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A grandma’s joy

NOTE: TWO PHOTOS

There’s nothing like a grandmother’s love – just ask freshmen Michael Dickerson and Kelvin Eafon.

They are grandma’s boys.

Don’t laugh. The title is self-proclaimed. And they’re proud of it.

University of Arizona freshmen basketball players Michael Dickerson and Kelvin Eafon are the people they are because of their grandmothers, the primary people who raised them. The young men are well-mannered, soft-spoken and rarely fuss.

Although the two have entirely different personalities – one’s outgoing while the other is introverted – they talk about their grandmothers with the same adoring love. In fact, they call home – one to Seattle, the other to Seagoville, Texas – nearly every day.

It’s likely they did it again after UA’s 91-65 victory over Washington on Saturday, a win that tied the Wildcats with the UCLA Bruins for first place in the Pacific 10 Conference standings. Both are 7-2 in the league.

“I tell her I miss her,’ Dickerson said of his conversations with his grandmother. “I tell her I miss her a lot. When we talk, we talk of my times in college, what’s going on with the team. . . . She keeps me going.’

She keeps him going in good times and in bad. And although there have been shades of good times on the court this season for Dickerson, he admits he doesn’t like being away from home. Homesickness has been a problem. If only to be home with his grandma, Ora.

“I’m surprised that I’m making it without her,’ Dickerson said. “It’s been hard. Every day I feel like going home. Even though basketball has been good here, and everything is going fine and perfect, I feel like I just left her.’

Although it’s tough getting around with severe arthritis and a poor heart, Ora, 72, is thrilled to see her pride and joy doing well.

“I’m very happy what he’s made of himself,’ she said.

But, she admits, “I miss him real, real bad. He’s always been there. He and I have never really been separated for this long a time. But I tell him we’ll be able to be together soon.’

The two were able to spend two days together during the Christmas break, but since then – and four months before that – most of the contact has been over the telephone.

“We went shopping and did everything a mother and a son or daughter would have done,’ she said. “It was like old times.’

Old times meant going for long walks, talking in the house or sitting around doing nothing.

“Every day after school we’d take a walk,’ Dickerson said. “There were times I’d read to her. We’d do all sorts of things. It was therapeutic. And there were times when we’d just sit around and keep each other company. We didn’t have to say anything to each other and we’d know what each other would be thinking.’

Dickerson is happy to be getting more playing time as the season progresses. But when things were tough, he’d call his grandmother for comfort and advice.

“I’d just tell him he’d have to be strong and to try and get everything he can get (out of it),’ she said.

Eafon has helped out as well. He, too, has gone through homesickness and concerns of not playing.

“I could see it (that Dickerson missed home),’ Eafon said. “He wishes he could be there for her. But I’m the same way because I grew up with my grandmother, too. When you’re not playing, you talk to the people who have been there all along.’

So he’s called his grandmother, Doris Eafon, about twice a week since arriving here from Texas.

“He said he was getting a little down because they weren’t letting him play. He didn’t want to wait,’ said Doris, 48, in telephone interview from Seagoville. “But I said the others had to wait (to play). He could, too. And that he should stick it out. I’ve been watching the games on TV and he’s playing some now. He feels better.’

After 21-plus years as a college basketball coach, Lute Olson said he understands what the freshmen are going through.

“It’s not a lot unlike what everyone goes through when they’re away from home,’ Olson said. “But eventually they get used to it. Damon (Stoudamire) was homesick when he first got here. It happens whether you’re a regular student or an athlete.’

But athletes find support in each other, Olson said. The basketball team becomes a family. And now, Eafon and Dickerson are nearly inseparable. It’s a mismatch made in basketball heaven. Eafon talks a bunch when prompted; Dickerson is more on the shy side.

“Yeah, he’s quiet, but he talks to me more than anyone else,’ Eafon said. “And that’s happened from day one. Around people he doesn’t say much. But around me he’s fun. We do a lot. But he’s quiet. He just doesn’t trust a lot of people.’

Dickerson agreed. But it’s always been that way, and it’s nothing personal against anyone.

“I make friends through basketball,’ he said. “I don’t really talk to very many people.’

Olson said he recalls another all-time UA favorite, Kenny Lofton, being the same way.

“He was very quiet, and getting him to get eye contact with you was difficult when he first got here,’ Olson said. “But through the years he really blossomed.’

It’s no coincidence: Lofton was a grandma’s boy, too.

PHOTO ONE: VAL CAÑEZ/Tucson Citizen/Washington’s Bryant Boston dives for the ball under UA’s Corey Williams.

PHOTO TWO: VAL CAÑEZ/Tucson Citizen/Washington’s Jason Hartman dunks over UA’s Jarvis Kelly on Saturday at McKale Center.

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