It's all about the hair for Murray State's Ed Daniel

Pat Forde
Yahoo! Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – About an hour after Murray State beat Colorado State on Thursday in the NCAA tournament, a hirsute summit transpired.

Murray State forward Ed Daniel and his hair met the creator of the Twitter account for Ed Daniel's hair. His name is Kyser Lough, a marketing specialist at Murray-Calloway County Hospital in Murray, Ky. But to Daniel and 563 other followers, he is @Ed_Hair.

@Ed_Hair is an homage to the towering orb of afro that billows out of a headband and elevates Daniel, a junior, from roughly 6 feet 7 to 6-11. It is the coolest hair in the NCAA tournament, if not the world. Which is why it needed its own Twitter account.

"I really never thought my hair would be this fascinating," Daniel said, amused.

Oh, it's fascinating, all right. Fascinating enough that Lough updates the Twitter account with Daniel's individual statistics categorized by hairdo.

There is the "EdFro," which is the standard, Ben Wallace-look afro that Daniel has favored more and more as the season has gone along. There are "EdRows," for the occasions when Daniel plays with his hair in braids. And there is the "BraidFro," which is a combination of the two styles. Lough keeps an Excel spreadsheet to determine what Daniel did in each 'do.

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The data is revealing. I suppose. Lough said Daniel is a better defensive player when braids are involved, and a more dunkalicious player when rocking the EdFro.

Armed with such essential information about the Racers' most important big man, it was essential and inevitable that Ed and his hair meet @Ed_Hair. Daniel said that when the Twitter account first started, he thought it was "a stalker." But when he saw that Lough was only having fun, it was time to get acquainted.

Karma brought Lough to the Yum! Center as a free-lance photographer for the tourney, and he finally had his opportunity to meet them both.

"Seeing the 'fro up close and in person," said Lough, with wonder in his voice, "it's just majestic."

The afro and basketball have had a long, symbiotic relationship. The 1970s were the Golden Era of hoops afros: Dr. J and his hair were flying through the air with the greatest of ease, and there was a power forward named Darnell Hillman who had an afro that seemingly was as wide as his shoulders. Naturally, when CBS aired a basketball drama called "The White Shadow" in the late '70s, one of the characters for Carver High had a prodigious afro of his own.

Then the afro went out of style, in everyday life and on the court. It's mostly stayed that way, but occasionally you'll come across a player with a pile of hair unbraided and let loose. Wallace was the most famous latter-day 'fro in the game, but since he trimmed it a few years back, there's been a vacuum in the big-'do department.

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Enter Ed Daniel, American hair hero. Just in time.

He started growing it out last summer and never got around to cutting it. Steve Prohm, just elevated from assistant to coach, was confronted with a decision to make about his big man's hair when practice started last fall.

He didn't love the look, and he understood that in a small, rural and fairly conservative town such as Murray, a lot of others probably wouldn't either. But he wasn't inclined to make a big deal out of it.

"I read Coach Krzyzewski's book and it said, 'Only fight certain battles,' " Prohm said. "Maybe if I was 48 or 52, I'd have been like, 'Cut your hair.' But I'm 37."

So the hair stayed, and originally was kept in braids. But when Daniel couldn't get it braided in time for the game against Western Kentucky on Dec. 1, Prohm suggested putting a headband on and just going with it.

A signature style was born.

Daniel still alternated between looks for a while. But when he had a bad first half in braids at SIU-Edwardsville Jan. 21 – with Murray 19-0 and the last unbeaten in the nation – teammate Ivan Aska took matters into his own hands. Or hand. With a cast on his broken right hand, Aska began pulling out Daniel's braids in the locker room at halftime – surely a scene that will have a place in Prohm's memoirs one day.

"I just pulled it out and said, 'Where's your headband?' " Aska recalled. "I think he ended up dunking on somebody after that, and we said, 'That's the Ed we love right there.' "

Since then, it's pretty much been all 'fro, all the time. And the fame has spread.

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On campus, fellow students ask to touch it; women never are turned down, but it's a tougher sell for guys. In the locker room, teammates delight in pulling it. In the arena on game days, there are kids and adults in afro wigs and wearing T-shirts that read, "Mr. Ed," and feature a horse with an afro.

"He's just a fanatic with his hair," Aska said. "He's always got to have his hair right, pick it out. He usually don't like us touching it. So if you ask him to touch it, he's going to say 'yes,' but he's not going to let you play around with it for too long."

Saturday night there will be a furious battle of styles in the paint, when Daniel and his afro meet up with Marquette forward Jae Crowder and his ample braided ponytail. The two already are something of a matched pair – thick, physical, athletic-but-undersized post players who figure to spend time guarding each other in the round-of-32 matchup.

No telling who will get the better of that matchup. But Daniel is confident he'll have at least one advantage.

"I'll definitely have the best hair out there," he said.

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