Keli Leaupepe: the very name prompts sighs of admiration from fans and hints of jealousy from detractors. His persona has been thrust into the public eye since his arrival from Australia, and his other-worldly status has certainly amplified within the last month. But who is the man underneath the hair? What does he make of his newfound stardom? Could I, one day, duplicate his ‘look’ and succeed where many others have failed? Today we sit down and experience the real Keli Leaupepe: A myth of a man with the muscle to back it up.
Note: Please read Keli’s responses in a charming Australian accent.
Chris Benis (C.B.): Are you aware of the viral attention you’re getting on Instagram, Twitter and social media in general?
Keli Leaupepe (K.L.): I mean, now I am. But when it all happened, I couldn’t really believe it. My Instagram was blowing up and my mum back home was sending me things on Twitter. It was pretty cool.
C.B.: This hairstyle of yours really helps people identify you on the court and on TV. Does it have a nickname that fits the reputation?
K.L.: My hair has always been crazy, I’ve always had really long hair. I used to have it in a crazy man bun, but once I was with the boys and thought why not, give me a mullet. I’ve had it for a couple of months now. I’d call it a mullet. Some people call it "The Shag", though.
C.B.: What kind of ballplayer are you?
K.L.: I bring toughness to the team. I’ll dive on loose balls, I’ll take charges, I’ll set screens. I love playing defense, plus I bring some of those aspects to offense as well.
C.B.: Are you aware that many WCC projections predicted a bottom-third placement for your team?
K.L.: We’re definitely aware of that. Coach [Johnson] wrote that up on the board at the start of the season and said, "This is where everyone thinks we are." But we know we’re capable of much more than that. We like to use it as fuel for the fire. We want to prove everyone wrong.
C.B.: The team has experienced a fast, competitive start to the conference portion of your schedule. Last year you finished 4-12 in conference. What teams are you looking forward to getting another shot at?
K.L.: Definitely Pepperdine.
C.B.: How is the team’s new identity affecting your passion for the game?
K.L.: Even in the warm-ups, we’re just having more fun. We’re usually a lot louder than the other team, even on the road. We’re more juiced.
C.B.: Do you ever get nervous before a game? Do you have any special pre-game routines that help you get dialed in?
K.L.: I always get butterflies before every game. I always have. So I usually do a bit of meditation before, and I have my little shooting routine I like to do. Other than that, just listening to music. I just go with the flow.
C.B.: What do you want to accomplish by the end of your senior season?
K.L.: I definitely want to go to March Madness by the time I’m a senior, that’d be lovely. That’s all I want to do.
C.B.: Do you have any aspirations outside of basketball?
K.L.: Not really. Basketball’s kind of it for me. I used to play the trumpet though.
C.B.: This journey of yours from Australia to LMU to campus legend … where does it end? Where do you want your play at LMU to take you?
K.L.: I just want to play professionally somewhere. It would be nice to live off of this wad alone, you know? I want to play professionally whether it’s in Europe, NBA, NBL or back home in Australia. I just want to have fun and get paid for it.
C.B.: Any final message for all those fans out there?
K.L.: Get a mullet.