The first car misses Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso by a
good four inches. The next one, traveling past the North Avenue
gate of the Athletes' Village at the Centennial Olympic Games,
brushes past them so closely it sweeps their shirttails into the
air. Perched atop a long plastic traffic barrier, Padilla and
Travieso, the senior backcourt of the University of
Massachusetts, playing here in Atlanta for their homeland of
Puerto Rico, are sitting in on a unique multinational carnival
that has popped up outside the Village.
On this night Korean athletes are singing songs and giggling
under a nearby tree. Swedish rowers are trading pins with their
Canadian counterparts, while hungry Hungarian weightlifters
munch greasy chili dogs from the famous Varsity restaurant
across the street. As they take in this scene, Padilla and
Travieso are approached by two tiny fans. The kids hold
indelible markers and two Olympic T-shirts, the back sides of
which are filled with autographs.
"Are you guys Padilla and Travieso?" they ask, in unison.
"Yes," the answer comes, in unison.
November 15, 1996
"You guys sign on the front of our shirts, O.K.?"
Four months earlier the unheralded guards had helped the
Minutemen to the school's first Final Four appearance (UMass
lost to national champion Kentucky 81-74 in the semifinals),
thereby becoming the first Latin backcourt to make a Final Four
appearance. Since then they have been hailed as heroes in two
countries, marched in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics,
posted up the world's superpowers, dined with dignitaries and
traded barbs with Dream Teamers. "It's all going by so fast,"
says Travieso. "I was a practice player two years ago. Yesterday
Dino Radja recognized me over at the basketball venue. We're at
the Olympics. Who doesn't dream about that?"
In their dreams, though, Padilla and Travieso probably didn't
spend so much of their Olympic time sitting on the bench. Buried
in a Puerto Rican roster full of veterans, they played sparingly
in Atlanta, averaging less than 16 minutes per game apiece and
four and eight points per game, respectively. The duo did have
one brilliant flash against eventual fourth-place finisher
Australia. Late in the first half, Padilla and Travieso had a
hand in 16 of their team's final 17 points, rallying Puerto Rico
to a 53-51 lead at intermission. As the teams left the court,
fans draped in their country's single-star flag danced and
Eeeedgar, Carmeeeeelo, me gustan.
Eeeedgar, Carmeeeeelo, son buenos.
After the Games ended, P&T played in an under-22 world
tournament qualifier in San Juan before returning to their
western Massachusetts campus. Now they have been entrusted with
their school's legacy, last season's No. 1 ranking and 35-2
record, willed to them by teammate Marcus Camby and coach John
Calipari, both of whom jumped ship to the NBA over the summer.
This year Padilla and Travieso will lead the Minutemen just as
they have done everything else--in tandem. Born on the same day,
May 9, 1975, on the same island, they have both conquered long
odds to reach not one but two pinnacles of amateur basketball.
They play the same position, are roughly the same size (the
6'2", 173-pound Travieso has an inch on Padilla but spots him
two pounds), shared a dorm room for three years and still room
together on the road. "It's gotten to the point," says Travieso,
"that if someone sees me without Edgar they look at me and then
all around me, like I'm hiding him in my back pocket or
Padilla, who led the team in assists (6.7 per game) and steals
(2.9) last season, is a stone-faced defensive pickpocket with
extremely quick hands and feet. Travieso is so strong that
teammates who outweigh the guard by 50 pounds are afraid to
wrestle him. Padilla can be flat-out blunt; Travieso is
slapstick funny, having de-pantsed several teammates during live
television interviews. At a team lunch during the NCAA
tournament last March, Travieso teased 6'7", 260-pound junior
forward Tyrone Weeks about his flowered shorts so relentlessly
that Weeks sneaked back to his room to change. "If there is one
difference between us," says Padilla, "it's that I joke 50
percent of the time and [Carmelo] jokes 120 percent of the time."
Padilla already holds the UMass record for career steals (184)
and is fourth alltime in assists (433). "Defense is about
challenges," he says, adjusting the Puerto Rican flag pendant
engraved with UMASS #12 on his gold chain. "I always look for
challenges because my whole life has been about conquering
them." Raised by deaf parents in Toa Alta, Padilla learned to
shoot by tossing baseballs into an old plastic paint can nailed
to a fence. Without jobs or so much as an English-language
dictionary to guide them, Mariano and Milca Padilla moved their
family to Springfield, Mass., when Edgar was 14. A homesick
Edgar, however, returned to Puerto Rico for his senior year of
high school before following his older brother, Giddel, to
UMass. When Padilla gets a breather during games, he
communicates with his parents in the stands in sign language,
telling them where to meet him afterward. On the court Padilla
and Travieso converse in Spanish, warning each other of picks,
trailing defenders or bad refs with such words as izquierda
(left), detras (behind you) and ciego (blind). When Travieso
fell off an interview platform at the NCAA East Regional in
Atlanta last spring, Padilla was able to contain his laughter
only long enough to ask his friend, "?Estas bien?"
There is one English phrase, though, that has truly pained
Travieso: Play defense. He was told by coaches after his
freshman year to develop some defensa or consider transferring.
So the smooth-jumping Travieso decided to pattern his game after
that of the guy in the bunk above him. As a result, he garnered
more playing time and now holds the school record for
three-pointers in a season (104, in '95-96). Travieso was 11
when his mother, Carmen Pena, moved the family to Boston. He
honed his skills at the local Boys Club, then utilized his speed
to elude street thugs on his way home from the gym each night;
he eventually earned a prep scholarship to Thayer Academy in
Before they were thrown together in Amherst three years ago, P&T
had met just once, in 1992, at a summer hoops camp in Irvine,
Calif. In that first season at UMass they shared the constant
ire of Calipari. "We learned quick that neither one of us was
going to be the next Marcus Camby," says Travieso. "But we were
stuck in the same boat, with the same background, the same work
ethic, the same dream. So we said, 'You stand on my shoulders
and I'll stand on yours, and we'll get there.'"
Certainly Camby--who was selected by the Toronto Raptors with
the No. 2 overall pick of the 1996 NBA draft--was the team's
marquee player last season. But the guts of the squad, the guys
who lived and breathed the motto stitched onto their practice
uniforms, REFUSE TO LOSE, were Padilla and Travieso. At the NCAA
tournament the guards gave their postgame interviews while lying
on the locker room floor, too exhausted to stand. After playing
nearly 500 times together, including stints in the prestigious
Superior League in Puerto Rico, P&T have developed an on-court
radar for each other, lifting their game to a level at which
seamless defensive switches and no-look passes occur with grace
Against Duquesne last January, Travieso swished his first nine
shots on the way to a career-high 33 points and Padilla notched
seven steals and 11 assists as UMass routed the Dukes 93-89. In
the second half of the NCAA East Regional final, the duo shut
down Georgetown's Allen Iverson, holding the No. 1 pick in the
NBA draft to 1-for-10 shooting from the field as UMass breezed
to an 86-62 win. "The two little guys, when they warm up you
just kind of look at them," said Duquesne coach Scott Edgar.
"But after 40 minutes you have to agree they are the best
backcourt in the country."
In an era when many players use college ball as little more than
a minor league for the pros, Padilla and Travieso are more than
just two great guards: They're great teammates. The pair has
formed the kind of backcourt that has become all but extinct in
college basketball, one in which the whole is superior to the
parts. "They play off one another because their skills are so
different," says Calipari, now the coach of the New Jersey Nets.
"It's 'My strength is your weakness and your strength is my
weakness,' and they know that."
Learning to mesh the talents of various players is something
Padilla and Travieso mastered as kids. Growing up, they found it
difficult to fully worship any one of their basketball heroes.
They loved the NBA but had a hard time identifying with stars
like Larry Bird. They followed the careers of countrymen such as
5'9" guard Pablo Alicea, a Puerto Rican pro-league player for
the last decade, yet despaired of Latin players' ever faring
well in the NBA. Bridging that gap for the Latin community has
been the highlight of Padilla and Travieso's journey together.
"The best part about all this is giving people in our community
something to cheer about," says Padilla. "We're very proud to be
the ones to pave a path for Spanish kids interested in
basketball. Paving it all the way to the NBA, we hope."