Man-crush (noun) [man-crush]: A heterosexual man admiring another man to an extreme in a non-romantic or sexual way, more having an intense desire to be that other man.
The term man-crush is a relatively new term not yet recognized by most, if not all, standard dictionaries. Nonetheless, we all know what it is and have had one at some point in our lives, if not currently. In most cases, our initial experience with a man-crush originated in the form of a childhood idol that, as we matured, developed into a man-crush. Having an idol is more reserved for the innocence of one’s youth and typical in most every young lad’s development. However, when we graduate (if ever) from youth to adulthood, that idolization transforms into that of the aforementioned man-crush. We as guys can no longer claim that “when they grow up” we merely want to be like said man. The line between childhood idol and man-crush is realized when, we as men, have missed the opportunity to become the next (insert idol here) and come to the realization that we just have to settle for mere admiration of another man that approaches, yet falls just short, of full fledged homosexuality. After all, we’re MEN right? We’re not homos!
That being said, my idol and man-crush was, and is, DeJuan Wheat. Probably not a name that those outside of Louisville, Kentucky recognize, or would think to be worthy of a man-crush. However, DeJuan Wheat captured my heart when I least expected to find platonic love. After all, I was initially resistant to his athletic charm. As a University of Louisville fan growing up I followed the program religiously and accepted each player that committed to UL in my fandom like a member of my immediate family. Despite their sometimes many flaws, I cheered for them because they loved the same thing I did – UL basketball. And they were talented enough to put the jersey on and represent the school on the hardwood that I never had the ability to. However, most of these players over the years came and went without much thought after their four years (or sometimes sooner) were up. DeJuan Wheat was different.
I wish I could put my finger on exactly why I was so enamored with him but you had to see him play to understand. He had a humble mentality and a subtle, yet undeniable fortitude. Everything about him was understated. He was 6’0” tall, 165 pounds yet 100% pure assassin. Fearless and silky smooth. Gutsy and un-phased. He was, and still is, everything you wish athletes in today’s sports culture would be. The first time I ever saw him play was in high school in a district game against Fern Creek. I came to the gym to see the guy that was being touted as the top candidate for Mr. Basketball and left the gym wondering why in the world my beloved Cardinals would be recruiting him. However, in hind-site, I now realize that what left me unimpressed that night was the true essence of his greatness. He was the girl that wouldn’t give it up on the first date. I realized I wanted him to be the basketball version of a slut and give me everything I wanted. I wanted him to impress me with freakish ability and eye-popping tits…I mean stats. Initially, as we all know, this is very frustrating, yet ultimately, the most rewarding type of courtship. He was a lady first. He wasn’t about winning my heart with a quickie. He was about showing me his long-lasting athletic qualities, demeanor, smarts and mentality…the things that take time to appreciate and fall in love with. He was the conservative secretary in glasses and cumber-bun. An unsuspecting talent with a great rack that lies beneath a blouse that fails to reveal killer cleavage.
As Wheat became a Cardinal and I began to see his game blossom I began to realize the diminutive guard was my knight in shining armor. As a high school basketball player myself, he was everything I wish I could have been. He was the portrait I could never paint. I was infatuated. He had lightning quickness and a jumper that could be defined by a myriad of exquisite adjectives. As a fan, watching him shoot could bring a tear of joy to your eye. As an opponent or a defender, it would do the same, but the tear was less about joy and more about the dagger in your back. Just ask Tony Delk. On January 1, 1995, in Wheat’s virtuoso performance of the heated rivalry with the University of Kentucky, with the game hanging in the balance in a raucous Freedom Hall, Wheat hit a 17’ fall-away jumper right in the face and over the outstretched arm of Delk. It was the nail in the coffin and the defining shot of this huge upset. “Ring in the New, Red Over Blue” was the headline the following day in the local paper. My boy Wheat was the hometown hero after pouring in 23 points - Samaki Walker’s triple-double didn’t hurt either but Wheat was Mr. Clutch when Louisville needed a basket to seal the victory. And despite the dramatic fashion in which Wheat operated that afternoon, he never so much as pumped a fist. That wasn’t his style. He was “killin’ ‘em softly” and letting his performance do the talking. A grin was about the extent of any emotion he showed while demonstrating the skills of his craft.
Wheat was no flash in the pan during his Cardinal career. He went on to become an All-American in the ’96-’97 season - a season in which he lead the Cards to the Sweet Sixteen where they eventually lost to North Carolina. Wheat was hobbled that game by a severely sprained ankle and, therefore, unable to be his normal self. However, this did not tarnish what he had brought to the Louisville program for the previous four years. Wheat ended his career as the school’s second all-time leading scorer with 2,183 points. At the time, Wheat was the only college player to amass career totals in excess of 2,000 points, 450 assists and 300 three-pointers.
Wheat now plays in Mexico and is still doing his thing. While I don’t get to follow his success like I once did, I will forever have a man-crush on number 32.