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Wise In The Ways Of The Wizard
Curry Kirkpatrick
November 30, 1981
Three rushed in where Wooden used to tread—then split. Now comes the fourth, Larry Farmer, truest of true believers
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November 30, 1981

Wise In The Ways Of The Wizard

Three rushed in where Wooden used to tread—then split. Now comes the fourth, Larry Farmer, truest of true believers

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During the recent UCLA clinic, Farmer wore a coat and tie onto the court rather than change into warmups. Wooden used to do that. In the same office that was once dominated by a chart of Wooden's famous Pyramid of Success, Farmer has hung his own keepsakes—a picture of himself leaving his last college game, a telegram from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a lithograph of a rainbow with the slogan, WHEN YOU REACH THE TOP, KEEP CLIMBING. Bob (Spider) Webb, a bit actor who played with Farmer at UCLA and against him in Germany, says Farms will soon have his Jimi Hendrix posters plastered all over the place. But Farmer also has tacked something else on the wall. It is Wooden's favorite old chalkboard, which Brown had removed. "I thought about it and thought about it. I'm not superstitious," Farmer says, the laughter welling from deep in his belly, "...haw, haw, haw...Just careful."

Clearly, Farmer always was one of Wooden's pets. He was never a big scorer. Just industrious, intelligent, coachable. Wooden wanted to change Farmer's defensive stance on the baseline once but Farmer convinced the coach that he could keep his outside foot forward and not get beat. They worked it out. "I've never heard anyone at any time make a critical remark about Larry Farmer," Wooden says. "Nobody knew what color Larry was, either. I can't say that about every player I had. White or black, there has never been a more popular player at UCLA."

During his sophomore year the 6'5", 215-pound Farmer was fourth forward behind Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe and John Ecker. His playing time was sparse. But in the NCAA West Region final the Bruins were in a struggle with Long Beach State, Wicks and Rowe were plagued with fouls and Ecker was being pounded. So Farmer went in and immediately contributed a blocked shot, an important rebound and an outlet pass that led to two free throws. The Bruins went on to win the game and, eventually, another championship.

As an undergraduate, Farmer studied the floor patterns, asked questions and worked hard to make himself a big-time player. On the freshman squad he won the most valuable player award. As a soph he won the outstanding first-year varsity award. As a junior he won most-improved honors. And in his senior season he was appointed captain. During his last two NCAA championship campaigns, Farmer's quick, strong defense earned him man-to-man assignments against an abundance of guards, including Ed Ratleff, Ernie DiGregorio and Ron Lee. In addition, he averaged more than 11 points and five rebounds a game. Then, too, there was the 89-1, a nearly mystical achievement in itself, with a perfect 90-0 marred on the day Austin Carr of Notre Dame scored 46 points in an 89-82 upset of UCLA at South Bend. "Wicks's fault," says Farmer.

Farmer had three other classmates who might have shared in his record, but Tommy Curtis redshirted, Marvelous Marv Vitatoe transferred out of UCLA and Larry Hollyfield transferred in too late to be eligible for the NCAA playoff games in 1971. "Poor Holly," says Farmer, "...haw, haw...I got the record solo." Following Farmer on the UCLA won-lost honor roll, then, are Hollyfield 85-1, Lew Alcindor 88-2, Henry Bibby 87-3 and Walton, Wilkes, Wicks and Rowe, all 86-4. (Swen Nater had a 60-0 record, but it covered only two seasons, 1971-72 and '72-73, and his role was limited to backup duty for Walton.)

"Eighty-nine and one. Eighty-nine and one. You think Farms ever lets us forget it?" says Michael Holton, a junior guard on this year's UCLA squad.

As an in-house appointment and legend-successor three times removed, Farmer is not likely to experience the problems of the previous regimes. And Wooden doubts the problems were all that big, anyway. "Every one of those men left for better jobs more suited to their needs," Wooden says. "Not because of problems at UCLA. Pressure? I've known coaches who got out when the cupboard was bare. I didn't exactly leave the cupboard bare with Marques Johnson and Richard Washington. Give me talent and I don't give a hoot about outside pressure. Criticism? I don't think any of them got much criticism. Larry Brown wanted a bigger office and the walls painted and the students' seats moved closer to the court in Pauley. And he needed more money. That's what he got criticized for. Gary Cunningham was not cut out for coaching. He never wanted the job. He only wished to pursue his doctorate and get into athletic administration. I'm probably most responsible for convincing him to stay his second year and not run out. Before Cunningham, Gene Bartow was just not ready for the sophistication of Los Angeles. He was too sensitive to the kook letters and the radio talk shows. Gracious sakes alive. I had lots of awful letters written about me, too. You just show weakness if you let them get to you."

Surprisingly, Wooden was not consulted by Morgan on any of the hirings. He was mystified at Bartow's appointment. The Wizard himself would have gone after Louisville's Denny Crum—another former UCLA player and assistant coach. "One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was sharing an office the first few months with Bartow," Wooden says. "My understanding was I would help with the transition. But I was never used, and I should have realized my presence made him uncomfortable. I should have left long before I did. I suspected Bartow would be at UCLA a long time. If he had stayed around, I think he would have liked it. I wish I would have known him better, and Brown, too. I spent more time with their assistants. But it was no different for Bartow than it would have been for me if I had stayed another year. The only UCLA coach who got criticized for not winning the national championship was me. In 1974. Seven points ahead in overtime of the semifinals against North Carolina State? Why yes, we should have won. As the UCLA fan said to me when we won it the next year: 'Well, you let us down last season, but we got 'em back this time.' What do you say to that? Ten championships in 12 seasons wasn't enough. It's laughable. But the UCLA coaching job has never been difficult."

Clean Gene. While Gene Bartow is safely ensconced in Birmingham, Ala. now as athletic director and head coach of UAB, four years and thousands of miles removed from what he used to describe disgustedly as "the waves" of media in Southern California, he says he can remember certain UCLA games "as if they were yesterday." He recalls hearing Wooden's "the cupboard wasn't bare" line. He recalls hearing it when he was still coaching at UCLA. On sharing the office, he mostly recalls Wooden's answering the phone: "Hello, Coach Bartow's office." He recalls this being disconcerting. Bartow thinks UCLA was a difficult job. And no fun.

It started being no fun in November 1975 when Bartow guided the defending NCAA champion Bruins against Indiana in a national TV spectacular. "They blew us out, 18 points," says Bartow. Actually, the score was 84-64, but it was even worse than that. It was the most humiliating defeat for UCLA since...well, since Wooden's Bruin team lost 103-81 at Washington the previous season. Bartow remembers the spread on that one. Hmmmm. The difference was that Wooden's 1975 Bruins won the NCAA championship, while Bartow's 1976 edition was eliminated in the semis in another shelling by Indiana.

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