Just in case third-year UCLA coach Steve Lavin was sleeping a little too well, there was a half-facetious little ripple of pressure that came his way at an October dinner roasting him on behalf of the American Diabetes Association. Appearing on a video monitor at Madison Square Garden, John Wooden noted that the Bruins have had topflight recruiting classes for the last two years. It's not enough to win, the Wizard said to Lavin, you must win big.
With Stanford and Washington more heavily favored in the Pac-10, Wooden probably didn't mean this year. But how many seasons can Lavin hope to keep together this group of blue-chippers, which includes four McDonald's All-Americas in sophomore Baron Davis and freshmen JaRon Rush, Dan Gadzuric and Ray Young? Long enough, Rush believes, to win at least one NCAA title. "This year, the Final Four, at least," says Rush, "and next year, the championship."
How far the Bruins can go will depend a lot on a healthy return by Davis. One of the country's top point guards last year, Davis hasn't played a game since tearing the ACL in his left knee in UCLA's upset of Michigan in the second round of the NCAAs last March. His off-season rehab was a series of willpower tests, some of which he didn't pass. "All I did was eat," says the 6'2" Davis, last year's Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. "Fatburger, In-N-Out Burgers—I ate everywhere, everything." It was no surprise, then, that his weight shot up by 25 pounds, to 230. "It was hard trying to get through the ups and downs, working hard but not always getting any results," Davis says. "Feeling like, Dang, I might not ever come back."
When he does come back—Davis, who has slimmed back down to 210, should be at full strength by the end of the year—he and backcourtmate Earl Watson will be feeding three freshmen: 6'11" Gadzuric of the Netherlands, 6'11" Jerome Moiso of France and Rush, an Anfernee Hardaway type whom roomie and fellow Kansas Citian Watson describes as a "workaholic perfectionist." Rush has been playing on AAU traveling squads since he was seven, and the experience shows. "He has very advanced offensive skills for a freshman," says Lavin, "and he is very quick."
If Rush is to keep UCLA on the ambitious schedule he has set, he had better be.
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