Get To Know The ‘Fro

SOPHIA CHANG/New University

Mike Wilder sat on the couch with his cousin, frustrated and annoyed. Annoyed because he and his cousin had  not slept enough the night before. Frustrated because his hair refused to cooperate. It was just one of those days toward the end of his senior year of high school where he tried to comb his hair one way and it would go in the opposite direction.

Wilder sprung to his feet.

“I’m tired of this. It’s coming off right now,” he said as he walked off to the bathroom.

The words alarmed Wilder’s cousin.

“Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you want to do this?” his cousin asked as he followed Wilder into the bathroom.

“Just chill, Mike. Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

“I’m doing it,” he replied. Wilder grabbed the hair clippers from the bathroom and put them next to his hair. He had just been accepted to UC Irvine, committed to play basketball and wanted a fresh start. The fresh start added fuel to his annoyance and frustration that tempted him to cut his afro. But he couldn’t do it.

Wilder’s cousin began to dissuade him. The thought about his friends begging him not to cut his hair rushed through Wilder’s head. Wilder put the clippers down. His cousin grabbed the clippers and turned them off. It was not his cousin or his friends that stopped him, but it was his father that helped him decide.

“The deciding factor was actually talking to my dad,” Mike said. “He said, ‘do what you feel. Don’t listen to [your friends]. Don’t even listen to me.’ So I just sat down and thought about it and decided to keep it.”

Since that day during his senior year, Mike’s hair has never been that close to extinction. His father may have played a major role in keeping the afro, but he also influenced Wilder into growing one. When Wilder was in the seventh grade, he saw some childhood pictures of his father sporting a giant afro.

“Looking at those pictures made me want an afro. I always wanted to be like my dad,” Wilder said. “My mom and dad were hesitant to let me grow it out and finally in the summer after seventh grade, they said, ‘alright we will let you grow it out as long as you take care of it.’”

Now, Wilder is known and recognized because of his signature hair. To this day, he honors his parents’ wish of taking care of his afro. Depending on what side he sleeps on, Wilder can spend up to three minutes trying to pick out his hair. He tries to wash it every other day, but he admits that sometimes it gets difficult due to practice or games.

Wilder’s signature hairstyle has made him a crowd favorite and brought some unexpected attention to the sophomore guard. During this year’s homecoming game, about a dozen students donned afros to the basketball game because of Wilder’s hair.
“I couldn’t stop laughing when I first saw [the afros] during the homecoming game,” Wilder said. “It was real cool. I really appreciate that they did that for me.”

However, if a dozen students wearing afros to one of Wilder’s games sounds strange, it gets better. Many players and coaches joke around with the Long Beach native that he has the ability to hide things in his hair. Although players and coaches may find the humor in that, some don’t.

During Wilder’s junior year of high school, his basketball team participated in a tournament in Hawaii. As Wilder was going through airport security, he was subjected to a random airport screening. The security officer at the airport parted Wilder’s hair to make sure he was not hiding anything in his afro.

“It was the first time it ever happened. It seemed like he was serious,” Wilder said. “It was a little awkward, not because he was parting it, but because I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.”

Wilder’s father was the inspiration behind his son’s afro, but his influence extends further than his hairdo. As a child and throughout high school, Wilder played baseball and volleyball but decided to drop those two sports for basketball because of his father.

“My dad played basketball in high school but didn’t play in college because he went to the Navy,” Wilder said. “He was a really good player. We still play together today. He will come over [to Irvine] and we play at the ARC.”

During these games at the ARC, Wilder’s father is able to have a greater influence on his son. Using certain techniques against bigger players in the post, reading different players and plays, making smart plays and having a high basketball IQ are things that Wilder’s father stresses in his son.

The influence his father has provided also sparked Wilder to hone his skill set. After the 2009-10 season ended, the guard made it a priority to fine-tune his footwork, outside shooting, ball handling and quickness. The improvements that Wilder made have become evident this season, as his points per game have jumped from four to 10. He also leads the team with 36 3-pointers on the season.

After his tenure at UCI comes to an end, Wilder would like to continue playing basketball at the professional level, whether it is in the U.S. or overseas. If the basketball route fails, Wilder will put his future degree in social psychology and behavior to use. He would like to go into youth counseling or sports psychology.

As for whether his hair stays or goes: “I’m not sure yet,” Wilder said in reference to cutting it. “I’m going to keep it throughout my time here. Maybe when it is time to go into the business world, depending on what’s required, I might have to cut it off. But I would like to keep it as long as I can.”