ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dick Vitale and Hugh Greenwood seem to have what each other yearns for.
Greenwood, the mop-top senior guard for the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team, has been growing his hair out for the past year with the hopes of next season cutting it to raise awareness and money for cancer research in honor of his mom. In turn, Vitale sees the long, flowing blond locks his famous bald head has longed to have for years.
Vitale, the highly visible, energetic and boisterous voice of college basketball for ESPN, leads the sport in raising awareness and money for the fight against cancer. Earlier this month, he helped bring in $2.1 million for cancer research at his annual Dick Vitale Gala in Sarasota, Fla.
The Journal reached out to Vitale – because of his success with cancer fundraising efforts as a board member of the V Foundation, as well as through his website DickVitaleOnline.com – to tell him about Greenwood’s story and ask whether he had any words of advice for the Aussie.
“I would simply say ‘Hugh, you’re a solid gold PTPer – Prime Time Performer – with your desire to lend a helping hand to others,’ ” Vitale told the Journal on Tuesday. “I only wish I could grow hair. I would do it, too, man, to raise dollars. I’ll let it grow through Hugh.”
Last week, on arriving home in Australia for their summer break from school, Greenwood and his younger sister Josie, who plays for the UNM women’s team, learned their mother, Andree, had a recurrence of breast cancer after four years of remission.
Hugh Greenwood, meanwhile, made the Australia Boomers national team and is in Perth this week playing in the Sino-Australia Challenge, a four-game series with China.
He told the Journal before he left Albuquerque two weeks ago he was planning to set up a website this summer to collect donations for cancer research.
“I think it’s phenomenal what Hugh’s doing,” Vitale said. “I think it’s great. I am aware of him. He’s played on some quality teams. Now he’s pursuing a team that’s really important trying to raise dollars and awareness to beat cancer, a vicious disease.
“… I commend Hugh and his sister, Josie. I’m so sorry about their mom, but I think it is really phenomenal what he’s doing. I think he should be commended and absolutely highlighted for what he’s doing.”
While the details of when Greenwood will cut his hair, where he’ll donate it and how, exactly fans can donate to the cause haven’t been finalized, it will be during the 2014-15 season.
And Greenwood won’t be alone.
UNM head coach Craig Neal, whose high school nickname “Noodles” gained traction around basketball circles when he was a guard at Georgia Tech thanks to Vitale calling him that on game broadcasts, told the Journal on Tuesday he and son Cullen Neal will also be growing their hair out with Greenwood and will cut it with him next season.
A FUTURE IN FOOTY: Last summer, professional basketball teams in Australia and Europe made it clear to Cameron Bairstow he had professional contracts waiting for him if he decided against returning to UNM for his senior season.
Now, Greenwood has the same offer on the table, just in a different sport.
Several Australian Football League teams, Greenwood told the Mercury newspaper in Hobart, Tasmania, have contacted him to play for them. But he’s not interested – at least for now.
Greenwood, who was a young star in Australian rules football before focusing exclusively on basketball in his midteens, is still about basketball and hopes to play professionally and for the Boomers team in international competition. He also wants to return to UNM to complete his psychology degree in the coming year.
“Depending on how it goes, if I give the NBA a crack and it doesn’t work out and Europe is not as enticing as I first thought, then I would certainly come back and give footy a crack for sure,” Greenwood told The Mercury.
“My grandfather played 99 games. I would love to get that last one.”
Peter Marquis, Greenwood’s grandfather, played 99 AFL games with Melbourne in the 1950s.