After the first week of practice, Bartow's praise was being reciprocated. "He makes you want to play more than Coach Wooden did," says Gavin Smith, one of five hopefuls for a starting guard slot. "There's more encouragement. I get the feeling everyone has a chance to play, where Coach Wooden always seemed to have his mind made up."
"He's a little less conservative and allows players more individual freedom on the court," says Rich Washington, the MVP at last spring's NCAA tournament. "He's getting us ready to play sooner than Wooden did."
Bartow may need to. UCLA's first game, on Nov. 29, will be against Indiana, which was unbeaten last year until the NCAA semifinals. The Hoosiers have lost only one starter. "I'm already dreaming about that game," says Bartow. "I see us winning."
Bartow's dream might also include an NCAA championship, but if it does, he is not letting on about it. "If it takes a national championship to be considered successful around here, I'm in trouble," he says. "But Wooden coached here 15 years before he got one, so I think they'll be patient with me. If not...well, I used to teach drivers' ed and badminton in high school. I've always got those skills to fall back on."
Then he shakes his head and rolls his eyeballs and laughs that genuine laugh, and it is very clear that Clean Gene Bartow is not going to allow himself to be intimidated.