Don't worry about Toby Bailey, the kid who finished his freshman
season at UCLA by scoring 26 points in his team's NCAA
championship victory. Just 20 years old and there he was,
shaking hands with President Clinton at the White House. A
freshman and he's shooting layups on The Tonight Show. No, don't
worry about Toby Bailey. As young and brash as he is, he's dimly
aware that life does not often confer such glory as UCLA
achieved last season. And he's acutely sensitive to the fact
that life rarely affords such celebration twice.
As a freshman--his famous performance against Arkansas
aside--Bailey actually found life to be more struggle than
triumph. A 6'5" leaper who was a scoring machine at Loyola High
in Los Angeles, he had committed to UCLA on the assumption that
he was walking into a starting job there. But then he watched as
Bruin coaches tried to fit Cameron Dollar, a point guard, into
the shooting guard spot that was supposed to be his. When that
didn't work, Bailey was mortified to see J.R. Henderson, a 6'9"
freshman who could handle the ball a bit, placed ahead of him on
the depth chart. "I felt like it was a slap in the face," Bailey
While he agrees that a loss or two is useful in a freshman's
life, Bailey felt this was a case of running up the score. "I
mean, J.R. was my roommate on the road, and I was happy to see
him do well," he says. "Anyway, J.R. is not the kind of guy you
could be mad at. But after that Kentucky game? Man!"
Henderson had scored the winning free throws with less than a
second remaining against the Wildcats on Dec. 3--a game that
served as the first notice of UCLA's return to national
prominence. Bailey, meanwhile, had scored just one point in the
game. "I saw the press coming at me after the game, and I knew
all they were going to ask me is what it's like to room with J.R."
Bailey's despair was profound enough that former Bruin star Mike
Warren, a family friend, arranged a pep talk for him with John
Wooden. The Wizard of Westwood took the frustrated freshman to
lunch and told Bailey that he was certain he would be needed
down the road. "He was telling me things I wanted to hear,"
Bailey says. "And I figured he doesn't lie." (If you wondered
why UCLA coach Jim Harrick was so careful to include Wooden in
all of the celebratory activities at the end of last season,
gratitude for the Toby Talk surely had something to do with it.)
Bailey's turnaround was nearly immediate. Three games after his
lunch with Wooden, he scored 22 points against George Mason. And
then, less than a month later, he scored nine and 19,
respectively, in UCLA's sweep at Arizona and Arizona State, a
road trip that had figured to be tougher than it was. "That's
how it is when you're a freshman--you don't feel the pressure,"
says Bailey. "After Arizona everybody kept saying, 'You guys
don't realize what you just did.'"
By then Bailey was getting all of the playing time he could
handle and was no longer subject to the kind of funk that had
prompted senior forward Ed O'Bannon to dress him down in the
locker room after an early-season game. It turned out that
Bailey flourished near the basket, slashing and dunking, giving
opponents the willies with his 41-inch vertical leap. By
midseason Harrick was marveling, saying, "I've never had a guy
who just stepped up and said, 'I'm going to dunk on you.'"
Neither Bailey's bravado nor his soaring dunks could be denied
any longer. By the time the Bruins swung through the Pac-10 a
second time, Bailey was starting and Henderson was the first man
off the bench. Still, Bailey was a freshman, and it showed: No
one game of his resembled the next. The last weekend of the
regular season he scored 14 points against Oregon State on
Saturday and four against Oregon on Sunday.
His play in the NCAA tournament was similarly schizophrenic,
although Bailey says that was all a matter of game plan.
"There's a big difference," he says, "between a fast-paced game,
when I'm in the middle of things, and a slow one, when I might
be the last option." In the final of the West Regional against
Connecticut, he scored 26 points and had nine rebounds. In the
national semifinal game against Oklahoma State, he scored just
two points and didn't grab a single rebound. It did not make it
easy to predict the impact this freshman would have on the
championship game--what pressure?--in which he had simply the best
game of his life. "Seems like it was the perfect game," he says.
"The game came my direction all the time, and I was in the right
place each time I got the ball."
The resulting celebrity overwhelmed all the Bruins but Bailey.
"This is why I came to UCLA," he says. The TV and radio shows,
the parades--he loves 'em all. "Going from regular college kid to
a kind of hero, it's been great," Bailey says matter-of-factly.
"I came back to campus this year, and the football players were
opening doors for me. 'You go first, you're the champ,' they'd
say. You can't know what it's like until you experience it."
In the old days, when Wooden was coach and not cheerleader, the
Bruins shared this experience year after year. But these days,
it's extremely unlikely any team can win even two championships
in a row, and there's little reason, with Ed O'Bannon gone to
the NBA, to think that UCLA will. Still, you have to wonder what
that combination of youthful arrogance (Bailey) and
down-to-earth wisdom (Wooden) has up its sleeves this season.
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON After having a hand in UCLA's title run as a freshman, the spotlight-loving Bailey is ready to embrace full-blown stardom. [Toby Bailey]