Listen to UCLA coach Jim Harrick reflect on his team's loss in
the first round of the 1994 NCAA tournament: "The next year I
didn't even mention Tulsa. Not once. I had a tape of the game
that I was going to play at the first practice, but it sat on my
desk the whole season. I didn't need to bring that game up
because the players wouldn't let each other forget it." The
bitter taste of that defeat would be chased only by the sweet
champagne of the 1994-95 national championship.
The similarities between the loss to Tulsa and last season's
evisceration at the hands of Princeton in the first round of the
tournament are painfully obvious. Both losses laid bare a lack
of discipline, determination, leadership and selflessness. This
year the Bruins are a potential powerhouse, with their top six
players returning. But if they are to duplicate the success of
'94-95, they will have to embrace the lessons of the Princeton
loss and rededicate themselves as the 1995 team did after losing
"Princeton was a great, great, positive experience," says
Harrick. "We endured the hardships and faced the adversity, and
we've grown from it." Or as junior swingman Kris Johnson says,
"We ain't goin' out like suckers again. There's going to be no
more Princetons. I can guarantee that. We're all about business
If so, there will be a huge difference between this year's team
and last year's, which was about everything but. The Bruins
staggered through a 23-8 season hung over from the intoxicating
celebrity that goes with the national title. Their wildly
erratic play and inability to focus were exacerbated by a lack
of on-floor leadership. (It didn't help that UCLA's sole senior,
swingman Kevin Dempsey, was a bench warmer.) But the Bruins vow
that things will be different this season. "I am going to step
up and fill the leadership role and do it the way it's supposed
to be done," says senior forward Charles O'Bannon. "I didn't do
that all the time last year." Actually, O'Bannon is flattering
himself--he rarely did it at all. He was benched by Harrick on
two occasions, for taunting an opponent and for breaking team
rules, and he also showed a disconcerting tendency to disappear
during games, finishing only as the Bruins' third-leading scorer
(14.3 points per game) and rebounder (6.0 per game). "It was a
learning experience," says O'Bannon. "You can't just walk into a
gym and say, 'O.K., guys, I'm the leader.' You have to earn that
O'Bannon has already made a statement with a grueling off-season
workout regimen that has added 15 pounds of muscle to his frame
and extended his jump-shooting range to beyond the arc. If his
intensity catches up to his wide-ranging skills, he will finally
emerge as the go-to guy the Bruins spent all of last year
A return to form by senior point guard Cameron Dollar will also
have a galvanizing effect. He played most of last year with only
eight healthy fingers after tearing a ligament near his right
pinkie and dislocating his left one. Dollar was limited to 12
starts, and with his role as floor leader severely compromised,
the Bruins were last in the Pac-10 in turnover margin, at -3.8.
After a restful off-season Dollar says, "I'm up to about 9 1/2
fingers now." That should be enough to help him run the show in
the half-court and lead UCLA's jailbreak in transition while
setting the tone with his hard-nosed defensive tenacity. Dollar
will also bring a contagious energy that the Bruins missed last
season. "I feel like a little kid who's been grounded for a year
and can now can go to the park and play again," he says.
Junior Toby Bailey will benefit most from Dollar's return,
moving back to shooting guard after a rocky season filling in at
the point. Bailey wound up leading UCLA in scoring (14.8 ppg),
but his shooting fell from 48.4% to 45.8%. He spent the summer
fine-tuning his game with the Under-22 Select Team, and you can
expect a big year from him. The versatile 6'3" Johnson started
21 games and averaged 12.5 points per game overall. He will be a
potent sixth man this year.
Despite the transfer of omm'A Givens to Pepperdine and Ike
Nwankwo to Long Beach State, the Bruins remain devastating in
the post with 6'9" junior power forward J.R. Henderson and 6'9"
sophomore center Jelani McCoy. Henderson's game matured
considerably last year, as he led UCLA in rebounding with 7.0
per game and averaged 14.4 points per game.
McCoy had a monster rookie year, blocking 102 shots and
averaging 6.9 rebounds and 10.2 points per game on
Pac-10-leading 67.6% shooting. He and Henderson were a big
reason UCLA led the nation in field goal shooting, making 52.8%
of its shots.
Also, a preseason investigation by the Pac-10 into possible
violations in the recruiting of high school senior Baron Davis
could well prove to be nothing more than a minor disturbance.
"What makes this team so dangerous," says O'Bannon, "is that any
one of six different guys can carry us. We have a number of
different looks, and we will find the other team's weak link."
Yes, the Bruins are a fearsome bunch, and they know it. Says
Johnson, "A national championship, straight up, that's the goal."
But it's instructive to remember that UCLA spent last preseason
making similarly bold statements. It turned out to be all talk,
of course. The Bruins have much to prove, starting with their
first game, on Nov. 20. That contest will be a reminder not only
of the stunning disappointments of the past but also of how high
a team can rise in response to them. The opponent that night?
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Jim Harrick
Career record: 358-160 (17 seasons)
Record at UCLA: 191-63 (eight seasons)
1995-96 record: 23-8 (final ranking: 19th)
Pac-10 record: 16-2 (first)
PG *Cameron Dollar, 5'11", Sr.
Averaged 4.5 assists though injured
SG *Toby Bailey, 6'5", Jr.
Shot 39.5% from three-point range in '95-96
SF *Charles O'Bannon, 6'5", Sr.
Last year's slacker pledges new attitude
PF *J.R. Henderson, 6'9", Jr.
Career 56.1% shooter from the floor
C *Jelani McCoy, 6'9", Soph.
Pac-10's leading shooter, at 67.6%
Nov. 20 vs. Tulsa
Preseason NIT offers UCLA chance for revenge
Dec. 7 vs. Kansas
Jayhawks hammered the Bruins 85-70 last season
Jan. 25 at Louisville
Cards were only visitor to win at Pauley in '95-96
Feb. 8 vs. Stanford
One of UCLA's two Pac-10 losses was to Cardinal
Feb. 22 vs. Duke
Devils handed Bruins most lopsided loss last year
COLOR PHOTO: SAM FORENCICH COVER [Varies by region] True Value Cameron Dollar and UCLA have a wealth of talent
COLOR PHOTO: SAM FORENCICH A healthy Dollar will be worth a lot to the Bruins. [Cameron Dollar in game]
PLAYER TO WATCH
With the off-season transfers of veteran big men omm'A Givens
and Ike Nwankwo, senior Bob Myers, the 6'6", 227-pound former
walk-on, has suddenly become a key figure in the Bruins'
rotation. Myers will bring hustle and muscle off the bench when
he spells Charles O'Bannon and J.R. Henderson. On a team loaded
with flash and athleticism, Myers has neither, but he is a sound
post defender, a strong rebounder and a much needed calming
influence. "Bob is smart, tough, and he understands the game,"
says UCLA coach Jim Harrick. "He has become a fundamentals
machine and a valuable role player for us." Myers is capable of
more than just dirty work, though: Last season he scored a
career-high 20 points in a close UCLA victory over Oregon State.
The Bruins will be counting on that kind of inside scoring.