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Ex-Shocker wrestles way to glory

 
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This is the time you look back at your alma mater with pride. You remember the good old days, adding a lot more good than was really there. Wichita State is one of the most unlikely teams to reach the Sweet 16 of this NCAA tournament and will likely win at least one more game.

So for Shockers alumni, it’s a great moment. And for former Shockers players? Think of their highlight dunks, superhuman blocks ...

“I look back at my college basketball career,” a former Shocker center told me, “and I just want to go back in time, pull myself off to the side and ... punch myself in the face. Hahahahaha.

“It’s a team sport, idiot. Start playing with your teammates.”

Paul Wight, a backup center in Wichita 22 years ago, wearing No. 50, rode the bench at Wichita State all the way to superstardom. He is now Big Show, one of the big stars of pro wrestling, ready to kick butt at Wrestlemania 29 on April 7 at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.

Imagine Wichita State hoops at the Final Four and WrestleMania on the same weekend.

“I’m definitely happy for them,” Big Show said. “I have a lot of positive memories from that university, the teachers, the classes I took. It’s just a lot of personal things were going on in my life at the time. It didn’t work out for me. But things happen in life. Things change.

“It was good for me as a human being to go from an arrogant, cocky SOB to being humbled a little bit. Of all my experiences at Wichita State — now I’m a 41-year-old adult that has children of my own — humbling wasn’t a bad thing for me. It wasn’t a bad thing to sit on the bench. Some of the lessons I learned from my college basketball days definitely help me now.”

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I should point out that I worked in Wichita while Wight was playing there and remember specifically that when he came into the games, parts of the crowd would start singing the theme from the Addams Family. “That happened once,” he said.

He was just so huge, nearly 7 feet, and most people didn’t realize he was actually athletic. He didn’t look it. So the comparison to Lurch was right there in front of snarky college kids.

While we see the glory of the Final Four and the NCAA tournament, the truth is that most careers don’t go that way. More player careers actually go the way Wight’s did.

Until the part where Wight became a star, not only wrestling, but also making appearances on TV shows and movies.

Reality led Wight to an unreal height. Reality found its way into the unreal life of Big Show.

Wight definitely sounds fully humbled when talking comfortably about his Wichita State career.

“I remember strength coach Kerry Rosenboom (who’s still at WSU) in there trying to get me to lift weights,” Big Show said. “I was like, ‘It’s going to mess up my shot. Going to mess up my shot.’

“It didn’t mess up my shot. I messed up my shot.’’

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He said he got into trouble at practice so many times, and was forced to run at 5 a.m. the next day as punishment, that one of the assistant coaches started bringing doughnuts and coffee in the mornings. They had become that familiar with the routine.

“I remember missing the bus when we were playing Tulsa,” he said. “A couple guys and I ran to Sonic to get food. The car I had was such a piece of crap, when I got to Sonic, it wouldn’t start. Coach (Mike) Cohen left us. We got the car going and pulled up to the bus, and it pulled around us. They wouldn’t pull over.

“Then I was low on gas, in a small town in Oklahoma. I had a friend nearby who I played junior college ball with, so I stopped and borrowed money from him for gas. We finally got to Tulsa. I mean, we were just clowns.”

That night, an assistant coach said Cohen would not dress them for the game, and that they needed to turn around and drive home.

“I think it took me three quarts of oil and two tanks of gas to go 150 miles home,” Big Show said.

In high school, Wight was a multi-sport athlete. Everyone wanted him to focus on football, he said, but he wanted basketball. Wichita State, without a football team, was a great place for him.

It was when he was going into his sophomore year, he said, that Wichita State doctors diagnosed him with Acromegaly.

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“My first physical as an athlete, the doctor said, “‘You’ve got giantism,’” said Big Show, who is listed on the WWE website as 7-foot, 441 pounds. “I thought, ‘F.U., I do not.’ I was a small-town kid from South Carolina What is he talking about? I don’t have some kind of diseases.’’

He was told he needed surgery, but Wight said he’d wait till he was finished with college. Instead, he had it that summer — a tumor removed from his pituitary gland, he said. And then, a few weeks before the season started, he dislocated two bones in his wrist.

“It was a mental struggle there.”

Big Show doesn’t blame his physical issues as much as his attitude:

“Being honest, I wasn’t mentally ready to play. I was the big idiot that would dive on loose balls. Everyone wanted to see me go there and rebound and dunk, but I was diving for loose balls and not learning offense, and posting up in the low paint and not moving the ball.”

Eventually, Cohen was fired. Wight didn’t feel as if he were part of the new regime, and went to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, still thinking he had an NBA career ahead of him. But he got hurt again and gave up.

“I just lost interest and ended up moving back to Wichita,” he said. “I worked for a guy that was loading karaoke equipment. I got a job loading semi-trailers, then went to Chicago for him, answering phones and doing karaoke shows at nights.”

Through that, he met Danny Bonaduce, formerly of the Partridge Family. Bonaduce introduced him to Hulk Hogan. And everything took off.

Reality took an unreal turn.

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