A FREE SPIRIT : His Nickname Was ‘Psycho’ and His Pet a Python, but Long Beach’s Jacobs Gives 100% on Basketball Court

Times Staff Writer

The days when he owned an 8-foot python and went by the name “Psycho” have passed, but Rolf Jacobs of Cal State Long Beach remains an eccentric in the world of college basketball.

“He’s a free spirit, he’s going to be himself,” Seth Greenberg, a 49er assistant, said of Jacobs, a senior from Fountain Valley High School who has stepped in as a starting forward 2 years after being dropped from the University of Arizona team for playing too roughly during practice.

“When they made him, they threw away the mold,” 49er center John Hatten said.

Jacobs’ father named him Rolf after the smartest man he ever knew, a fellow student at Oberlin College in Ohio, but Hatten calls Jacobs “Golf.”


“In the hotels he makes calls home collect and you can hear him tell the operator, ‘Rolf, like in golf, with an R,’ ” Hatten said.

Equipped with cleverness and sharp elbows, Jacobs wears No. 13 on his uniform and plays with little regard for his or anyone else’s welfare. He is a good passer and makes deft moves to the basket--though he sometimes misses easy shots. But he often gets his own rebound, using his 6-foot-7-inch height and arms that fit into shirts with 37-inch sleeves.

“One thing about Rolf, you always get everything he’s got,” 49er Coach Joe Harrington said. “He puts out 100% all the time. I know he misses shots and makes turnovers, but you pick up the stat sheet and he’ll have steals and assists and 8 or 9 points.”

Jacobs has paid for his style of play.

“He’s got scars all over his body; the kid looks like he’s been in Vietnam,” Hatten said.

Harrington says Jacobs tends to play too fast on offense, and Jacobs agrees.

“I feel if I don’t do something quick, somebody will take the ball from me,” said Jacobs, who weighs only 190 pounds. “You can tell by looking at me that I’m not the strongest player.

The urgency he displays on the court can be traced to his childhood.

“I was incredibly hyperactive when I was young,” he said. “I’m still going 100 m.p.h. too fast.”

Jacobs shrugged.

“It’s just maturity, I’m not there yet,” he said. “I didn’t mature as fast as my friends. I’m still fighting the razor once a week--that’s a joke about puberty. I’m not a very hairy person; I have about 12 whiskers. My friends in the eighth grade all looked like bears.”

On Jan. 16 in Stockton, after the 49ers had defeated University of the Pacific, Jacobs had a gash on the bridge of his nose--not surprising since he had spent most of the game entangled with other bodies.

“No, a ball hit me in the nose during warm-ups before the last game,” he said.

Jacobs, 22, began his college career--and an unhappy experience--at Arizona.

“Me and (Lute) Olson never saw eye to eye,” Jacobs said of the Arizona coach. “I just didn’t work in the off-season like he wanted me to. I’m a typical California basketball player. When the season is over, I put the ball in the closet. There are other things in life. In California there are many things to do--water skiing, boating--but not in Arizona. The only things to do there were play ball and cruise up and down Speedway Boulevard (in Tucson).”

And keep his huge snake company.

“It was a quiet pet I could keep in my dorm room,” he said of Caesar the python. “Something like a fish, good to look at.”

The dorm’s most eagerly awaited activity came once a month when, before a large audience, Jacobs would feed Caesar a rabbit.

Jacobs also has a fondness for spiders and will not hesitate to pick one up.

“But I’m afraid of things that fly and sting,” he said, recalling a time in Tucson when a bee flew in his car.

“I got out and started running,” he said. “Cars were honking.”

He was nicknamed “Psycho” at Arizona as much for his maniacal tendencies on the court as for his resemblance to a young Anthony Perkins.

Jacobs did not play much his first 2 years with the Wildcats, but at the beginning of his junior season he expected to be a key contributor.

“I’m determined to start or be the sixth man, I’m playing tough as nails (in practice),” Jacobs said. That, he said, displeased starters Sean Elliott, Tom Tolbert and Anthony Cook.

“Those kids are crybabies,” he said. “They’d grunt, and the coaches would look at me.”

One day, after Jacobs--unintentionally, he said--hit Elliott, the team’s star, in the face while going in for a layup, Olson sent Jacobs out of practice. Shortly after, he was dropped from the team.

“He had a number of skirmishes,” said Butch Henry, an Arizona assistant athletic director. “Rolf’s a nice kid, but he’d get in practice and elbows would start flying. He threw one elbow too many.”

Jacobs enrolled at Cal State Long Beach in the fall of ’87 and worked and went to school.

“I was a regular human being for a whole year,” he said.

Out of habit, he played basketball 3 nights a week in church and industrial leagues. “As soon as this (his college career) is over, I’ll probably do the same thing,” he said. “My father played till he was 30; I guess I’ll follow in his footsteps.”

Ron Jacobs was a high school star in Hamilton, Ohio, and later played at Oberlin.

His son’s return to college competition was hastened last summer when Andre Purry, a 49er starting forward, severely injured his knee. When that happened, Harrington remembered saying, “Where the heck is that guy from Arizona?”

“He’s helping us a lot,” said Harrington, whose team is 7-9 after winning five of its past eight games.

“I couldn’t be happier I did what I did,” Jacobs said. “This is something I can take with me forever.”

There have been no incidents at practice.

“He does have pointy little elbows,” Hatten said. “But he always apologizes.”

In their hotel room in Stockton, Jacobs said to forward Jeff Eastin, “Have I ever taken a cheap shot or hit anybody in the head? No.”

Eastin agreed.

But Jacobs won’t hesitate to get physical with an opponent.

“I wouldn’t say I like to fight, but I don’t have any fear,” he said. “If somebody has an attitude I can be as big an . . . as anybody else. I won’t lay down and play dead like a dog.”

In addition to basketball, Jacobs’ loves are his girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, woodworking and water skiing, which he does barefooted on feet that, when not in the water, require size 16 or 17 shoes.

The Jacobs’ home in Fountain Valley holds the things he has made, among them a grandfather clock, cedar chests and a bedroom set. A construction major, he wants to build custom homes someday.

He does not spend his spare time in front of a TV set. “I don’t watch basketball, I don’t watch sports,” he said. “Only water-skiing tournaments, and they’re only on every 3 months.”

He says he does not know his statistics--he averages 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 8 points a game--nor does he have any interest in them. That, he knows, places him far from today’s fanatical fans.

“You run into a guy in a bar and he knows your life story and every other player’s. I say, ‘OK, that’s great, let’s throw darts.’ ”

The seriousness with which coaches take basketball also amuses Jacobs.

“I’ll throw a couple of passes away on purpose just to see Coach Greenberg light up,” he said with a smile.

Greenberg just shook his head when informed of that, though he did not look surprised.

Jacobs has always strived to be the best, but he realizes it will probably never be in basketball. “If not, I’ll just keep trying to be the best at something,” he said. “I’ll be the best husband to Samantha. And if that’s all I’ll ever be best at, fine.”

He acquired his philosophy of life from his mother, Sahara Jacobs.

“When I was feeling down at Arizona, she sent me a plaque with a poem on it,” he said. “The last line was, ‘What’s done is done, tomorrow is another day.’ I keep telling myself that.”