RICHMOND — Let's start with the long hair. The Most Interesting Man in Kentucky College Basketball "gets the business" from opposing fans on road trips.
About his ponytail.
"You do get a lot of pony tail comments," Eastern Kentucky senior Eric Stutz says with a grin. "If you are playing well, it doesn't affect you too much."
When he came to EKU from Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., four years ago, the 6-foot-8 Stutz boasted a run-of-the-mill — read short — hairstyle. His understanding of Eastern Kentucky Coach Jeff Neubauer's team rule on personal grooming was "no unconventional haircuts," Stutz said.
Yet two years ago "I just decided to grow (my hair) out," Stutz said. "I told (Neubauer), 'I'm not going to cut my hair again,' and Coach kind of put me up to it. He didn't think I would do it."
Stutz did it. Two seasons later, his brown hair reaches down to the top of the number 42 on the back of his game jersey.
Making some kind of personal statement?
"I just got comfortable with it," Stutz said.
Then there are the headbands. When The Most Interesting Man in Kentucky College Basketball showed up for an NCAA Tournament news conference the day before EKU faced Kansas in last season's round of 64, his hair was held in check by a psychedelic headband in vibrant colors like pink and lime green.
"The peace and love headband," Stutz says. "I still have it. It is just for special occasions."
Stutz figures he has 30 headbands. He has two for Christmas (a snowman and a Santa Claus one), two for Halloween (one decorated in ghosts, the other spiders) and one for Valentine's Day (hearts and kisses).
Yet when Eastern plays basketball, you see none of this collection.
For games, Stutz rips the sleeves off of Hanes T-shirts, then uses a severed sleeve to tie his hair back.
"I keep the shirts, too," he says.
Now let's talk about the yoga. The Most Interesting Man in Kentucky College Basketball aspires to become a certified yoga instructor.
His dad got him started. Fred Stutz, Eric's father, is a runner, goes two to three miles four or five days a week. As he got older, Fred, now 55, began having trouble with his back stiffening.
To help, Eric's older sister, Brittney, sent her dad a yoga tape.
His results were good, so about a year-and-a-half ago, Fred Stutz recommended his son try the discipline, too.
"I tried it one day, and got hooked on it," Eric Stutz said.
Says Fred Stutz: "It helped me physically, but I did not embrace it to the extent Eric has. He's into the meditation. It's become a lifestyle."
In recent years, NBA stars including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Love have incorporated yoga into their training.
Eric Stutz said he now knows why. "It focuses me, it refreshes," he said. "Once I get done, my legs and body feel like I didn't even have (basketball) practice. I just kind of get that tension right out of there."
In games, "I am definitely a lot more agile, I can move a lot better," Stutz said. "I think it's really helped me, not thinking too much, just going with an open mind."
Even before a breakout season in 2014-15, The Most Interesting Man in Kentucky College Basketball was a unique player.
A John Beilein disciple, Neubauer's offensive system features all five players above the foul line. For it to work, you need big players who are adept with the ball on the perimeter.
Before EKU gave Kansas a major scare in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Bill Self said of Stutz: "Their five-man is obviously one of the better passing big men in the country."
Eastern came into this year having lost four of its top six players from its OVC Tournament championship team. Standout guard Corey Walden was one key returnee; Stutz was the other.
Said Neubauer: "The way we phrased it to him, 'Eric, you've been a really good player for three years. You've done exactly what we've asked of you. This year, you can't be a good player. You need to be a great player.' He has really taken that to heart."
A four-game winning streak has allowed Eastern (15-9, 7-4 OVC) to move into first place in the Ohio Valley Conference East Division. During this time, you might say Stutz (15.4 points a game, 6.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 62.1 percent field-goal percentage on the season) has played out of his headband.
He had a double-double (17 points, 10 boards) in a road victory at Morehead State. In a home victory over Belmont, Stutz went for 27 points and hit 10 of 11 shots. He had 25 points Wednesday night in a home win over Morehead.
A guy who entered his senior season having made six three-point shots in his career is 17-for-33 on treys this season, and has made eight of his past 10.
"He's played his best basketball at our biggest moments," Neubauer said.
The Most Interesting Man in Kentucky College Basketball is a living, breathing admonition against making assumptions about people based on their appearance.
Stutz's new-age look masks a player with old-school values, Neubauer says.
"He's a team guy; he's totally unselfish," the EKU coach said. "He's a driven young man."
Want to guess the academic major of the guy with the ponytail, the headbands and the yoga? Would you believe ... accounting.
"Probably stick out a little bit, huh?" Stutz says with a grin.
For Stutz, EKU basketball road trips have become his own personal great books series. He's currently reading George Orwell's 1984. He just finished the Kite Runner, the first novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini. Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho's novel The Alchemist — an allegorical work about a young shepherd on a quest for treasure in Egypt — had a particular resonance for Stutz.
When his Eastern days are over, Stutz thinks it might be fun to try his hand at pro basketball in Europe. "A coastal country would be best, I'd love to be on a beach somewhere," he said.
First things first, with stars Walden and Stutz and a developing supporting cast, EKU looks to be the biggest OVC Tournament threat to league favorite Murray State.
His final OVC tourney — with a chance to earn a second straight NCAA Tournament trip — is a special enough occasion that Stutz will break out the peace and love headband.
So let's finish with the long hair. There was a time in his career, when Neubauer, 44, says he would not have allowed a player to have romance-novel-cover hair.
"When I was a younger coach, things like that might have concerned me," he said. "At this point, we want our guys to enjoy themselves as long as they are great teammates."
Fred Stutz says The Most Interesting Man in Kentucky College Basketball might "get the business" from the hair gods someday.
"I'm bald," Fred Stutz said. "I just remind Eric, baldness is hereditary. He better enjoy this while he can."