- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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"You're gunfighters," the coach told his players at their first practice. He had already announced his starting lineup with the opening game still six weeks away. "You're here to defend your honor. You're only as good as your last bullet." The seniors needed to know their roles. Wright had wasted away on the bench last season. Miguel had rotated between positions like a yo-yo.
"It's so different from last season under Coach Farmer," says Miguel. "I can't pinpoint it, but we lost interest. We were disenchanted with the coaches, and they were disenchanted with us. Coach Farmer tried to keep us happy, but it didn't work out." Miguel neglects to mention that Farmer himself could not possibly have been happy, what with "star" (read pooch) Kenny Fields, now a Milwaukee Buck, lying down half the time.
Curiously, while Farmer was criticized for relying too heavily on the Wooden philosophy, Hazzard has turned out to be more Woodenized than his predecessor. The Wizard's 2-2-1 zone press and storied Pyramid of Success seem to have been burned into Hazzard's brain. "Why not? The man's the encyclopedia, the genius, the best. I wish he'd sit on the bench and help me every game," says Hazzard.
Wooden came to a UCLA practice last week for the first time since he retired in 1975 and talked to the Bruins for 40 minutes. "The Wiz, right over there," said Hazzard, pointing in awe to a spot on the Pauley floor. And yet, how different the Hazzard style and atmosphere are from the Wooden program. At the top of the organization now is a kind of multinational force, Walt Mahdi Abdul-Rahman Hazzard, a Muslim, and Hirsch, a self-described "Jewish wiseass" who once told Wooden he would not eat the training table "slop." Now Hirsch is a millionaire, able to live off a family fortune derived from bowling alleys. His family is now in the pornography business. "It's infinitely cleaner than recruiting," says Hirsch. To complete his staff, Hazzard hired Kris Jason, a former Marine who is Hirsch's brother-in-law, and the introspective Andre McCarter, a former inconsistent Bruin point guard. And rounding out this murderers' row as a volunteer assistant is that legendary paragon of devotion to hard work and team values, former Bruin Sidney Wicks. "Our coaching staff would beat our team by 50 points," says Hirsch. Yes, but can the staff coach the team?
The other day, still more Hazzard friends and celebrities in their own right gathered during a UCLA practice as the earsplitting squeals of the terrific role model, Prince, blasted from courtside speakers. If a visitor took his eyes off the Bruins rehearsing foul shots—after the DePaul DeBacle they were 24 of 49 on the season—he might have spotted the former NBA great, Guy Rodgers; the former CBS near-great. Sonny Hill; and Ed Eckstine, son of the always and forever-more high-collar great, Mr. B., Billy Eckstine. In between spinning old Philly war yarns with this gang, Hazzard actually blew his whistle a couple of times.
"I'm gonna smash that sucker upside his head," Hazzard rasped about one of his error-prone Bruins. "Hey, Ed, you got my tapes?"
Were these UCLA- Santa Clara tapes? (The Bruins had been stunned 68-60 by Santa Clara at Pauley six nights earlier, following which Santa Clara lost to Weber State by 28.) DePaul scouting tapes? Pyramid of Success tapes? Adhesive? Scotch? "Naw," said Hazzard. "My Cannonball Adderley tapes."