Then, in the first conference game against Oregon the team scored only four points in the first eight minutes and Wooden was forced to try Lee. He has done well ever since and, because Curtis caught the London flu, has started the last six games. "It's not really how well I do," Lee says, "it's how well the team does when I'm in there. Even if I'm not doing anything it looks like I am if we're smokin'."
Lee is a calm, collected "backcourt leader," as they say, and he is at his best directing the set offense. Still, he is slow, and Wooden prefers Curtis for the fast break, the press and even the Bruins' set defense. The rivalry between the two has been one of those fringe elements that seem to crop up every now and then to give a UCLA basketball season some semblance of reality.
It is no secret that Walton prefers to have his close friend Lee in the games rather than Curtis, who does not get the ball to him as well. In addition, Curtis imposes his vibrant, jabbering, nutsy-cuckoo style on a group of basically low-key individuals at the same time that Walton is attempting to lead and direct the team from under the basket. Walton has even gone so far as to cast a few humorous gibes in Wooden's direction regarding who should be playing and how much.
This is the kind of situation that Wooden handles better than anyone, and even the participants are candid about their feelings and can laugh. Lee has a mock certificate from the "Curtis Fan Club" sent to him by a former roommate. It urges him to "be loud and obnoxious" and to "strive always for soul."
Curtis, who last week was recovering from his flu and the loss of 17 pounds, did not make the trip from Los Angeles. He sat at home on Coldwater Canyon Road in Sherman Oaks wearing a yellow bathrobe, watching the games on TV and "hoping the team wins by 100, with me or without me."
A bright and articulate junior, Curtis refers to himself the way others do, as "T.C." He is from aristocratic black stock in Florida. His grandfather founded one of the first black insurance companies there. Curtis was the first black to play varsity ball at Leon High in Tallahassee and the first black on that team to be told, "Nigger, you score 30 points tonight and you're dead." The man had a gun. Curtis scored 28.
Curtis writes many letters to people around the country whom he has met through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He called several of them the week before UCLA's first nationally televised game to make sure they would watch. Then he played only 13 minutes. Afterward, he was hurt, angry and acted badly in the locker room. He thinks now he should have apologized.
"A man can't get hung up on something like that," he says. "That's what ruins other teams. T.C. will be back."
T.C. was disturbed by the pressures in high school, but he says the hardest times of his life awaited him at UCLA. "The subtlety of racism here is ridiculous," he says. "I wish I could tell some people how to do it; they don't even know how to be prejudiced." He will not comment any more than that.
The Reserve is of a type coaches call "a real animal." He is an awesome physical specimen, 6'11", 250 pounds. He entertains his teammates by occasionally picking up an enormous bench and throwing a strike against the wall. He never misses Johnny Carson at night and watches Paul Lynde whenever he appears on The Hollywood Squares. The Reserve would like to be a comedian and fancies himself a punster both at home and away.