They made each other's acquaintance only a few inches from a
basketball rim during a summer-league game nearly three years ago.
Milton Henderson Jr. was streaking down the wing, fully intending
to dunk, when John Garfield Bailey showed up uninvited. What
happened next depends on who's telling the story.
``I swatted him,'' Bailey says. ``He fell down, but I thought I
got all ball.''
Henderson says simply, ``It was a foul.''
Today these two are more commonly known around Westwood as J.R.
(Henderson) and Toby (Bailey), the two freshmen who grew up fast
enough to help bring UCLA its first NCAA championship in two
decades. In reviewing their first meeting, about the only thing
the two players can agree on is that they exchanged words after
the incident. Whenever they crossed paths in the ensuing two
years, Bailey interpreted Henderson's stoic demeanor as a slight,
which kept their relationship frosty until they suddenly found
themselves pulling on the same blue-and-gold uniforms last fall.
April 14, 1995
Even though they now are roommates on road trips, Bailey and
Henderson have little in common. Toby smiles all the time. J.R.
smirks occasionally. Toby plays basketball with passion. J.R.
often looks as if he has lapsed into a coma. Toby does dead-on
impressions of his teammates. J.R. has yet to give a clear
impression of himself.
``It's a bit of an odd combination,'' Bailey says. ``We're like
brothers, but we look at each other all the time and think the
other is a little crazy.''
One of the few things they shared going into this season was the
expectation that neither would contribute this much, this soon, to
the Bruin team. Henderson was recruited from East Bakersfield
High, where he had been tutored on the courts by his father,
Milton Sr., who once played in the same backcourt as Maurice
Cheeks at West Texas State in the mid-'70s. Although J.R.'s skills
attracted attention, his sullen attitude kept him from being
selected to play in the McDonald's all-star game in his senior
season, which he took as a particular slight because he was
working at a Golden Arches at the time.
Bailey was, by his own calculation, the least celebrated of UCLA's
'94 quartet of recruits, which included highly touted omm'A Givens
and Kris Johnson, the son of former UCLA standout Marques Johnson.
``I never had a gimmick, so nobody really paid much attention to
me,'' Bailey says. ``I guess I knew I had finally been noticed
when people started coming up to ask me if I was black or white.''
(Bailey is African-American.)
Early in the season Henderson received more playing time than
Bailey. In a Dec. 3 game against Kentucky, Henderson sank a pair
of free throws with .6 of a second remaining to help the Bruins
defeat the Wildcats. Then, on Jan. 7 at Oregon State, he began a
run of 13 consecutive starts. ``He wasn't exactly excited that
night,'' Bruin coach Jim Harrick remembers. ``In fact, I thought
he was going to sleep at the jump ball.''
Bailey reached the crossroads of his season at just about the
time Henderson surfaced as a hero. After playing just 10 minutes
and scoring one point against Kentucky, Bailey moped in the
locker room. When Ed O'Bannon noticed this, he tore into Bailey,
reminding him that the team comes first. The message was later
reinforced by another inspirational figure. Bailey -- who hadn't
even been born when John Wooden coached his last title team, in
'75 -- went off to see the Wizard, flabbergasted that Wooden
even knew his name. The two visited for three hours, and Wooden
offered this advice: ``You'll be needed. I can't tell you
exactly when, but you'll be needed.''
Bailey waited patiently, and on Feb. 21 he stepped into
the starting lineup, into Henderson's shoes, and started every
game after that. At season's end the production of the two
freshmen was strangely similar. Bailey averaged 10.5 points and
4.8 rebounds, Henderson 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds, and each had
at various times been labeled the finest freshman at UCLA since
Don MacLean in '89. ``I never regarded those two as freshmen,''
center George Zidek says. ``They came in here with the maturity of
sophomores, and after all the responsibility we have given them,
they are a lot like seniors already.''
In some ways they are still a lot like freshmen, however, and
that's often when their tag team works best. Against Cal at
Pauley, Bailey had just two points; Henderson chipped in with 22.
Later, in a huge home win over Arizona, Henderson scored just four
points, and Bailey picked him up with 19.
``Sometimes I think we're a part of each other out there on the
court,'' Henderson has said. ``When you hear one of our names
called, the other one wants his name called not far behind.''
Finally, in the NCAA championship game against Arkansas, it was
Bailey's name that was called over and over as he equaled
his season best by scoring 26 points to seal UCLA's title. ``Not
bad for a rookie, huh?'' he said, beaming as a mob of fans
Meanwhile, Henderson sat quietly in a corner of the Bruin locker
room, enjoying the moment in his own way. ``I'm happy,'' Henderson
said, ``but if you know me you understand that I can only smile
for so long.''
Maybe Henderson was already thinking about next season. ``Because
they were freshmen, we never put the safe on either one of their
backs and said, You're the man, you have to carry us,'' Harrick
says. ``But wait till next year.''
You'll be needed. . . .