What you’re about to read here is 100% true. At least the scoundrels who pulled this stunt off swear it is true. They wouldn’t … like, lie, would they?
Matt LaFrance was scared, afraid former Utah and current Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen was going to kill him that day. Boylen would clutch him by the throat, he figured, shake him like a sock doll, and leave him in a sorry heap on the floor. It was in the minutes immediately after a Utes practice in the fall of 2007, Boylen’s first year at Utah, and the player walked up to the coach’s office at the Huntsman Center to deliver the news he was certain Boylen would explode upon hearing.
“I was terrified,” he said.
Here’s the run-up.
LaFrance was a good baller for most of his high school years, although he did get cut from Bountiful High’s team his senior year. He played for a season at Southern Virginia, but never saw himself as talented enough to be even a scrub for the Utes. Still, he had been curious about how he stacked up with D-1 players.
After his return from an church mission, a year after enrolling at Utah, he heard about a tryout for Ute walk-ons. The problem for LaFrance was double-barreled. First, a month or so before enrolling in classes, he underwent jaw surgery, requiring him to have his jaw wired shut. And, second, a few days into the semester, he determined that he had to drop out to recover from the lingering effects of the operation and re-enroll the next semester.
“A difficult decision,” he called it.
As the tryouts drew near, LaFrance, now back to good health, was bummed, because he was no longer eligible to try out. That’s when he got what he thought was a genius idea. He would have his identical-twin brother, John, who was a full-time student at Utah, register for the tryout … for him.
“I told him to sign up, and that I would attend the tryout using his identity,” Matt LaFrance said.
What could go wrong, right?
He showed up at the gym, along with what he estimated to be about “100 other guys.”
After warmups, as the candidates were scrimmaging, Boylen pulled LaFrance aside and asked him his name and about his class schedule. He gave the coach John’s information. At the end of the tryout, an assistant inquired further about the player, and he passed along his bogus identity and his brother’s phone number. He quickly called John and let him know he could be getting a call from a coach.
“By the time I arrived home that evening, an assistant coach had already contacted my brother to request that I meet with the coaching staff in a sit-down meeting in the team offices,” LaFrance said. “I was instructed to bring a [printed] copy of my class schedule.”
The imposter doesn’t remember every detail of that meeting, but he does recall one of the coaches joking that there were too many Johns on or around the team — one of the coaches also was named John — a thought that made Matt chuckle.
He was invited back a few days later for another tryout with a handful of other wannabes, a session that was scheduled the next day for 6 a.m. LaFrance managed to sleep through his alarm clock and showed up 15 minutes late, a misstep that irritated Boylen. LaFrance said he did not play well in that session, and afterward, Boylen told him that he was impressed with his basketball instincts, but he had doubts about his physical strength at the D-1 level, considering he was 6-foot-3, 175 pounds.
LaFrance figured his experience, his ruse was done.
But shortly thereafter, his brother got a call from Boylen, who left a message informing “John” that he wanted him at practice the next day. LaFrance was shocked: “I must have replayed that voicemail a hundred times.”
At that next practice, LaFrance said he was informed by an assistant coach that he had to go through the NCAA clearinghouse process before he could run as a legit member of the team, meaning, in part, he had to pass a physical exam afterward. He watched practice, watched as Boylen screamed at various players for their mistakes.
“Jim Boylen is a fiery guy and a passionate coach and the coaching staff he surrounded himself with seemed to follow suit,” LaFrance said. “I knew this before trying out, but as I sat watching the coaching staff rip into player after player, I began to think about how Coach Boylen would react if he found out the truth about my identity. Questions began flooding my head: Did I really want to have a physical exam pretending to be my brother? Is there a chance the program might face NCAA sanctions if found to have an ineligible walk-on on the roster? I decided I needed to come clean.”
John, Matt’s brother, disagreed: “I thought he should have kept it going. It was one of the great switches that we did.”
This was a bit different, though, from Matt taking John’s math tests in junior high because he was better with numbers.
After practice, LaFrance asked if he could speak privately with the coach. That’s when he took the death march up to the office.
“I had just watched him scream at his players for two hours, and I figured it would be my turn,” he said, adding that he must have sounded like “an idiot,” as he confessed that he wasn’t really John, and he wasn’t enrolled in classes at the school.
“I thought he was going to rip me a new one,” LaFrance said. “… To my surprise, instead of anger, I was met with a grin. He thought the whole thing was pretty funny.”
Matt walked out of the coach’s office that day, a non-John that was a non-student and now a non-player for the Utes, rather just a dude with an amusing story to tell.
John, by the way, went on to graduate from Utah with a degree in industrial hygiene, and works now at a chemical plant in Virginia. Matt received a degree from Utah in international studies, got a masters degree from George Mason, and works now in San Jose for Apple.
Unless it’s the other way around.
Does anyone really know, for sure?
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.