- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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In the first sentence of "In Cold Blood," Truman Capote wrote that Holcomb, Kan., the scene of that book's vicious crime, "... stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there.'" That description could just as easily apply to most Americans' (even those from the Midwest, like yours truly) perceptions of Wyoming generally: flat, desolate, remote, imposing.
It could certainly apply to Laramie, Wyo., an old lawless frontier outpost nestled in the absolute out there-iest of out theres, the Wyoming plains. Fun fact: Until 1868, three brothers who owned a saloon called "Bucket of Blood" ran the show, forcing settlers to sign their property rights over at gunpoint, which would make surely make Al Swearengen proud. Laramie has, with extreme exception, mostly shaken off that restless past, evolving into a quiet, quaint town of around 30,000, home to the University of Wyoming and more than a few outdoorsy retirees.
The point is, at least from afar, Laramie is not the kind of place you'd expect to be a source of distraction or destruction in young people, college athletes in particular. When sportswriters talk about athletes falling victim to the dreaded "nightlife," downtown Laramie is probably not what they mean.
But that was exactly the case in January, when key senior guard Luke Martinez was charged with aggravated battery and assault stemming from a bar fight at the Buckhorn Bar in downtown Laramie. Martinez admitted he kicked a man in the head while that man was on the ground, but maintained he was acting in self-defense. The senior was suspended by Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt, and the Cowboys' surprisingly promising 13-0 start turned into a 5-12 collapse (and an NCAA tournament miss) during a challenging Mountain West campaign.
This season, in the hopes of avoiding the risks that apparently result when downtown Laramie nightlife meets with Wyoming's star athletes, two of the Cowboys have decided to do things differently. Roommates Derek Cooke Jr. and Charles Hankerson Jr. figured they would keep the fun in-house, and so they turned their apartment into something much more than an apartment. The Casper Star-Tribune brought the story:
After a 2012 season clouded by an off-the-court incident that derailed a sizzling start, Wyoming teammates and roommates Derek Cooke Jr. and Charles Hankerson Jr. decided that perhaps downtown Laramie was not the best place to spend weekend nights.
They wanted to be able to blow off steam with their teammates without risking the trouble that usually comes with bars, drinks and high-profile athletes. And so, like Bruce Wayne becoming Batman, they transformed their apartment into something greater — a symbol. “624” was born.
As the author of the story, Mike Vorel, learned, calling "624" just another upperclassman's off-campus apartment earns no small amount of pushback from the "club's" operators. Instead, it serves as a (only slightly tongue-in-cheek) symbol of the Cowboys' desire to not only avoid late-night, alcohol-infused trouble but also foster team camaraderie, particularly among "regulars," i.e. freshmen. Vorel writes that "nothing remarkable" happens at "624" -- video games and music and general goofiness, mostly. The lights are always off by midnight.
It's a great idea, but it's also sort of a no-brainer. For example: Back when Dez Bryant was essentially grounded by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Grantland's Jalen Rose had a funny take on the matter, describing how professional athletes could arrange to have just as much fun at their own places without having to brave any of the madness that attends youth, money, and fame. When I heard Rose talk about this, a lightbulb popped over my head. You're rich and famous! (Or, in college basketball players' case, you're a college basketball player!) Folks of all stripes, male and female, would absolutely love to hang out with you at your house, where you can control the music and the guest list and the planned activities. No one wants to be a hermit, obviously, but when faced with the choice of public harassment or who-knows-what-else, why wouldn't you, the star athlete, bring the party on your terms? Clubs are overrated anyway.
And as Martinez found out in January, you don't have to be the star receiver on the Dallas Cowboys to fall prey to exposure and rowdiness. These things can happen in Laramie just as easily as anywhere else, and even if the establishment of "624" has zero effect on anything that happens on the floor for Wyoming this season (which seems unlikely), at the very least it gives the Wyoming kids a haven. Plus, it sounds like a pretty chill spot. If Hankerson and Cooke have a Nintendo 64 and Super Smash Bros., I honestly don't know why they'd ever need to leave. (Man, do I miss college.)