March 17, 2000
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Everybody at the Midwest Regional wants to know what's going on outside Jason Kapono's head.
UCLA's freshman scoring leader caused a minor sensation prior to the Bruins' first-round game against Ball State on Thursday when he took the court wearing a yellow headband with a Bruins logo.
It wasn't the headband that caused a stir - Kapono has been wearing one ever since his fifth game at the school - but rather the color. See, Kapono had only worn white headbands, most with an adidas logo.
The change, Kapono said, was "a disaster." He missed all three shots he took in the first half, and what's more, the headband got loose and began to slip down over his eyes.
"I started out with a headband and ended up with an ear-warmer," he laughed.
So Kapono ditched the yellow headband - which had been spray-painted by his college roommate's mother - and went back to old reliable white shortly before the end of the first half.
The switch worked. Kapono hit consecutive 3-pointers during a 15-0 UCLA run and added two more on his way to 17 points. The Bruins beat Ball State 65-57 and advanced to the second round to face Maryland.
Kapono's teammates aren't sure whether their 19-year-old shooting star is a good-natured, immature kid or a genuine goofball. The headband - which Kapono began wearing at about the same time they became popular in the NBA - is only the most visible manifestation of what Kapono calls "just being my goofy self."
When point guard Earl Watson first met him, Kapono had one of the blond dye jobs to which he periodically subjected his black hair. He starting wearing the headbands to spark his lethargic team after a loss to Gonzaga, but he also considered trying John Stocktonesque short-shorts or striped knee-high socks.
On Thursday night, when UCLA's win was firmly in hand, he grinned and stared at a heckler in the crowd while hitting four free throws in the final minute.
"He's just weird, but he's a kid," Watson said. "You never know what he'll do next, but he can be all business when it's time to go to work."
Kapono was given an earful from most of the student sections in the Pac-10 over his choice of headwear, and several hostile crowds wore identical headbands when their teams played the Bruins.
The Bruins play Maryland on Saturday, and Kapono said he might have another fashion choice in mind for the game. Among the possibilities are a pink headband.
"You have to wait until tipoff time," he said.
KEEP A LID ON IT: Headgear seemed to be a recurring theme as Maryland, UCLA, Iowa State and Auburn prepared for Saturday's games in Minneapolis. Maryland coach Gary Williams arrived for his news conference wearing a Minnesota Vikings cap.
"We're going for the home crowd," he said with a grin.
But Williams made sure to remove the hat later, when a Washington television station asked for a one-on-one interview.
"Think we want the Redskins fans to see this? I don't think so," he said.
MILLER WAITS: Maryland forward Danny Miller still doesn't know whether he'll be able to play in the Terrapins' game against UCLA.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore's sprained left ankle caused him to miss the first game of his career Thursday after 67 straight appearances. Though Maryland easily beat Iona, the Terps will need all the depth they can get against UCLA.
Miller participated in the team's walk-through on Friday, but Williams said a decision wouldn't be made until shortly before game time.
"It's feeling better," Miller said. "I had treatments on it last night. We'll see how it is tomorrow night and go from there."
A win would put Maryland in the regional semifinals for the third consecutive season and the fifth time in the last seven years. Miller is averaging 8.6 points this season and has been a capable defender against the ACC's tallest teams.
"It was a different feeling for our team without him out there," Williams said. "We're used to having his steady presence."
Freshman Tahj Holden started in Miller's spot and managed just four points and four rebounds in 30 minutes of play. Holden is taller than Miller but lacks the savvy of a player with more experience.
"We're a better team with everybody out there, but I'll continue to play regardless of what happens to Danny," Holden said.
By GREG BEACHAM AP Sports Writer