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The freshman season of UCLA forward Ed O'Bannon is a good example of how quickly a bright basketball future can turn cloudy. More than that, though, O'Bannon is a model of how to handle oneself when things look gray.
A year ago O'Bannon was touted as the best freshman in the country. He had a photo session for this magazine with teammate Don MacLean and former Bruin stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. "He would have been the Pac-10 player of the year as a freshman," says UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, who originally signed O'Bannon but lost him when the Rebels were put on NCAA probation.
But in October 1990, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in O'Bannon's left knee, the same type of injury that threatened the careers of Bernard King, Danny Manning and Ron Harper, ended his freshman season before it began. Rehabilitation has been slow, although not without its high points (singers Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul and George Michael sent get-well wishes), and O'Bannon still has a long way to go before he'll have fully recovered. Earlier this month he had his third operation on the knee—arthroscopic surgery to relieve swelling—and will probably not be able to return to the court until late December.
"I'm about 75 percent of what I was," says O'Bannon, whose quickness and slashing drives to the basket before his injury had some observers comparing him with the Los Angeles Lakers' James Worthy. "My jumping ability and quickness aren't all the way back. I don't feel as explosive as I used to be."
But O'Bannon hasn't spent the past year moping. At UCLA he has grown in every way except as a basketball player. He developed an interest in astronomy and worked on a plan to do a radio show with teammate Shon Tarver for the campus station. Friends and family describe him as far more outgoing than he was a year ago. A season without basketball has also made O'Bannon a supporter of freshman ineligibility.
"I never thought I'd say it, but now I think freshmen should take their first year to get used to the college environment," he says. "I lost a year of playing, but I've gained a lot too."
If the notoriously rowdy Duke student section becomes strangely quiet at times this season, it won't be due to a loss of enthusiasm. It will only show that the fans are up on the latest research into crowd behavior.
Last season Charles Maxfield and Sharon Mavros, husband-and-wife radiologists at the Duke University Medical Center and Blue Devil season-ticket holders, decided to chart the success of the various techniques used by the students at Cameron Indoor Stadium to distract opponents' foul shooters. (It has long been suggested that the Cameron crazies ought to be seriously studied by doctors, but this wasn't what anyone had in mind.)