Johnson established an NCAA single-season field-goal shooting record (71.0%) while averaging 17 points and seven rebounds a game last season when he was a junior. If he can stay out of foul trouble—he was disqualified from 13 games in 1979-80—there's no telling what he might accomplish. After a summer of weight training upped his-weight 10 pounds to a muscular 240, Johnson reported to practice better than ever. Heretofore not much of a leaper, he now is regularly blocking shots and throwing down whirling dunks. "My play this year is going to affect my pocketbook," he says. "I have a wife and an infant son and I have to take care of them." He'll accomplish that by taking care of Oregon State's opponents.
As an indication of what a difference one year and a second-place finish in the NCAA tournament can make, consider what has happened to UCLA Coach Larry Brown. When he arrived in Westwood last season nobody gave the Bruins a chance to accomplish much of anything because of two straight recruiting years that were disastrous by UCLA standards. Sure enough, the Pauley Pavilion jeers that were once reserved for opposing teams were frequently directed at the Bruins as they staggered through a nearly ruinous early season. Meanwhile, Brown thought he was an outsider. "The only time I felt like the coach was in practice with the kids from two to six," he says. Rumors of Brown's imminent return to the NBA surfaced throughout the season. But he stayed, and he should be glad he did.
With one gigantic exception, 7'3", 270-pound J.C. transfer Mark Eaton, UCLA will again be small. The Bruins also will be inexperienced, and they'll sorely miss the scoring, rebounding and senior maturity of Kiki Vandeweghe. Brown talks about "peaks and valleys" and about being a year away. But then he talks about his love for the Bruins' "athletic ability" and how this club is even quicker than the one that in a three-week span last March went from being a 17-9 fourth-place finisher in the Pac-10 to a 22-10 NCAA finalist.
UCLA has three starters back—mercurial guards Rod Foster, the leading returning scorer at 11.5 points per game, and Michael Holton and Forward Mike Sanders. Holton, however, may have to make way for Guard Ralph Jackson, who led his Inglewood, Calif. high school team to a 29-0 record last season and the mythical national championship. "If God ever created a point guard, Ralph came out of that mold," says Brown.
Sanders will move permanently to forward after having averaged 14.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in the 17 games he started last season at center. Sophomore Cliff Pruitt and freshmen Kenny Fields and Dean Sears will share time in the middle when the Bruins play the high post. But when the massive Eaton enters the game, UCLA will shift to a low-post offense and the Bruin fast break will slow to a snail's pace. Eaton is a 23-year-old former master auto mechanic who learned his basketball at Cypress (Calif.) Community College from the same coach—former UCLA backcourt star Don Johnson—who sent the Bruins Swen Nater. Eaton possesses a soft lefthanded touch, but he is woefully slow. "I hope no one looks at him and sees Wilt or Kareem," says Brown. Rest assured there is no chance of that.
Brown says he finds it hard to temper the confidence of his team, which is still high from last season's surprise finish. "I want them to realize that they came in fourth in the Pac-10," he says. Brown believes the Bruins are one solid recruiting class away from being "kind of special." Everyone else thinks they're kind of special right now.
The University of Virginia has a double identity crisis. First, there's the matter of its nickname. Most of the time the team is referred to as the Cavaliers, but it's also known as the Wahoos, Wahoo being the sound you make when your center is Ralph Sampson (page 34), a 7'4" sophomore of nearly limitless potential.
Second, there's the question of whether this season's Cavahoos are the same ones who tied for fifth in the eight-team ACC and then got knocked out by Clemson in the first round of the league tournament. Or are they the Wahliers who went 24-10 and won the NIT title? Virginia Coach Terry Holland would like to know, too. "Last year we were a team without a strong identity," he says. "We had a lot of good shooters, but the team didn't always mesh. This year the roles will be more clearly defined. We'll be good."