And so Spencer seems to have a role once more, and it's no longer his accustomed infantile one. When he's not helping Sheritta with her multiplication tables, he might be gently rebuking a teammate who savored a dunk too conspicuously or chattering about something he saw on Bravo or the Discovery Channel. "Some of us call him Pops," says the Rebels' Evric Gray. "He's Mike Brady of The Brady Bunch. We're the kids who need a daddy."
Other teammates, though, look at Elmore and Gwendolyn's marriage of more than two years and express their consternation. But as usual, Spencer makes a good case. "It's enjoyable because it's by choice and by preparation," he says. "Since I was 12 or 13, I've watched documentaries. I remember seeing one on wolves. When wolves mate, they mate for life. Having a way with words, looking like a teenager at age eight, I grew up real fast, especially the boy-meets-girl thing, so I was able to distinguish between sex and love at an early age. We both want monogamy. We're both motivated by non-material things. And we both like each other's core character."
Upon hearing the words pour forth, one might find contradictory this vacillation between talking and not talking, between unburdening himself to the media and then giving them no care. But Spencer says he wants to talk—loves to talk. He just doesn't want his intelligence insulted. "Being a worldly person, I don't think my haircut merits a second on the evening news," he says. "And if I say I don't want to be interviewed, there shouldn't be any time spent saying 'Elmore declined comment.' Spend it on issues like gun violence and possible solutions. You want to talk about basketball or how it relates to life, I'm game. But I don't see anyone asking Tark why he wears his hair bald. Now, if I'm in the NBA and my obligation is to sell tickets, that's different. But athletes are seldom given the chance to voice their opinions on anything of substance. That's how stereotypes get started. It wasn't until Magic got the HIV thing that people started asking intelligent questions about the NBA life-style.
"You see, this basketball popularity is still a joke to me. I know it's overblown. I'm immediately turned off by a crowd that approaches me after a game for my autograph and tells me, 'Ooh, you played so well tonight, Elmore,' when I know I stunk. Just don't expect the false smile and charismatic attitude from me. I love a fan who'll come up to me and say, 'Elmore, you played like a dog and your man lit you up.' "
Whether or not NBA scouts agree with all the points raised by Elmore the Copywriter, his skills and size alone will make it difficult for some of them to pass on him during the first round of the June draft. His effort against LSU is only one example of Spencer's playing up to his stature in big games. While at Georgia he played well against North Carolina and Georgia Tech; and last season UNLV wouldn't have slipped past Georgetown in the NCAAs if not for Spencer's six blocks and five rebounds against Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning.
Pete Newell, the Hall of Fame coach and scout for the Cleveland Cavaliers, likes the subtler aspects of Spencer's game—the way he keeps the ball high after clearing a rebound, for instance, and looks quickly upcourt—and has sought him out to tell him. "That's NBA stuff, you know," Newell said to Spencer after a game earlier this season.
But as with any young center, especially one playing out his first full season as a major-college starter, certain areas need work. And as much as he loves to talk, Spencer knows enough to listen as Newell, the Robert Bly of big men, offers a miniclinic on the hook. "In this game you spend about four minutes with the basketball," Newell says to him. "But you play 40 minutes with your feet. It's a game of footwork and balance, of stop and go. So work with your feet!"
Spencer looks down at Newell and nods. Feet? He can do feet. Anyone who has worked so long and hard on his head would be happy to do feet.