"UCLA basketball" still has that ring of superiority. It's undeniable, whether or not you like the Bruins.
After endless seasons of domination, the proud program in Westwood endured a number of down years. Poor souls like Walt Hazzard and Stuart Gray found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, victims of fate.
Their ghosts and many others haunt Pauley Pavilion, but it's all relative and always will be. Every coach at UCLA will be compared to John Wooden, and every player will be measured against Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.
From 1964 to 1975, Wooden won 10 NCAA titles. In the middle of that run, a seven-year stretch beginning in 1966, UCLA won 205 games and lost five. Yes, five.
When Wooden stepped down in 1975, Gene Bartow went 52-9 over the next two seasons. Not one NCAA banner, though.
Gary Cunningham gave it a shot, and the Bruins won 50 of their next 58 games. Thanks for trying, Gar.
Larry Brown led UCLA back to the NCAA title game in his first season in 1980, but the fact that the Bruins returned as the underdog -- gasp! -- meant something was wrong. Brown soon left to coach in the NBA.
Larry Farmer was gone after three seasons (and a 61-23 record) produced nothing more than the Pac-10 championship in 1983.
Then came Hazzard, the former All-America guard under Wooden. He won a championship in his first year (1985). One big problem: It was the NIT, not the NCAA. Oops.
In Hazzard's fourth season, the Bruins finished 16-14 behind co-captains Craig Jackson and Dave Immel. Two games above .500? That might be acceptable up in Berkeley, where California has the same fight song, but not in Westwood. Craig Jackson and Dave Immel, captains? Lynn Shackelford must have been choking on his microphone.
In 1988, David Greenwood was now a trivia answer to Bruins fans: Name the last All-American at UCLA (1979). So, too, was David Meyers: Name the last UCLA player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated (1975).
In the aftermath of Hazzard's firing, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and Larry Brown (then at Kansas) turned down the job.
Exasperated, UCLA athletic director Peter Dalis took the short route, literally -- a short drive up the coast to Malibu, where former UCLA assistant Jim Harrick was coaching at Pepperdine. Harrick leaped at the inquiry, telling Dalis, "You could probably get any coach you want in the United States of America, but, over a long period of time, not one of them will do a better job than I will."
Four years later, the Bruins -- and this may be unfair to say, but what the heck -- are back. Back piling up the wins and preparing for the Road to the Final Four. UCLA is ranked No. 2 in the nation with a 21-1 record. The Bruins lead the Pac-10 at 12-1.
UCLA has sent 48 players to the NBA, many recognizable by their first name -- Kareem, Gail, Bill, Jamaal, Sidney, Curtis, Lucius, Marques, Kiki, Reggie and Pooh.
Three more Bruins have the size, tools and talent to succeed at the professional level -- Don (MacLean), Tracy (Murray) and Ed (O'Bannon). Perhaps some day, the parentheses won't be needed. After all:
MacLean recently became UCLA's all-time leading scorer. The 6-foot-10 senior is projected as a high first-round pick, although not a lottery selection. Murray, the other forward, has unlimited range and better-than-average passing skills. He is considering leaving UCLA a year early but may stick around for another season because of the depth of this year's draft (which would get deeper if LSU's Shaquille O'Neal and Southern California's Harold Miner go early).
O'Bannon is a fluid 6-8 left-hander who can score inside and outside and handle the ball. After being named the top high school player in the nation two years ago, he ripped up his left knee in a pickup game in October 1990 and missed all of last season. He has a bright future, assuming he recovers fully.
O'Bannon is starting to show flashes. Playing a career-high 17 minutes against Cal on Tuesday, he scored 11 points, hitting all five of his shots from the field.
What Harrick has done since arriving to run the show in Westwood is land big-time recruits, particularly home-grown talent.
MacLean (Simi Valley), Murray (Glendora) and O'Bannon (Artesia Lakewood) were the three most highly touted players to come out of the Southern California prep scene in recent memory. Harrick was able to keep all of them from heading to the Big East or the Big Ten or the ACC.
But that's hardly it. The Bruins have more. A lot more.
The other impact performers all starred at California high schools, too -- Gerald Madkins (Merced), Darrick Martin (St. Anthony of Compton), Shon Tarver (Santa Clara of Oxnard) and Mitchell Butler (Oakwood of Inglewood). And freshman Tyus Edney (Long Beach Poly) has been a pleasant surprise.
About the only star Harrick has allowed to escape is Cherokee Parks, who headed to Duke last year after graduating from Marina High in Huntington Beach.