RISING TO THE OCCASION

December 29, 1997

It was a compelling story--the estrangement of Arizona freshman
point guard Mike Bibby from his father, Henry, the former NBA
point guard and now the coach at Southern Cal--but who wants to
get in the middle of that, especially with an 18-year-old kid? I
arrived in Tucson with all the joy of a dentist about to extract
a couple of incisors from a reluctant mouth.

I really didn't know too much about Mike except that he had
scored a lot of points in high school and that he had had very
little contact with his dad. I was surprised when Lute Olson,
the Wildcats' coach, called him "the best guard we've ever
recruited." Arizona was the school of Damon Stoudamire, Khalid
Reeves and Steve Kerr. The kid was better than all of them? He
hadn't even practiced with the Wildcats yet. This was the second
week of school.

"I think he's better than Kobe Bryant," Olson said. "They play
different positions and have different skills, but if I had my
choice, I'd take Mike. If everything works out, we're going to
have some fun this year."

I talked with the kid in an office in the McKale Center, and he
was a sweetheart. He had that 18-year-old mix of maturity and
innocence. The world was opening up for him. He talked about
classes, about how much harder they were in college than in high
school. He talked about living with a roommate, eating dorm
food, taking his dirty laundry home on the weekend to his mother
in Phoenix. He talked candidly and naturally about his
relationship with his dad, who had left the family in 1985 and
become an itinerate coach. Mike made a hard job easy.

"There's this kid in Tucson," I told friends when I returned
home. "You should watch for him."

I sat in my living room in March, five months later, watching
the Arizona celebration on television. I had to smile. The bad
day turned out to be not a bad day at all. I had met an NCAA
champion.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID E. KLUTHO [Mike Bibby in game]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)