When Shirtless Bill locks eyes with his prey, they rarely escape unharmed.
As we learned in this past week's Not Top Ten, teams that come into Stew Morrill's House at Utah State have a whole lot more to bargain for than your typical "hostile" home crowd environment. That's because the Aggies (19-6, 9-2) have a not-so-secret (or discrete) weapon in Shirtless Bill Sproat, the undisputed King of Free Throw Distraction. Over the past two seasons, Shirtless Bill has taken the art of Free Throw Distraction to unprecedented heights. In fact, Shirtless Bill's constantly-evolving methods of diversion have proven so successful that the man has become a legitimate threat to opponents during the second-half of games (the time when Bill changes (or should we say “unchanges”) into the Shirtless Wonder.
So how did this legend come to pass? We had no idea, so we called up Shirtless Bill and attempted to get a better understanding of what makes college basketball's Most Dangerous Fan tick. As you might expect, the results were enlightening. Sproat is a third year, liberal arts major. And a diehard sports fan, you assume, right? Well, yes, and no.
"I love football, wrestling, and MMA. I'll be honest, I hate basketball. I think it's a worthless sport. But I started coming to the game because I have some friends who play on the team. I wanted to come out and support them."
Once he started going to games, though, Bill was intrigued by the enthusiasm and passion of the Aggie crowd.
"It's a great atmosphere. A lot of people tell me I'm like the mascot for the team but I don't really see it that way. I'm just one guy and everyone is going crazy."
Maybe so, Bill, but you're also the one guy dressed up like cupid, or a hula dancer, or a snorkeler, or a pirate, or a Chippendale or this guy. So where does the inspiration for all of these outfits come from?
"It just depends on the team we’re playing. When we played Hawaii, I dressed up like a hula dancer. When we played Nevada, I was gonna dress up like a showgirl but (the school officials) wouldn’t let me. The pirate was my best friend Naki’s idea. He dressed up like one for Halloween and thought it would be funny. My favorite outfits have been this most recent one (cupid) and when I dressed up like a Chippendale. That was my Chris Farley tribute."
We were stunned to learn that this Free Throw Freedom Fighter doesn’t have carte blanche when it comes to artist expression, but it seems that not all of Bill’s characters have been given the thumbs up by the Powers That Be on campus.
"I've been told that I can’t do a Speedo and no showgirls' outfit. It's tough because I have some sweet ideas that I want to do but don’t know where to draw the line. I figure, worst case scenario, if they try to shut me down, I’ll just streak the court and get 'em back."
Bill has been perfecting his ability to mentally-annihilate the opponent over the years, and his efforts don’t just extend onto the hardwood.
“I’m a big football fan. I’m at every game on the 50-yard line. And more often than not, I’m shirtless for those games as well.”
So was Bill born with these superpowers or did he learn distraction secrets that have been passed down through generations of shirtless Sproat men?
“Actually, my dad is a coach and he, like, hates all the fans and cheerleaders. He’s always saying, ‘It’s about the sport’ and stuff like that. So I’m kind of like my dad’s nemesis.”
And isn’t that always the case? You raise them to appreciate and respect one game, and then they grow up to become crazy fans of sports they don’t even like. The one question that comes up repeatedly to the Free Throw Distract-artist is the obvious one: "Does it work?"
"If I can get him to look at me. If I can get them to laugh then I can get them to miss. If I get them to look at me, they're in big trouble. On the play that made the Not Top Ten, before he shot the first free throw, I saw him laughing so I knew that he was going to miss at least one of them. I was pretty excited when he missed both."
Surely, such an artiste has a clever finishing move right?
"Well, I would say the pelvic thrust was my go-to move for awhile but they told me to stop doing that one. I dance a lot. I like to point at (the shooters) and yell their name. I try to get them to look me in the eyes because then I know I got them. But it really depends on the outfit. I try to get into character. I talked like a pirate for whole second half of a game earlier this year because I was dressed like one."
So who would Bill love to square off against? As the old sports adage goes, "to be the best, you've got to beat the best."
"I'd like to go up against the #1 free-throw shooter in the nation, whoever that is, and see what he's got. Maybe I'd just wear a loin cloth or something."
Did you hear that, Donald Sims of Appalachian State? Shirtless Bill has got you locked onto his radar. And that is not a high-percentage place to be.