James Eayrs doesn't look much like a basketball star. In fact, he looks like a 6'7" version of Jonah Hill from Superbad sometimes. Like Hill, the 300 pound Eayrs rose from obscurity to become a cultural touchstone—in the Horizon League.
The nickname is new. The Panthers brought a 5-0 Horizon record into last Friday night's matchup with Wisconsin-Green Bay. ESPNU announcer Jim Chones watched the big man setting picks and spontaneously slapped the moniker "Big Lumber" on him. Colleague David Kaplan picked the nickname up and ran with it as Eayrs' full skill set came to light throughout the game.
He displayed deft footwork in scoring his 13 points in that contest, often going around opponents rather than through them. His endurance off of the bench was also a pleasant surprise. Big Lumber played 35 minutes in the game and still had the legs to launch a game-tying three-pointer in the final minute of play. By the end of the game, Big Lumber was a star.
Damon Lewis was at the game, filing live reports for the Horizon League's website. "We were live blogging and started getting comments from people talking about 'Big Lumber'" Lewis said "We thought our readers were making it up, but come to find out…it was coming from the ESPNU broadcast. People were going nuts when he made that trey."
The threes are astonishing. The junior made four of four against Wright State earlier this season, and has hit 19 of 52 on the year so far for a 36% mark. That's enough to keep defenses from packing the middle when Big Lumber gets the ball.
Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter pegged the transfer from North Dakota State College of Science as someone who would surprise opponents. The Minnesota native weighed 390 coming out of high school, but dedicated effort has helped him slim down to his current 310. As Eayrs gets more comfortable in the Milwaukee offense, his scoring numbers continue to rise. In a non-conference tilt against SIU-Edwardsville this week, Big Lumber notched his first D1 double-double, going for 22 points and 12 rebounds. If the Panthers continue to lead the Horizon League, the local legend could go national in the NCAA tournament.
The Milwaukee Panthers are a half-game behind the Butler Bulldogs for the Horizon lead, but they'll have to wait to try to unseat the defending league champs. Youngstown State comes to visit on January 15th, with Syracuse-beating Cleveland State in town two days later. Then it's a roadie to Homer Drew's Valpo Crusaders on the 22nd before Big Lumber can try to work his magic at Hinkle on January 24th.
The guy works hard. Don't be surprised if he's under three bills by then.