But then UNLV got nailed for NCAA violations, and Ed settled for UCLA. And settled is exactly the word. "At the time," he admits, "that's what it felt like."
As for Charles, he was similarly celebrated at Artesia, and even more extravagantly courted. "My recruitment was like the Los Angeles riots" is the way Ed puts it. "His was like Vietnam." And Charles, too, seemed headed out of town. Artesia High's basketball banquet last year, which celebrated the Pioneers' second straight state championship, was attended by a virtual NCAA convention of coaches. Kentucky's Rick Pitino was the featured speaker, and Harrick, USC's George Raveling and Michigan's Steve Fisher couldn't afford to abandon the field to that smooth talker. "I didn't want to say no to anybody and look like a jerk," says Artesia coach Wayne Mereno, "so I let everybody, coaches and media, come. I looked like a jerk."
Pitino was so galvanizing in his address that before the dishes were cleared everybody assumed Charles was heading for Bluegrass country. Harrick, who was being blasted in the Los Angeles media for his inability to recruit and who, by his own admission, had put "all my eggs in one basket," was thinking maybe he ought to hightail it out of state as well. But Charles got up to deliver his own little speech and, looking around at his family and friends, realized he couldn't leave home. The next day he committed to UCLA. Said brother Ed, who had tried to remain noncommittal throughout, "Let's go win a national championship."
The recruiting of Charles has made that more than wishful thinking in that it opened a floodgate of talent. Next year's freshman class has been rated No. 1 by several recruiting newsletters and magazines. One of those recruits is Marques Johnson's son, Kris, last year's Los Angeles city player of the year. According to his father, Kris said, "If that's where Charles is going, that's where I'm going." Says Marques, "You have to understand that not only is Charles a great player, but everybody loves him. He's the magnet that draws the other kids."
So far Charles's arrival has at least turned Harrick's reputation around. Although he has done better and lasted longer at UCLA than any other coach since Wooden, Harrick has never been beloved. And then last season, when the Bruins drifted to a 22-11 record, the critics seized on his recruiting. "I knew it was coming," he says. "I just didn't know when." Harrick concedes that landing Charles was timely, if not job-saving. "It got us over the hump," he says.
But don't tell Harrick he's lucky. "Was I lucky that Tracy Murray went hardship [after the 1991-92 season]," he says, "and left a team—top-five team in the country, wire-to-wire, no question about it—before last season?" More to the point: "Was I lucky when Ed O'Bannon missed his freshman year with a knee injury?"
That injury just before the start of the 1990-91 season—more knee wreckage than anybody let on at the time—postponed stardom for Ed for a full two years. Even today some wonder if he's all the way back. Harrick thinks Ed's balance is not quite there, although it has gotten better and better. Yet who can argue with performance? "To me," says Charles, "he's reached the point where he was when he got injured, and now he's improving."
For Charles, at least, this is not particularly good news. The poor lad has never dunked on his brother, and now it looks as if he never will. "I don't know what it is," says Charles, "but he'll do whatever it takes, just won't let me dunk on him. Not ever. But that's my whole family. My dad won't let me dunk either. If I go up on him, he catches me in the air and just sets me down."
"I bet you got that forearm shiver, too," says Ed, perhaps remembering his own quality time with Dad.
"Yes, I did," says Charles.