GIANTS IN DE MEDIA

 

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the Post and Courier (U.S.A.) Vrijdag, 29 maart 2024

LOS ANGELES — As pregame warm ups end and Clemson heads toward the locker room for a final pep talk, the Tigers hear the Dutchman’s call.

“Hey, Wigs!” sophomore wing Chauncey Wiggins heard on March 24 as he walked the tunnels of the FedEx Forum in Memphis. “Guess what?”

Wiggins and his teammates have heard this routine enough times from 6-foot-10 senior Bas Leyte, they already know the answer.

But the words aren’t as important as how they are delivered. The native of Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands, picks a random teammate before each game, locks eyes with them in the hallway, and screams as loud as he can.

“Guess whaaaaaat? Guess whhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaat?!”

As soon as they give in and ask what, Leyte explodes.

“I’M JUICED UP, BABY! Woooooooooo!”

“You might be able to hear him in the arena sometimes,” Clemson forward Ian Schieffelin said. “That dude’s full of energy.”

Every team needs a hype man, and Leyte pours everything into this role because it’s all he can do in this NCAA tournament run. The transfer from UNC Greensboro hasn’t played since it was determined in late February the muscles in his shoulder are too weak to keep his arm from popping out of socket.

He went from a reserve big man who was supposed to spell PJ Hall a handful of minutes each game to an oversized energy-giver.

In practices last week in Memphis, Leyte (pronounced Light-Uh) could be seen on the sideline, bopping his head along to the beat of rapper Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop,” cradling a basketball close to his chest as he lip-synched “that thiiiiing, that thiiiiing, thaaaat thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.”

During games, he enthusiastically swings his arms and points Clemson’s way after opponent turnovers. He bends his knees, hangs his arms, and yells after Clemson scores. He’s focused, though, quick to grab a chair to place in front of the Tigers’ bench so coach Brad Brownell can pop a squat during timeouts.

“Man, I’m just trying to be involved wherever I can, just to feel a part of it, just making sure I’m doing what I can do to make sure these wins the team is getting feel earned,” Leyte said.

There are mixed emotions, obviously, because Leyte would like to play in the biggest basketball tournament in the world. His father, Adriaan, once lived with a host family in Kentucky and played high school basketball in America., and Bas would make trips to the U.S. as a kid to visit that family.

When he is asked to describe the Netherlands now, Leyte’s description lack detail beyond it’s flat and it rains a lot, because he has lived overseas for so long. He departed for the Canary Islands at 14 year old, joining a training program that promised to help him become a Division I basketball player in the U.S.

The island was beautiful, Leyte will say. There were big, giant mountains in the middle, so the weather was good on one side and not on the other. But the basketball program itself wasn’t a great experience.

The practices were hard. The food wasn’t very good. The coaches tried to tell him he would be a great fit as a D-II basketball player, not D-I.

That year in the Canary Islands is partially responsible, however, for the over-the-top positive vibes Leyte emits today.

“Having taken that journey, you see some things, I have a lot to be grateful for where I am now,” Leyte said. “I don’t have nothing to be sad about.”

Leyte was lucky, because he played with the Dutch national team, which linked him up with another organization that gets European hoopers to the U.S.

This time, he was shipped to New Hampshire to play for the private boarding school New Hampton, which is hidden away in a landscape of dense trees and mountains. There was one Subway, along with a pizza place.

But it was more than enough.

“Three meals a day, iPad to do my school work on, I was loving it,” Leyte said. “It was awesome.”

From New Hampton, he jumped to UNC Greensboro, where Leyte averaged a combined 8.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in his final two seasons. He entered the transfer portal going into his fifth and final year of eligibility, hoping to leap to a Power 5 school in 2023-24.

Clemson happened to lose a big man, Ben Middlebrooks, to N.C. State.

It wasn’t long before Leyte was walking into PJ Hall’s apartment on his recruiting visit, throwing himself into a game of pool with Ian Schieffelin.

“He misses a shot, and he’s yelling in Dutch,” Schieffelin said, “and we’re like ‘Who is this guy?’ The guy just always has energy.”

That energy is exactly what Brownell wanted, just to spare Hall a few minutes here or there. Leyte was good with it, because he was just as much interested in getting to Clemson as a next step in a potential transition into coaching.

He wants to find a job in basketball, in the U.S., because so many of his formative years have been spent here. Going back to the Netherlands would mean leaving his friends behind.

Leyte, who lists “slow” rap and “hardcore” rap as two of his three favorite musical genres, has been thoroughly Americanized. It might be best to spare the details of his “juiced up” catchphrase at Clemson, because it originates from a somewhat raunchy animated film, Sausage Party.

But his bellowing from the bowels of arenas — “Guess what? Guess whhhhhhaaaaaaat?” — puts a wide grin on his teammates’ faces every time.

“For me, I’m always pretty locked in (after warmups), so he starts yelling, it always catches me off-guard,” Hall said, smiling. “But that guy is hilarious.”

His off-the-court antics far outpace his on-court production, because he went up for a rebound one-handed in a preseason practice and a teammate snatched it with two — and it yanked his arm all the way back and out of socket.

The fifth-year center tried to go, playing around 4.5 minutes in about 20 contests, until he was shut down in February.

But the irrepressibility of Leyte’s positivity has been on full display, still reminding everyone he is “JUICED UP” before games, still bopping his head along to whatever music is playing. And full-on dancing when the mood strikes.

Leyte is also serious, from time to time, huddling up teammates for pep talks. He recently made Chauncey Wiggins a target of his “juiced up” schtick, but the wannabe coach has also reminded the 6-10 wing, who can become passive on the offensive end at times, to stay “shot ready.”

He’s a consistent voice.

“What he’s meant just in terms of energy and positivity, tremendous,” Brownell said. “To have a guy who cares about the team and just about the experience really helps keep us in a good place.

“And there were times this year when that wasn’t easy.”

There have been many ups and downs, from the Tigers’ 10-1 start in non-conference play, to a 4-6 start in the ACC, to a run to the Sweet 16.

Leyte’s contributions are so appreciated, every non-senior joined Leyte at center court when he was honored pregame on Senior Day, partially because his parents couldn’t be there.

“He’s our brother,” Schieffelin said. “It was an honor to walk with him.”

Leyte considers it an honor to be a part of Clemson’s run in the Big Dance.

It’s such a big deal, Leyte’s parents — who were hesitant to shell out the money for first- and second-round games in Memphis — decided to hop a plane to Los Angeles for No. 6 seed Clemson’s game versus No. 2-seeded Arizona.

Leyte is, most certainly, juiced up.

“It’s a lot of stress and emotion throughout the year, but this is what we work for. For us to achieve, for us to win,” Leyte said. “We have bigger achievements to get to. But to win these games is just pure joy. It’s amazing right now.”

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Jon Blau

Jon Blau has covered Clemson athletics for The Post and Courier since 2021. A native of South Jersey, he grew up on Rocky marathons and hoagies. To get the latest Clemson sports news, straight to your inbox, subscribe to his newsletter, The Tiger Take.