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Originally published Thursday, December 22, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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UW Men's Basketball

Fans zany for Potter - UW's go-to guy when game's pretty much over

Assuming Washington beats Lehigh on Friday night in the expected manner, the chant from the Dawg Pack will start to rumble midway through...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Assuming Washington beats Lehigh on Friday night in the expected manner, the chant from the Dawg Pack will start to rumble midway through the second half.

"Zane, Zane, Zane, Zane."

The object of the Dawg Pack's affection, senior walk-on forward Zane Potter, will take it in with somewhat mixed emotions.

"It kind of bugs me a little bit because it's kind of a distraction if we're in the huddle and they're yelling at coach [Lorenzo] Romar [to put me in]," Potter said.

But the fans can't help it.

Since he joined the team for the 2003-04 season, Potter has emerged as one of the most popular walk-ons in the school's history.

Once the game is out of reach, it is Potter, a 6-foot-6, 200-pounder, the fans want — more than any other walk-on the team has had in recent seasons.

"He's goofy, he's funny — the kind of guy you want to root for," said Dawg Pack member Tyler Jones, a UW sophomore, trying to explain Potter's popularity. "He's a tall, skinny guy, kind of gangly, with elbows flying out from everywhere. He's kind of the underdog."

Teammate Brandon Roy marvels that two of the biggest roars at Edmundson Pavilion this season came when Potter hit three-pointers — the first two of his career — late in blowout wins over American and Loyola-Marymount.

"He's kind of like Rudy," Roy said, likening Potter to the former Notre Dame football walk-on made famous by a 1993 movie.

"He'll probably be mad at me when he reads that," Roy said with a laugh.

Not to worry. One of Potter's charms is there is little that ruffles him. Potter also understands that much of his draw is because of his unconventional look on the court.

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"Maybe I'm not the most coordinated guy or the most athletic and maybe they relate to me more than some of the other guys, I guess," Potter said.

Romar, though, thinks it runs a little deeper than that.

"He goes out there and gives it everything he's got and I think people appreciate that," Romar said. "He's also got a personality that a lot of people are drawn to him and pull for him."

When Romar first met Potter, it was that personality as much as anything that clinched the deal to give him a full-blown tryout.

"You knew that down the road he wouldn't be in your office one day wondering why he wasn't playing more," Romar said. "With 95 percent of walk-ons, they say that they will do whatever you want them to do. And before you know it, they are frustrated because they are not playing, and you don't want to have to deal with that. He didn't come across like he would be that guy at all, and he hasn't been."

Said Potter: "I don't think I could take myself seriously if I ever asked for more playing time."

His role on the team, though, is no laughing matter, with coaches and teammates lauding his work with the scout team, helping prep the regulars by giving them a good look at the opponent's offense.

Potter grew up in a small town just outside Portland called Boring, Ore. — yes, he's heard a few million jokes about that — but was always a Huskies fan because a grandfather attended Washington. He was a competitive downhill skier, attending the Junior Olympics when he was 13. But a few years later — forced to choose between the demands of skiing at an elite level or a normal high-school experience — he gave it up.

So he turned to basketball, first playing the sport competitively as a sophomore.

He made the varsity at Sam Barlow High as a junior but spent a lot of time riding the bench — "so I'm used to it," he said with a laugh.

As a senior, he averaged 13 points but was bothered by a dislocated shoulder. When the season was over, he figured his basketball days were done.

He planned to join the crew at UW but decided after a quarter it wasn't for him. It was freshmen crew coach Fred Honebein — knowing of Potter's basketball background — who suggested he walk on the basketball team.

"I kind of laughed at him," said Potter, who is considering becoming a teacher or coach.

But he gave it a shot anyway, first playing in a few scrimmages with the assistants, including Cameron Dollar, who recommended he join the regular pickup game the team holds each afternoon in the spring.

After a few weeks, Potter began to win over some of the players, notably Nate Robinson, who told Romar to "check out my skinny dude," the one willing to set all the screens and hit the boards and dive on the floor.

One day, New York Knick Jamal Crawford — who often takes part in the pickup games — took Potter aside for a one-on-one game and told him, "You're going to make the team next fall."

Potter did, becoming an official member before the 2003-04 season, which was UW's fourth straight season with a losing record.

The team's quick rise, however, has meant plenty of blowouts the past two years — each bringing a call for Potter from the stands.

He played 41 minutes last year and saw time in two NCAA tournament games, and has played 24 minutes this season, scoring eight points.

He marvels at the small level of fame he has accumulated along the way. While at a coffee shop in Walla Walla this summer with his family, a husband and wife approached and asked, "Are you Zane Potter?"

"My brother was like, 'Are you serious?' " Potter said. "My 15 minutes, I guess."

He figures to get a few more Friday night.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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