In Los Angeles, the city in which the unpredictable is the norm, there are only about three things the citizenry can depend on year in and year out: brush fires in summer, mud slides in winter and the UCLA basketball team. This season, barring a midwinter brush fire started by crosstown rival USC, the Bruins will make it 13 conference championships in a row, mainly because of Roy Hamilton, perhaps the finest guard in college, and David Greenwood, maybe the best forward this side of the NBA. The two seniors are starting their ninth season as teammates, having put together their Mr. Inside-Mr. Outside act in the eighth grade. As a junior, Hamilton had the highest shooting percentage—.540—of any backcourt player in UCLA history, while also leading the Pac-8 in assists. Greenwood, his 6'9" roommate, who was a unanimous All-America pick, led the league in rebounding and was second in scoring with a 17.5 average.
Hamilton, a lefthander who dribbles as well as he passes and shoots, is so quick that Bruin scouts knew they wanted him the first time they ever saw him take the court—in the 10th grade. He leads UCLA's running game, and as often as not, the target he hits at break's end is Greenwood. "The most enjoyable part of the game for me is the fast break," says Greenwood, "especially when Roy has the ball and he sets me up for a dunk." Greenwood backs up his slams with a nice outside jump shot.
Second-year Coach Gary Cunningham is missing one of his best players from last season, Guard Raymond Townsend, but long-range shooter Brad Holland should fill in nicely. UCLA has no Alcindor or Walton in the pivot, but it should be improved there, if only because 6'9" Gig Sims has added a bit of muscle to his Olive Oyl physique. Should the shot-blocking Sims tire at game's or season's end, as he did in 1977-78, 6'9" Darrell Allums, who is almost 30 pounds heavier, is an able replacement. In the corner opposite Greenwood, UCLA can use good shooter Kiki Vandeweghe or good defender James Wilkes.
UCLA lost only three times last season and zipped through what some observers called the Pathetic 8 with a 14-0 record. The schedule is tougher this time, including another home-and-home pair with Notre Dame, which handed UCLA two of its three defeats last season; 18 games in an expanded and much-improved conference; and fewer games than usual at Pauley Pavilion. But even with an extra loss or two, UCLA seems certain to win the first championship of the Pac-10.
What has Bruin fans worried is not this season but next. UCLA has had two straight subpar recruiting crops. The only sophomore on the team is out for the season with an injured knee. This fall Cunningham brought in only two freshmen: Guard Tyren Naulls, nephew of Bruin alumnus and former pro Willie, and Forward Mike Sanders, who was twice Louisiana's Player of the Year. Help must come from junior colleges, because it seems unlikely that the present juniors—Sims, Allums, Vandeweghe and Wilkes—have the talent to carry on the tradition. Nonetheless, for this season at least, the partnership of Greenwood and Hamilton seems to ensure that Angelenos can count on UCLA winning its annual title.
4 MICHIGAN ST.
The way Jud Heathcote sees it, Michigan State would win the NCAAs this year if only he could work out a slight change in the rules. With five of the top six players back from last season's surprising Big Ten champs, the Spartan coach says, "We will have as good a lineup as any in the country. In fact, if they passed a rule limiting everyone to just five men, we'd win it all." Because one of the five is Earvin Johnson, Heathcote could be right.
With Johnson directing the Magic Show, Michigan State won its first conference championship in 19 years and had its best record ever, 25-5. "I really thought Purdue and Minnesota were the top teams in the league," Heathcote says, "but we got the title because we were able to win more away games."
The Spartans' 7-2 conference road record was startling because only one senior played regularly. There is just one senior this year, too, Greg Kelser. He will team with sophomores Johnson and Jay Vincent, and juniors Terry Donnelly and Ron Charles. The Big Green is even greener on the bench, with sophomore Mike Brkovich and freshmen Gerald Busby and Rob Gonzalez.
"Having a suspect bench puts us down a notch or two nationally," says Heathcote, "but as far as our starters are concerned, we have two great players and three good ones. They're going to be even better offensively and defensively than they were last year because of experience."