Fans Around SEC Target UA's Hill

FAYETTEVILLE -- Maybe it's because of his long hair that hangs over his ears and flops around when he jumps to block a shot.

Or maybe it's because he stands 7 feet tall, wears bulky padding around his right arm and has been known to go several days without shaving.

Or maybe it's simply because Arkansas center Steven Hill looks, according to teammate Darian Townes, like Shaggy from the Scooby Doo cartoons.

Whatever the reason, Hill has become an easy target for fans throughout the Southeastern Conference to make fun of when the Razorbacks come to town. His hairstyle is often mistaken for a mullet, and he's been called everything from Freak to Sunshine -- referring to the character from the film, Remember the Titans.

Fans can be cruel, but for the most part, the heckling is harmless and meant in good fun. Of course, it's also done to disrupt the opposing team.

And as much as some SEC players try to block out the crowd, even they admit they have to laugh at some of the remarks heard while playing in such hostile environments as Kentucky's Rupp Arena and Mississippi State's Humphrey Coliseum.

"Honestly, I've been talking to my teammates, and I have been kind of a crowd favorite to pick on, on the road," Hill said. "I can't figure it out. I really can't.

"... I guess people love to hate the 7-footer."

No, fans just love to hate opposing players. Period.

Former Florida guard Matt Walsh -- now a member of the NBDL's Arkansas RimRockers -- was a lightning rod for hecklers in large part because he had wild, curly hair and a Playboy Playmate as a girlfriend. It also didn't hurt that he was one of the SEC's most tenacious players.

In fact, the taunts got so bad that Walsh's mother quit attending road games. But this is not much different than what SEC players face on a seemingly weekly basis.

"I think it's kind of funny, but I tone them out a whole lot of the time," said Ole Miss swingman Bam Doyne, whose team will host Arkansas at 7 p.m. today in Oxford, Miss. "Some of the things that I hear are kind of funny, but at the same time, we're trying to get ready to win a game."

Fans will say practically anything to disrupt an opposing team's best player, which is why Arkansas guard Ronnie Brewer can't avoid the taunts -- no matter how hard he tries to block them out.

"Sometimes, I'll laugh because I'll be at the free-throw line, and (the fans) will just keep on screaming my name," Brewer said, cracking a smile. "I'll make (the free throw), and somebody will say, 'That's luck.' And I'll just laugh.

"Other than that, I really don't focus on what they're saying in the stands."

Except at Florida.

During last year's game in Gainesville, Brewer said he heard Gator fans chanting, "Our Brewer is better!" -- even though he outscored Florida guard/forward Corey Brewer 20-11 in the 82-74 loss.

As for Townes, the only thing he seems to hear from opposing fans is more remarks about Hill. It's gotten to the point where even Townes admits he laughs when he catches fans making fun of Hill's scruffy appearance during pregame shootarounds.

"He looks like a little California boy, a little surfer," Townes joked about his teammate.

In general, Rupp Arena is considered one the SEC's toughest places to play for more reasons than just because Kentucky is typically a top 25 team. The student section fills up long before a game, and Wildcat fans can be relentless.

In fact, Hill acknowledged that Rupp Arena has been the toughest arena for Arkansas to play in so far this season. But Mississippi State's Humphrey Coliseum wasn't much kinder to the Razorbacks -- or for that matter, the team's 7-foot center with the wild hair and unshaven face.

Brewer was booed and heckled throughout the 69-67 loss. And it was in Starkville where Hill heard what he considers to be his favorite remark from a fan during a game.

Along with the standard jokes that he has a mullet, a fan shouted that Hill had stolen former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones' haircut. Even more than a month later, Hill can't help but crack a smile when he recalls the line.

"That would probably be the one I like the most because (the fans) think it's something bad," Hill said. "But I kind of enjoyed it."

When it comes to the SEC's more vocal arenas, Bud Walton Arena ranks up there. But as loud as the place gets, the fans are relatively tame.

Arkansas students will hold up signs like, "What's that smell?" and "Who's she?" when an opposing team is introduced before a game. And they booed South Carolina guard Tre' Kelley every time he touched the ball after he committed a hard foul on Brewer in a game earlier this month.

But things at Bud Walton Arena typically don't get heated like at Tennessee, where a fan was ejected two years ago for passing out naked Playboy pictures of Walsh's girlfriend.

"I was just recently at Arkansas, and they've always got one of the more vocal crowds," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "But I didn't hear anything that was off-color or anything that would cause me to say, 'They need to get control of their crowd.'

"I thought their crowd was very supportive of the Razorbacks, and I thought they were well-mannered."

Not as if Arkansas coach Stan Heath would necessarily notice. He admits he's so caught up in the game that he rarely ever hears the crowd.

"When the game starts," Heath said, "I'll be honest with you, I don't hear anything."

If only Hill were so lucky. But even he admits the heckling -- which comes seemingly nonstop for him -- can be amusing.

"Really, you just laugh at it and kind of shrug it off, because if you took it personally, you'd be depressed all the time," Hill said. "I do try to laugh."

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