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That day in Prague was a waking nightmare known to UCLA senior
center George Zidek, a native of the Czech Republic, simply as
``17 November 1989.'' Soldiers armed with batons and attack dogs
had blocked a narrow street that led to Wenceslas Square, where a
peaceful rally had turned violent, and the 7- foot Zidek suddenly
found himself hemmed in. Fearing for his life, he approached a
soldier, who let him go free -- ``I don't know why,'' Zidek says.
Two hours later he returned to find battered people, pools of
blood and torn clothing on the street.

Zidek grew up a dissident, attending three or four anticommunist
rallies a year. Two of his maternal great-grandparents and one
grandfather collectively spent 21 years imprisoned merely because,
Zidek says, they were prosperous store owners. Then came 8
December 1989 -- and the miracle he had longed for. ``If you had
asked me a month before, I would've said there was no way
communism would ever fall,'' he says. ``Then it happened. It gave
me hope that any situation in life can get better. It relates to
basketball in a way: I had hope that I would get off our bench and

Less than two years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Zidek
quit the Czech junior national team and came to UCLA. After two
frustrating seasons on the pine he considered returning home, but
instead he sharpened his ambidextrous hook shot, a favorite weapon
in the arsenal of his father, Jiri, a onetime pro in Europe. For
Bruin fans the sight of Zidek launching his hook conjured up
memories of Lew Alcindor, who -- albeit more prolifically -- had
made the hook shot famous at UCLA. This season Zidek missed only
one start, against Washington State, and averaged 10.6 points and
5.4 boards a game.

When, before the Final Four, Zidek was asked for his thoughts
about winning the national championship, he replied, ``It is my
dream.'' It was a dream that ultimately came true for him on
3 April 1995.
-- Ashley McGeachy

COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN D. TIRPAK On the court, the 7-footer looks up to hardly anyone.[George Zidek]