THE BRUINS ARE NOT IN RUINS
WITH SELECTION SUNDAY for the NCAA tournament less than a month
away, almost every college basketball expert alive is more than
willing to make his picks for the Final Four. Massachusetts,
Kentucky, Kansas, Connecticut and Cincinnati are the teams most
frequently mentioned. Villanova, Georgetown and Wake Forest have
their backers too. The one name that almost never seems to come
up is the defending national champion, UCLA.
You remember the Bruins. They're the guys that actually dropped
completely out of the polls after a 2-3 start in December and
haven't been in the Top 10 since. Well, UCLA coach Jim Harrick
says people better beware of his Bruins come the ides of March
and thereafter. "I don't want this team to be peaking now," he
said last week just before UCLA headed north to play California
and Stanford. "March is what it's all about, and I honestly
believe when we get to March, we're going to be a force to be
reckoned with. We're young, but we've got the potential to be
pretty good before this is over."
The Bruins aren't bad right now. After scoring the last nine
points of the game to beat Cal 73-65 last Thursday, UCLA ran
into trouble at Stanford on Saturday and lost 67-66, but its
record stood at an impressive 16-6. And the Bruins remained in
first place in the Pac-10 race at 9-2, a game ahead of the
Harrick isn't just spewing coachspeak when he says UCLA is
young. The Bruins start one junior (Charles O'Bannon), three
sophomores (Toby Bailey, J.R. Henderson and Kris Johnson) and a
freshman center (Jelani McCoy). Their lack of experience has, at
times, led to woeful inconsistency, but Harrick, who is 57,
hasn't let that get to him. He concedes that the national
championship has changed him--for the better. No longer does he
feel he has to prove himself in every game. No longer does he
think he has to stay up all night looking at film. "I've even
taken my wife to the movies a couple of times this season," he
said. "Used to be, I'd never do that."
The Bruins' rough start in December can be attributed in part to
his patience. He mixed and matched players as he tried to find
his best lineup before Pac-10 play started. With Ed O'Bannon,
Tyus Edney and George Zidek gone to the NBA, UCLA's team had to
be completely reshaped. "I don't want to say losing was good for
us, but it was inevitable," says Charles O'Bannon, who has gone
from being Ed's little brother to this team's big-brother
figure. "Everyone was being asked to do things he hadn't had to
do before. We had to learn the hard way."
Charles is a case in point. He readily admits he wasn't
comfortable trying to step into his brother's shoes as team
leader. "Leadership isn't something that just happens," he says.
"You have to earn it by the way you deal with tough times."
O'Bannon started earning it after the Bruins blew a 19-point
first-half lead and lost at Kansas on Dec. 2. He called a
players-only meeting to throw down the gauntlet to his younger
teammates. "I just told them, playing well for a half didn't
mean anything," he said. "If we were going to be any good, we
had to be ready to look people in the eye down the stretch."
The Bruins responded by winning their next 10 games, even though
they were hampered by injuries to point guard Cameron Dollar,
who has a torn ligament in his right pinkie and a dislocated
left pinkie. Bailey, who was so brilliant in last year's title
game against Arkansas, has had to move to the point, where he
has been adequate while playing out of position. Harrick usually
gets Dollar in within the first 10 minutes and always has him in
at the end of the game. "He just seems to make plays," says
That was evident against Cal, when Dollar made perhaps the
game's key play with a slick move on the referee. The Bruins
were clinging to a 66-65 lead when Dollar chased down a
Henderson miss on the baseline. He went out-of-bounds with the
ball, and to Harrick's dismay, referee Mark Reischling ruled he
had gone out on his own. Harrick insisted he had been shoved.
When Harrick kept yelling, Reischling started to give the T
signal for a technical foul.
At that point Dollar rushed up to Reischling, put an arm around
his waist and begged, "Please ref, please ref, look, he's calm."
Dollar later said, "It was like sticking a piece of metal in
between the hammer and the firing pin just in time."
The Bruins dodged a bullet that time, but at Stanford they gave
up a 16-2 second-half run that spelled their ruin. "We've still
got a lot to prove," said Charles O'Bannon. But UCLA's players
all know their chance will come--in March. Harrick wouldn't have
it any other way.
Things aren't nearly as upbeat for UCLA's archrival, USC. Before
the season the Trojans put out a glossy media guide with a
picture of new coach Charlie Parker and the promise a new era
begins on the cover. Last week athletic director Mike Garrett
called Parker into his office and fired him, even though USC's
11-10 mark at that point was already a big improvement on last
year's 7-21 final record. Garrett named assistant Henry Bibby
interim coach as rumors swirled that he was trying to lure
former USC star Paul Westphal, the recently deposed Phoenix Suns
coach, back to his alma mater. Garrett denied having spoken to
Westphal about the job, but that might be splitting hairs.
Westphal was let go by the Suns on Jan. 16, and immediately
Garrett's name showed up on the traveling list for Southern
Cal's game at Arizona on Jan. 18. Sources at USC say Garrett met
with Westphal's agent during that trip.
Garrett was vague when asked the reason for his action. Only
last March he had given Parker a partially guaranteed three-year
contract and removed the interim from the title Parker had
gotten when George Raveling resigned for health reasons just
before the start of the 1994-95 season. "I've been trying to
decide if our young people were growing, and I didn't see that,"
said Garrett, who won the Heisman Trophy at USC in 1965. Exactly
what Garrett was looking for is hard to imagine. The Trojans,
with only one senior getting a lot of playing time, were a
respectable 4-5 in conference and were, at the very least, in
position for a possible NIT bid.
"I'm totally dismayed by the unprofessional manner in which I
have been treated by the athletic director," Parker said. "Where
is the justice in this?"
The coaching change didn't exactly pay immediate dividends.
Junior center Avondre Jones, a Parker reclamation project, was
so upset that he didn't make the Trojans' trip to the Bay Area
last week. There USC was buried 99-69 at Stanford in Bibby's
debut last Thursday. Even so, Garrett stuck to his guns. "I
thought it was the best coaching [at USC] I've seen all year,"
FAREWELL TO A FLYER
The death of any young athlete is a tragedy, but the sudden
passing of Dayton center Chris Daniels is particularly sobering.
Early last Thursday morning he collapsed in the house he shared
near campus, and efforts by paramedics to revive him failed; he
was pronounced dead at Miami Valley Hospital shortly after
arriving there. A preliminary toxicology report revealed no
evidence of drugs or alcohol in Daniels's system, but the cause
of death was still unknown at week's end.
Daniels, 6'10" and 238 pounds, was having a remarkable season
for the Flyers. After never having scored more than 6.4 points a
game in any of his previous three seasons with Dayton, he was
averaging 12.9 points and six rebounds and was ranked second in
the nation in field goal percentage, at .679.
Off the court he was a dedicated student. A fifth-year senior,
he had used his time wisely while out with a knee injury his
sophomore year. He had already received his degree in
communications management and was working on a second degree, in
Junior guard Shawn Haughn used to drive Daniels to practice.
Every day for the last three years Daniels would call Haughn 30
minutes before practice and ask for a ride. "I would've picked
him up anyway, but he still called every day," Haughn told SI's
Ashley McGeachy with a hollow laugh last Saturday. "You would've
thought he'd know I'd pick him up even if he didn't call."
The Flyers' game against La Salle, scheduled for the night of
Daniels's death, was canceled, but Dayton did fly to New York to
play Fordham on Saturday. There, after a moment of silence in
Daniels's honor, his teammates tried to carry on without him.
Senior center Marco Pikaar, who is from the Netherlands, got
just his second start of the season in Daniels's place and said
after the Flyers' 68-58 loss, "I'd rather never play basketball
again if that would bring him back. Lots of us put so much
pressure on ourselves for this silly little game. It's just a
After the loss the morose Flyers piled onto a bus and drove to
the glittering Official All-Star Cafe in Manhattan for dinner. A
huge poster of Shaquille O'Neal smiled down on the Flyers as
they entered, and a beaming hostess said, "Oh, yes, Dayton,
party of 33?" The tragic dimension of that question didn't go
unnoticed. Everyone knew the Dayton party was one short.