The Ogg Man

Explanations for the wild adulation vary. Some point to the blunt appeal of the name: Shouting "Ogg," they explain, is primal, a release of endorphins, like yelling "Charge!" Others insist it's mass hallucination: The crowd, they say, must think he's Wilt Chamberlain.

The Stilt should have been so lucky.
BECAUSE CHILDREN ARE curious, and cruel, and indiscreet with language, they nickname; deviations from the norm are tagged with humiliating monikers, Fatso, Four-Eyes, Shrimp. And this boy, Alan Ogg, is an inviting target, tall and uncoordinated, as thin as a lowercase l. He's a giraffe-and-a-half, the other children whisper, a lighthouse with legs. He's Lurch, he's Plastic Man, he's Frankenstein. There is a persistent rumor about seven-foot-tall University of Florida center Dwayne Schintzus responding to jeering calls of "How's the weather up there?" with a gob of spit and a brusque, "It's raining." But this boy is shy and self-conscious, and has not yet learned the trick of thick skin. The other children gleefully continue taunting. They have found themselves a passive mantis.

Alan Ogg was born in Ohio 23 years ago, small like most babies. When he relocated to Atlanta shortly afterward, he was still small. When he was seven years old, his mother died of heart trouble, and immediately his life began to fracture. His father, Mike, worked in construction, his job kept him moving from state to state, and wherever he went he took Alan with him. For young Ogg, who was just beginning to show the first signs of extreme height, the peripatetic existence was troubling. "We moved from Atlanta to Ohio to Texas," he says, "and every place was hard. I never had time to get used to living somewhere, and to dealing with new kids and new schools." Life was beginning to shape up like a fill-in-the-blanks Charles Dickens plot - insert family tragedy, insert peer adversity, insert rootlessness, insert innocence. Then again, Oliver Twist never tomahawk-dunked.

When he was fourteen, Alan moved to Mount Olive, Alabama, to live with his maternal grandparents, Raymond and Fannie Vines. "When he was fourteen we got him," says Raymond Vines, a retired DuPont worker. "He was about 6-4, 6-5. He wore a size-fourteen shoe and was skinny as a rail."

The Vines were accustomed to having tall children around the house - Alan's mother had been 5-9, her two brothers were both over six feet tall. "We had an extra-long frame from when Mike, our younger son, was a child. He was 6-5," says Vines. "So we bought a new mattress, got some new springs, and gave the bed to Alan."

Maybe it was something about the bed. Mike Vines had played basketball at Gardendale fifteen years earlier, and Ogg, after only a year of sleeping in his uncle's bed, took his first steps toward the same destination. "He came into my class, and he was 6-8, I believe, maybe a little shorter," recalls Jimmy Armstrong, Ogg's ninth-grade history teacher, who also happened to be the varsity coach of the Gardendale Rockets. "One day I asked him, `Son, do you play basketball?' He said, `No sir. I got cut.' I said, `You got what?'" In disbelief, Armstrong approached Gardendale's ninth-grade coach, who explained that Ogg, who weighed about 170 pounds at the time, was in no condition to play competitive sports. But Armstrong couldn't stop salivating at the prospect of a 6-8 sophomore, and he slowly began to encourage Ogg to take up the game. "During study hall I had another player go with Alan to the gym and hand him the ball to shoot," he explains. "He couldn't even catch the ball then. He took 30 minutes a day every day."

In addition to his physical shortcomings, Ogg's initial courtship with basketball was hindered by his near-total lack of familiarity with the game. "He'd never seen a game on TV in his life up to that point," says Armstrong. "Didn't know a single thing about it."

"That's true," says Ogg. "I wasn't brought up around it; it wasn't in my house. And I didn't like the game at first. To begin with, I wasn't any good, and how are you going to enjoy something when you go out and every time you try it, you're bad."

For the sky-high neophyte, though, progress was rapid and rewarding. "The first time he dunked the ball was in tenth grade in a game," says Armstrong. "It just lit him up like a Christmas tree."

As Ogg's talents grew, so did he; in 1985, as he entered his senior year in high school, he was approaching the seven-foot mark. "Even though my children were tall and I have some cousins that are 6-7 and 6-8," says his grandfather, "we had no idea he would keep growing. I was hoping he would cut off around 6-6. Would have made it easier to get him clothes."

His last year in high school, Alan averaged 21 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 6.7 blocked shots per game. With an All-American honorable mention from Street & Smith's Basketball Yearbook, he caught the eye of several premier basketball programs, including Alabama and North Carolina. Dean Smith, the venerable Tarheels coach, even visited Mount Olive twice to try to coax him to Chapel Hill. But Ogg, who had been in Birmingham only four years, wasn't ready to leave yet, and he opted to attend the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

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