks under the doorframe of his Santa Catalina dorm room to shake my hand in the hallway. I am immediately struck by the maturity of his features; specifically the white patches in his beard, his harshly receded hairline and thick spectacles. He looks closer to 50 than 20, but years of combat on the court will do that to a young player’s appearance.
The walls of his room are covered with old, gnarled posters of his favorite basketball player of all time, Marcus Seeley, an obscure center for the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels in the mid-1970’s. Seeley bears an uncanny resemblance to Steelmont, or to a younger version of Steelmont.
“Yeah, uh,” says Steelmont, regarding the similarity in looks. “That’s why I like him so much.”
When asked how he acquired so many rare ABA posters of Seeley, Steelmont replies only with the word “web.” He is such an avid fan of the former Colonel that he also owns a full set of Seeley’s army fatigues from his tour of duty in Vietnam.
Seeley tragically disappeared on a camping trip in the Yukon wilderness in 1982, but Steelmont would like to think that his style of play makes Seeley proud.
“He’s found a way—I mean I’ve found a way to improve upon his old game and make the most of it.”
He has certainly done that much, already setting a single season record for scoring in his rookie year at Santa Barbara.
“MarTavian got that old school game,” says teammate Sean Jones. “Like, old man game, Moses Malone game. They don’t teach that hook shot nowadays. And he got the look too, with the knee pads.”
Team Trainer Albert Florenta considers Steelmont the most physically mature Gaucho on the team. “He’s got the knees of a fifty-nine year old man. One of his hips has been replaced and appears to be made of dry wall,” says Florenta. “He’s got arthritis in most of his joints.”
“There’s also some shrapnel,” adds Florenta, “A lot of shrapnel.”
Perhaps the physical disadvantages Steelmont has overcome have only contributed to his old-fashioned style of play. But the rookie phenom currently feels every bit like the young man he is on paper. When asked about his favorite part of dorm life, he replies, grinning to reveal a gold filling in the back of his mouth, “The young women—the girlies, I mean.”
The Gaucho faithful have high hopes that this ordinary 18-year-old will continue to do extraordinary things on the court, through March at least. After that, he’s likely to leave Santa Barbara for the NBA.
“I’d love to play pro ball,” says Steelmont of the opportunity. “I grew up dreamin’ about playin’ for the Syracuse Nationals.”