He is in his fire-red Nissan pickup truck (101,000 miles on it) when he sees his Lexus in the showroom window (zero miles on it). After he is done drooling, he drops his fiancee at the Italian restaurant where she works, drops his 1-year-old at the in-laws and drops himself at the weight room.
He looks in the mirror there and does not like what he sees; there are not enough muscles on top of his muscles. Marcus Camby is scrawnier than him, Stephon Marbury is shorter than him and Kobe Bryant is more naive than him - but they must not be looking in the same mirror. He will be returning to sociology class in the fall; they will be the subject of sociology class in the fall. He will be playing for the Utah Utes; they will be playing against the Utah Jazz. But he is not melancholy.Last one to the pros is a rotten egg, and the foul odor emanating from Keith Van Horn's stucco apartment comes from the wheat germ in the shake he drinks to gain weight. He could have been a lottery pick, he could have bought his daughter, Sabrina, a sturdier stroller, and he could have put the fire-red Nissan to sleep, but Van Horn is going to see how the other half lives. Or the other one-third.
A total of 33 underclassmen - plus three high school students - have declared themselves eligible for Wednesday night's National Basketball Association draft, while the 6-foot-9-inch Van Horn has declared himself eligible for his senior year. The Toronto Raptors tempted him, attempting to alert him through an emissary that he would have been theirs at No.2 over all, and the Vancouver Grizzlies whispered he would have been theirs at No.3 over all. But he laid on his futon at night, dollars and sense spinning in his head, and just said no. Final score: College 3 (Van Horn, Tim Duncan of Wake Forest and Jacque Vaughn of Kansas), NBA 36.
So, not everybody has caught the epidemic. His 5-7 roommate told him, "I'd leave if $8 million was staring me in the face," and his cherubic coach - at least initially - seconded that, but Van Horn is still an amateur today because of a promise, because of a marriage, because of a baby and because of that mirror.
"I'm not going to get any worse, am I?" he said.
His season ended with a Kentucky triple-team - Van Horn had 23 points and 8 rebounds in Utah's 101-70 loss during a regional semifinal of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament - and he and his coach, Rick Majerus, agreed to meet the following week at their secret hiding place: the Bagelry.
Majerus needed another bagel like a hole in the head, but, over the last three years, Majerus had taken his star for sesame bagels during nearly every crisis.
The time Majerus yelled at him for never setting a pick, they made up over a bagel. The time Majerus said he could not guard a sixth-grader, they made up over a bagel.
But, on this particular March day, they talked about Van Horn being able to afford plenty of bagels. The odd couple (the rotund coach, the skinny player) sat down at a corner table, and Majerus brought a steno pad so they could talk economics.
The coach estimated Van Horn's first contract would be worth $6 million over three years and began a gaudy line of questioning. He asked Van Horn what kind of car he wanted, and in a split second, Van Horn said: "Lexus. An SC 400." He asked him what kind of home he wanted, and Van Horn said, "One with a swimming pool." He asked him what his fiancee wanted, and Van Horn said, "Nursing school." He asked what his daughter needed, and Van Horn said, "A stroller she can't escape from."
Majerus drew up a budget and came to the conclusion that Van Horn should be on the next bus out of town. But then he remembered a night they had not gone for a bagel; he remembered a night Van Horn when had no appetite at all.
It was Van Horn's freshman year, in the middle of the season, and Majerus had fielded a 3 a.m. phone call from Van Horn's mother, May. She told Majerus that Van Horn's 6-8, 280-pound father, Ken, had died of a heart attack, and she asked the coach "to explain it to him and to stay with him."
Majerus pounded on Van Horn's dormitory door, and Van Horn woke up thinking: "I'm in trouble. Is it my defense?"
Majerus, meanwhile, had lost his father to a heart attack five years earlier, so he was stuttering as he broke the news.
They went to a "greasy-spoon" restaurant at 4 a.m. - the Bagelry was closed - and Van Horn, then 18, spent the night flashing back. He remembered the time he ruined the transmission on his father's favorite boat, and that his father still kept calm. And the time his father implored him to graduate from college.
"I promised him," said Van Horn, who has a 3.0 grade-point average and an addiction to summer school.
Of course, there were other reasons to fatten his wallet right now. His mother - the woman who dropped him at every basketball camp - had sold her deceased husband's business, had turned in her Mercedes and had moved from a tailored home in Chino, Calif., to a modest residence in Reno. And his girlfriend, Amy Sida, had become pregnant during his sophomore season. She gave birth to Sabrina, on May 30, 1995 - a night when Van Horn wrote a Health Education term paper in the delivery room - and just the other month, as he and Amy sat on a shaded park bench, he kneeled on his right knee and proposed marriage. Van Horn now had three women to support.
"If anyone had a reason to go hardship, it was him," Majerus said.
But, while the professional scouts were calling him a pale Detlef Schrempf, he did the unfashionable - he stayed in school.