Sometime during his four years, he developed the look. The one opposing teams hate to look at. The one that could stunt growth in college basketball players.
While he stood at halfcourt before a game, it made your hair stand on all ends.
His team warming up in front of him, he just stood there, slightly swaying back and forth, and staring. He may not have even been staring at anything in particular - just staring. And if you met eyes with that stare, you just hoped he was nice enough not to turn you into stone.
It was the look that changed him as a player. He was no longer just a flamboyant athlete, Ron Slay was now a leader.
Maybe to be more precise, he was a general, and he looked the part too. With his soldiers spread out in front of him stretching, he was always preparing for war.
And according to one of his teammates, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward was a great general. Just like ... well, apparently the world's most infamous diminutive general.
"Napoleon was a little bitty guy, but he was known for his mouth, for his talking, for his confidence in his army," rising sophomore center Boomer Herndon said. "He was a conqueror, and he did a lot."
Slay's senior year, he did his share. Returning from a torn ACL, suffered midway through his junior season, he did just about everything his senior season. AP SEC Player of the Year. AP third-team All-American. Dick Vitale's "Comeback Player of the Year." And go ahead and chalk up The Daily Beacon's 2003 Male Athlete of the Year.
Of all his accolades, nothing stood out more during his last year at Tennessee than his ability to turn a freshman point guard into a seasoned veteran in a matter of weeks. Before the season started, all Slay would say about C.J. Watson was, "you'll see ... I promise you, you'll see."
The SEC saw too many times a chemistry between the senior and the freshman that was borderline uncanny. At times, it looked like they had played together since they were kids.
"I think it was just things in our game that were similar," Watson said of the connection between the two. "I know that going into the season, Ron had a lot of high expectations, and so did I."
Slay's expectations and his more conservative senior attitude carried his team further than anyone - other than he, himself - could have predicted. Despite his off-the-court bravado, Slay learned how to control his energy his senior year.
A tough act for someone called a "joker" by Tennessee's freshman class.
"I think only Slay could (balance the two traits)," Herndon said. "His type of personality was the only one where I could see that work ... his whole mindset switches once he touches the floor."
That couldn't have hurt his relationship with Watson, who does a good job fooling media and fans with his quiet, composed mentality on the floor and in interview rooms.
When he doesn't have a basketball in his hands, Watson said he's got some Slay in him when it comes to being a clown.
"Actually, sometimes I thought I was up on his level," he said. "A lot of times I thought I was, but he would put me right back down."
But if Watson had anything on Slay, it was definitely his speed - which he used when he could.
"He was sitting down once, and I jumped up behind him and started punching him," Watson said. "I ran, and he couldn't catch me."
But when he did, Watson said Slay always got him back. He and the rest of the freshmen were ready for Slay's off-the-floor personality though. Herndon and Watson had heard all the stories before they even got on campus, including when Slay wore a "Scream" mask onto the court for his first game as a freshman.
He also said none of his freshman teammates this year had the "guts" to pull a similar stunt. But the wild and bizarre didn't stop there for Slay.
"The stories they tell about him his first time on campus ... he said, 'My name is Ron Slay ... S-L-A-Y,'" Herndon said. "He spelled it out for everybody. He made his presence known."
Herndon, who went to Donelson Christian Academy in Nashville, felt Slay's presence long before he came to Tennessee. Herndon was a young project, still being developed, when Slay owned Nashville high school basketball at Pearl-Cohn with teammate and former Vol defensive tackle John Henderson.
"Him and John (Henderson) were the story of the city," Herndon said. "They were the kings of basketball. (Slay) was the king, and everybody talked about him."
It was tough not to talk about him, and of course it was tough not to talk about the headband. Now a trend that spreads through all levels of the sport, Slay will still adamantly claim he started it all.
Whether or not he was the rebirth of the headband, it's tough to argue his influence on teammates. By the end of the season, seven UT players had worn a headband at some point during the season.
When he was injured his junior year, his teammates all sported black headbands in mourning for the next few games.
But despite being Slay's two biggest projects, Watson and Herndon never could try it out, although Watson said he "thought about it." And with all his hair, it might have been tough for Herndon to wear one, according to Slay.
"The first thing he did was joke on my hair being too long," Herndon said.
But that was just Slay. The joker whenever he wasn't playing basketball - and sometimes when he was. But usually the king in front of the crowd.
"When you look at Ron, you wouldn't think Ron's the best athlete," Herndon said. "You wouldn't think he looks like the hardest working guy, but he is. Just like you wouldn't think Napoleon is that kind of guy."
You also wouldn't think Napoleon had the look - certainly not like Slay did. Not his senior year.
Proving to always be unique:
Published: Tue Apr 29, 2003 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 05:08 p.m.