The Aggies' star player and best-known superfan share a friendship one nearly ended by an enlarged heart.
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Logan • The big kid with the long hair approached Tai Wesley three years ago on campus, just outside Utah State University's the student union. Neither had ever spoken a word to the other.
Bill Sproat hadn't really thought much of Wesley, then an emerging power forward with the Aggies. He thought Wesley was a bit cocky. He didn't like the way he stayed to himself. Conceit was a word that popped into Sproat's mind about Wesley more than once.
"I'll be honest, I thought he was a jerk," Sproat said with a smile. "But I figured I could tame the beast."
Sproat went up to Wesley, and asked him the question that would unify the two almost immediately: "Are you Polynesian?"
Both laugh when thinking back on that story. Neither thought the other would be famous in the coming years. But today, Wesley is a viable Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year candidate. He's the best player on an Aggies team that is nationally ranked and has won a fourth consecutive WAC title.
And Sproat's image of "Wild Bill" has taken off. He's unquestionably one of college basketball's super fans, the dude with the big belly and the funny costumes in the Spectrum crowd on a nightly basis. He's a national star now. Whenever ESPN visits Logan, the television cameras almost always find a way to feature his act.
To each other, however, he and Wesley are best friends, two sarcastic personalities who complement each other on and off the court.
"How could we not be friends?" Wesley asked. "We both come from the same roots and we both like to eat food."
More than that, they love to rib each other. Sproat says he isn't a basketball fan, claims he doesn't understand the game. Wesley says Sproat loves the game but just doesn't want to admit it. Sproat claims his Polynesian roots to the core. Wesley notes that Sproat is from Hawaii, so those roots don't count.
Together, they could put on a comedy show and entertain for hours. One thing is for certain, though. Sproat credits Wesley with launching the legend of "Wild Bill." Wesley credits Sproat for at least some of his play on the court.
"His presence relaxes me," Wesley said. "Sometimes I get too caught up in the emotion of the game. Then I see Bill in the front row, and he's cracking jokes. That has a calming influence."
"I felt like walking death" • Sproat in the front row almost didn't happen this year.
The 27-year-old nearly died last summer, spending seven minutes without a heartbeat, without a pulse. The culprit was an enlarged heart, numerous blood clots in his lungs and heart, and an unwillingness by Sproat to seek medical attention.
The ordeal began last March around WAC tournament time. Sproat started coughing up blood. A little at first, then more, until the coughing became so bad he twice broke a rib.
Sproat's mother, Amy Jensen, begged her son to go to a hospital, the emergency room, a private doctor, anything. But Sproat didn't have medical insurance. That, however, was just an excuse. Sproat just hated doctors.
"My mom begged me to go to the hospital, Tai begged me, everyone wanted me to go," Sproat said. "But it just wasn't happening."
Finally, Sproat had no choice. He was limited to breathing in short spurts because he couldn't catch his wind. The coughing got worse. His kidney and liver began to fail.
"I couldn't even walk up my driveway without getting winded," Sproat said. "I felt like walking death."
When Sproat finally went to Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, his heart was hardly functioning. Once, it stopped and he had to be revived.
Doctors feared he would need a heart transplant.
"It was a scary time for all of us," Wesley said. "We had always been such good friends that I thought it wasn't fair that he could've been taken away from us. To not have him there would've been sad."
In terms of support, the Utah State athletic community stepped up. The basketball team sent flowers and a card signed by all. So did the football team and the other teams on campus.
Other than immediate family, Sproat wasn't allowed to have visitors, so Wesley called and sent text messages at least four times a day, as did other members of the Aggie basketball team.
"It was a difficult time because we knew how much he meant to us," USU senior guard Tyler Newbold said. "So we all just wanted to see him get healthy."
The return of Wild Bill • Today, Sproat isn't as healthy as he should be but he isn't on death's door, either. Most importantly, he returned to the stands 90 pounds lighter but without missing a step. This season, he's already dressed up as Barney, and as the "Little Teapot," among many others.
But there are still issues. He owes nearly $200,000 in outstanding medical bills. And in the Nevada game, Sproat started feeling light-headed and had to be examined by a USU trainer.
Still, Sproat and Wesley have formed a bond that expands beyond the basketball court.
Because Wesley's graduating this year, there's been talk of Sproat hanging up the costumes. Much depends on his health and whether there's a demand for the comedy in future seasons.
Neither deny, however, that a long time has passed since the big kid with the long hair approached Wesley outside of the student union three years ago.
firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @tonyaggieville A closer look at "Wild Bill"
• Real name is Bill Sproat.
• Attended and wrestled at Sky View High School. Says he holds the school record for fastest pin. "It's like 4.5 seconds," Sproat said. "I just kind of fell on the guy and that was that."
• Has a lot of family in Hawaii.
• Started school at 24. Before that he worked in construction.
• Credits his best friend Tai Wesley for the launch of his "Wild Bill" persona. A closer look at Tai Wesley
• WAC Player of the Year candidate.
• Was a redshirt freshman on the 2004 team, the last USU Big West squad.
• Credits Sproat for his ability to remain calm on the court.
• On whenever Sproat retires "Wild Bill": "That would be a sad day for the Spectrum. He's made that place fun and given us a lot of publicity. But if it's better for his health, I can't hold it against the guy."