LOS ANGELES -- There were times after Thursday's Southern California-UCLA game when George Raveling sounded downright presidential.
"I'm happy for the people of Los Angeles County," Raveling, USC's coach, said earnestly to a caucus of Los Angeles reporters after the Trojans' sweep of the Bruins. "They got to see two wonderful basketball teams play their hearts off for 40
minutes . . . never give anything less than their best.
"In a community that's primarily dominated by professional athletics, it's refreshing to get college basketball back into a competitive atmosphere that demands a sellout. I hope that this will start a resurgence in interest."
It's not known if Raveling favors a flat tax, a national health program or more aid for education, but he's definitely more fun to listen to than Tsongas, Clinton or Kerrey.
Meanwhile, his opposite number at the Sports Arena was conjuring up other images. He praised the victors in that political way of his, in which the words mean less than his tone of voice. Occasionally, his true feelings churlishly spewed forth.
When asked about USC's T-shirts that bore Don MacLean's first-game tirade, he said, "That's high school stuff." Asked if his team lacked effort, moments after saying USC out-hustled his team, he said, "Stop bashing us."
Right then, he reminded you of Michael S. Dukakis, a little guy ineffectually beating a fist into a hand. Or of Dan Quayle, bristling at a comment but unable to find a suitable rejoinder.
Basketball-wise, Jim Harrick never reminds you of John Wooden. That's an unfair comparison, of course, but then we're not the one who trolls the sidelines with his program rolled up a la Wooden.
You can debate the ideal of a good basketball coach until the Cameron Crazies run out of voice and never come up with a consensus. There are people out there who feel Mike Krzyzewski of Duke is an underachiever, Bob Knight of Indiana is a menace, Lute Olsen of Arizona is a bore and Jerry Tarkanian of Nevada-Las Vegas is a crook.
Marty Blake, who watches college games for a living as the NBA's chief scout, says there aren't many bad coaches. "People New York say (St. John's) Lou Carnesecca can't coach, but he wins," Blake said. "[Purdue's] Gene Keady is a good coach but can't get the talent. Jim Brandenburg [fired at San Diego State] is a good coach who never should have left Wyoming. I got writers in upstate New York who refuse to quote me, because I think [Syracuse's] Jim Boeheim's a good coach.
"What makes a good coach? Probably if he wins."
Well, Harrick wins. He has 87 wins in four seasons at UCLA, four consecutive 20-win campaigns, is headed to his fourth NCAA Tournament in a row and is favored to make the Final Four in Minneapolis.
Why then are so many UCLA fans wary? Why do so many harbor emotions like this one expressed by a Bruins expressed official after Thursday's loss: "We're 21-3. So why do I feel so bad?"
Maybe because no one truly believes Harrick is capable of leading this team to the NCAA's Promised Land. There are certainly enough reasons to feel that way:
* His players never improve.
Tracy Murray is the same player today -- great shooter, vacant defensively -- he was at Glendora High. Darrick Martin is the same selfish, inconsistent player today he was at St. Anthony. Don MacLean has improved some, but he remains a defensive lamppost, and he hasn't tempered his outbursts as much as redirected them.
Coaches are teachers, or at least they should be. But Harrick hasn't taught his players to refine their games, hasn't taught them to stress defense first, hasn't taught them to control themselves on the court.
Across town, meanwhile, Raveling, who has never been fancied a great coach, has coaxed a lot of subtle talent out of players like Duane Cooper and Yamen Sanders. Harrick's only well-balanced player is Gerald Madkins, oddly the only leftover from Walt Hazzard's regime.
* Harrick's substitution pattern is as willy-nilly as a quick pick at your local Lotto emporium.
His Bruins were beating the Trojans early Thursday when he suddenly took three starters out of the game. Next thing you know, the Trojans were back in the game.
He has a nine-deep team, but he has trouble mixing and matching bodies. He has a 6-9 center named Rodney Zimmerman, but he's soured on him. Instead, he puts Ed O'Bannon in the pivot, a young man who is still not in shape and is dragging a bum leg up and down the court.
* His players don't listen to him.
Late in the second half Thursday, Harrick could be seen feverishly signaling in plays from the bench, but no one on the court bothered to look. So on consecutive trips down court, MacLean and Murray fired up three-pointers from the county museum.
And if he's ever admonished his team to think about what it says or the way it acts, the words have found deaf ears. Even after a second loss to the Trojans, many Bruins refused to give the Trojans any due. And their on-court demeanor -- yells, curses, complaints, tantrums -- continues to recall the Hazzard era.
* Harrick's bench demeanor is embarrassing.
He doesn't pace the sideline as much as stagger along it, carping at officials with a tortured face. One of those veins along his neck is liable to pop someday.
SG It's a tired, ineffective act we've seen since his Pepperdine days.