In Los Angeles, where the Bradys never die but go into
syndication and finally into general release on feature-length
celluloid, there's another sitcom just waiting for a good script.
Call it -- why not? -- The Harrick Bunch. A stock cast of siblings
keeps the household humming. There are a few impish and brash
young ones, one of whom does a right-on imitation of dear ol' dad.
There is a large, scholarly youngster, a transfer student with a
weird haircut and a major league IQ who becomes part of the
family. There are two older brothers, one tall, one small, who cut
up from time to time but still keep the house in order. There is
the beleaguered, somewhat out-of-it father, the kind of guy who
burns the morning toast and pronounces INXS as ``Inks,'' but whose
loyalty to his brood is never questioned. Finally, there is the
stern grandfather, the legendary head of the clan, a quiet and
retiring gentleman who shows up from time to time to teach the
family about class and dignity and a few lessons about history.
Once in a while things turn serious in a sitcom, and when the
chips are down, the Harricks, just like the Stones and the Bradys
and the Nelsons before them, pull together. That makes for a good
sitcom, and on Monday night in Seattle it made for awfully good
college basketball. The Harrick Bunch jumped and bumped for 40
minutes against defending national champion Arkansas, and the
result was an 89-78 victory that gave UCLA its first NCAA title
since 1975, back when the sainted grandfather, John Wooden, was
running the show.
Somehow UCLA, a team with a 30-2 record and a pedigree like that
of the New York Yankees, was seen by many as the underdog going
into the final in placid, latte-sipping Seattle. After knocking
off North Carolina 75-68 in the semifinals, Arkansas seemed too
strong and too focused on repeating as champion to let an imposter
from that surfer-dude conference, the Pac-10, stand in its way.
And that was before one of the older brothers of this bunch, guard
Tyus Edney, apparently the only man in civilization who could
break the Razorback press, was sidelined by the sprained right
wrist he suffered in Saturday's 74-61 semifinal win over Oklahoma
State. Even when it was announced that Grandfather was coming to
Seattle, only his second Final Four visit in a decade, the story
line seemed destined to lead to Hog Country, not L.A.
But, said Bruin backup point guard Cameron Dollar, one of the
young kids, ``when one of our brothers can't step up to the plate,
you have to pick it up and lift your game.'' That's exactly what
the Harrick Bunch did.
Before we go on, let's meet the rest of the clan. There's the
father, Jim Harrick, who has never lost his West Virginia twang,
though he drove his beat-up '60 Chevy Bel Air to Los Angeles 31
years ago and is now on top of a profession in which he was once a
whipping boy. Senior Ed O'Bannon is son number one, a player of
preternatural maturity who will be moving out of the house soon --
he probably made himself $50 million with his 30-point, 17-
rebound, three-steal performance, perhaps the best final-game
individual showing since Kentucky's Jack Givens poured in 41
points in the 1978 final against Duke. Edney is son number two.
Although he played only three painful minutes, he stayed active on
the bench, offering encouragement and point guard perspective to
the youngsters, and, when it was over, MVP O'Bannon grabbed a
microphone, pulled Edney onto the platform and told the crowd,
``Yo, yo, yo, that's the real MVP right there.''
The middle son, forward Charles O'Bannon, really is Ed's brother,
and he was a microversion of Ed on Monday night with 11 points,
nine rebounds and a sensational early block on Arkansas muscleman
Corliss Williamson that set the we-fear-no-one tone for the game.
``Those O'Bannons,'' said Hog guard Alex Dillard, ``are the
truth.'' The transfer-student son is George Zidek, a 7-footer
with gentle-giant charm, a brainy type who once took a law school
entrance exam in his native Czechoslovakia and placed in the top
25 of 8,000. Zidek scored 14 points, two of them anachronistically
by putting in what Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton had a few
days earlier called ``that, big, soft, swinging hook shot.''
Then there are the young members of the bunch. Dollar, the
sophomore stand-in for Edney, sounds at once like the Fresh
Prince and the son of a former high school basketball coach, which
he is. Two days before he was to face the daunting Arkansas
pressure, Dollar proclaimed the Hogs' trapping defense to be
``somewhat of a gimmick.'' He then went out and exposed it as
such, dribbling through it with abandon, whipping lookaway passes
(he had eight assists) and coaxing grimaces and grins out of his
expressive face like a 6'1" version of Magic Johnson.
The other youngster is freshman guard Toby Bailey, the
impressionist who does a great Harrick (``Now we just didn't get
much outta that Toby Bailey. That boy just cain't guard the
three'') and an even better Zidek (``The game was suitable to my
liking''). Early in the season Bailey became discouraged because
he wasn't playing well. So former Bruin star Michael Warren (a
real- life actor; you can't throw a stone in L.A. without hitting
one) took him over to Wooden's house for a three-hour private
counseling session with Grandfather. Wooden's sage and prescient
words were these: ``You'll be needed. I can't tell you exactly
when, but you'll be needed.'' He was needed on Monday, and he came
through with 26 slashing points, thanks to a remarkable knack for
finding holes in the Razorback defense.
Before the game Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson talked about
UCLA's penchant for making plays, a seemingly elementary
observation but an accurate one. The Bruins seemed to be the only
team in the tournament with the athleticism to turn the
Razorbacks' 40 Minutes of Hell back on the Hogs. One example: With
1:39 left and UCLA leading 79-71, Bailey came charging down the
middle. Dollar, in the right corner, shouted, ``Toe-bee!'' in an
effort to get him to pull the ball back out. Toby may or may not
have heard him, but he continued his full-tilt boogie to the
basket and laid in the two points that all but spelled the end for
Arkansas. They make plays.
The Bruins also had a sound game plan. On defense they used
Zidek's 250-pound brawn to muscle Williamson away from the
basket. That let the weakside defenders make their own decisions
as to when to come for the double team. ``No zero-footers'' was
one of the Bruins' defensive rallying cries all season, and
Williamson, who made only 3 of 16 shots, will testify that the
strategy worked. On offense the Bruins ran when they had the
chance (or whenever Bailey had the ball) and all but eschewed the
three-pointer, partly because they don't have an outside marksman
but also because they didn't want to, in the words of assistant
coach Steve Lavin, ``settle for the three.'' (They made 2 of 7
treys, the Razorbacks 10 of 28.)
UCLA played so well, in fact, that a few of Harrick's many
detractors no doubt believed that the 84-year-old Wizard had
reached into his memory bank and hatched the game plan. Well, he
hadn't. Wooden arrived in Seattle on Monday and slipped into the
Kingdome with as little fanfare as possible, considering that the
event was the basketball equivalent of Zeus arriving by winged
chariot. He assiduously avoided the Bruins' locker room before the
game -- that scene will have to be added in the screenplay -- and
with 1:25 remaining and the issue safely in hand, he left his
second-row seat opposite the team benches, rolled-up stat sheet in
hand, and was escorted from the building.
``Congratulations, Coach!'' a well-wisher called out to him.
``Not to me,'' Wooden replied, ``but to the team.''
Especially to Harrick, who has insisted that Wooden remain a part
of the UCLA program. ``All I know was that I wanted the best coach
in history in my corner,'' Harrick said. ``The greatest experience
I've had in sports is associating with him.''
They get together a few mornings a month at Coco's in the Valley,
the Wizard sprinkling brown sugar on his oatmeal -- doesn't it
figure that Wooden is an oatmeal man? -- and sprinkling the air
with the wisdom of the ages. ``It's the best classroom in the
world,'' says Harrick, who, until he took this season's team to
the Final Four, was more lizard than wizard in those mean, clean
streets of Westwood. ``And a lot of time it's not even about
basketball. Coach Wooden holds court on recruiting, the O.J.
trial, his philosophy of life, anything.''
When Wooden can't attend a game, he frequently calls Harrick
afterward, always beginning with the same salutation. ``Jim, we
the alumni. . . .'' Having a joke about the pressures of the UCLA
job is the special bond Harrick shares with the Wizard. Wooden
still bristles at the memory of dealing with the relentless
expectations of the Bruin alumni, the cavalier way they came to
assume that UCLA would win national titles, as if all Wooden ever
had to do was just roll up his program and holler, ``Throw it in
Harrick has never been anyone's favorite. He has remained, in his
mind, the perpetual outsider, not just to the Wooden loyalists and
outspoken Bruin legends like Bill Walton, but also to an athletic
administration that had him well down on its list of candidates
when Walt Hazzard, the fifth in the line of Wooden's successors,
was fired after the1987-88 season. Denny Crum, Mike Krzyzew ski,
perpetual candidate Larry Brown and the late Jim Valvano were all
courted for the Bruin job, but only Harrick, the low-profile
caretaker from just down the Pacific Coast Highway at Pepperdine,
was receptive. When he didn't get UCLA to the Final Four, and when
he complained publicly that his financial compensation was not in
line with that of coaches at other high- profile schools, and when
he appeared apoplectic on the sidelines when things went wrong,
the coach became an almost tragic figure, Harrick Agonistes, the
vise of UCLA pressure tightening year after year as he died a slow
death on the bench, one hand on his throat, the other in the air
to protest a call.
Harrick claims the pressures were never that bad. ``I've lived a
vanilla life,'' he says in typical Harrick-ese. ``Thirteen years
as a high school coach [at Morningside High in L.A., which is
where he first met Wooden] without a bad word said about me. Six
years [four at Utah State, two at UCLA under Gary Cunningham] as
an assistant, which is a job so anonymous they don't even count
you in the census. Nine years at Pepperdine [during which he won
five West Coast Athletic Conference titles] that were great. Even
my first four years here weren't bad. It was only when talk radio
got ahold of me that it got nasty.''
What hurt most were the critics who said he wasn't a sound game
coach. That's precisely what he was considered when UCLA hired
him, the also-ran X's- and-O's guy who dutifully went to the
clinics, learned the game from the bottom up, ran the dry mop over
the practice floor and went ``19 years before I made $25,000,''
not that he was counting. Arkansas's Richardson has taken the
I-don't-get-no-recognition-for-being-a-great-coachtheme and run
with it, but compared with Harrick, Richardson was considered in
most quarters a regular, well, JohnWooden.
Harrick did have things to learn, however. ``The kids at
Pepperdine were the kind who ran through walls if I asked them
to,'' he says. ``The UCLA kids were, for the most part, the kind
who said, `Why do you want me to run through a wall?' ''
Harrick needed several years to learn how to motivate a bluer-chip
athlete than he was accustomed to coaching. He didn't do badly --
he won 72% of his games even before this season -- but his teams
usually flamed out at tournament time. Or, as Walton put it last
year before making up with Harrick this season, they tended to
``peak against the Sisters of Mercy, then drop right down.'' The
biggest drop was last year's disastrous first-round loss to Tulsa.
Had the Bruins underachieved this season, he may have been fired.
Then again, the talk shows had fired him a long time ago.
But now he's the unlikely toast of the town. Harrick says he owes
a debt ``I can never repay'' to Ed O'Bannon, a player of character
and commitment, of skill and substance. Of all O'Bannon's
contributions to the UCLA program, the most important might've
come on the night that he approached Harrick after a game and
said, ``Good job on the bench tonight, Coach.'' That meant a lot
to Harrick, who, no matter what he says, fought many battles
against insecurity while sitting in the Wizard's chair.
Then there is Edney, whose remarkable play at the point lifted
UCLA into the final game. Describing what it was like to fill in
for him on Monday, Dollar said, ``It was like the running back who
runs all the way down the field, gets tackled at the one-yard
line, and they send the fullback in to score the touchdown.''
As for Harrick, he is left with a nearly full treasure chest of
talent, players like Bailey, Dollar, Charles O'Bannon and fine
freshman forward J.R. Henderson. Clearly, the show in Westwood
will go on. Best of all, Harrick has another valuable resource
still at his disposal, a man with a sharp mind and a nimble wit.
Order the oatmeal, Dad, and pull up a chair.