What do you suppose is the punch line to this? One of Walt Hazzard's best friends is a comedian.
Take my point guard. Please. Bill Cosby, a man in direct contact with the funny bone, judging by the Nielsen ratings, is a Philadelphia guy like Hazzard, the UCLA coach not especially noted for his humor. They get together whenever their schedules permit.
Do they share a laugh about those silly zone defenses? Does Hazzard tell the joke about the traveling Reebok salesman? Or do they swap one-liners?
My center is on a seafood diet. When he sees food, he eats it. So it came as no surprise to Hazzard when he received a Christmas gift from Cosby. Hazzard, whose Bruins had lost four straight games, got three boxes of cigars from Cosby, along with the message: "You need these."
Apparently, he did because UCLA has not lost a game since. The Bruins (9-4), who will risk their 4-2 Pacific 10 record tonight at Pauley Pavilion against Oregon, have won six straight.
Which brings up an intriguing question: Are the Bruins really back?
A lot of people figured the Bruins were back when they dropped top-ranked North Carolina Dec. 1. As it turned out, that conclusion was a mite premature. In the next 26 days, the Bruins won only once more, and Hazzard had problems busting loose all over.
He suspended four players for a Pac-10 game at Washington after they had broken a training rule, and the next day, another player bolted the team for six days. Then Hazzard made changes in his starting lineup that were not well received by the two players moved out of it.
Through it all, though, the Bruins have somehow resumed winning and Hazzard has prospered on the hot seat that has been part of the UCLA coaching tradition since John Wooden left 12 years ago.
"I've tried to mature. I've tried to grow," Hazzard said. "I'm trying to learn. I'm trying to improve. There's a lot of responsibility here."
This is Hazzard's third season on the job, and next season is scheduled to be the last under his contract, which pays him a base salary of $50,000, the same as UCLA women's coach Billie Moore.
"I'll never be wealthy here," Hazzard said.
He does, however, have a chance at a record for UCLA coaches of the post-Wooden era. None of the four other coaches who followed Wooden lasted as long as four years. Not Gene Bartow, not Gary Cunningham, not Larry Brown and not Larry Farmer. Bartow, Cunningham and Brown each stayed for two years, and Farmer coached for three.
There were, and may still be, those who did not think Hazzard would last for the length of his contract. Others among his critics believed him to be a poor choice in the first place.
But right now, Hazzard is riding a crest of success with a UCLA team that, for the first time, has in key roles players whom Hazzard recruited and did not inherit.
Although the core of the Bruins is still Reggie Miller, who was recruited by Farmer, and although Montel Hatcher, also a Farmer recruit, still plays a key role, Hazzard brought Pooh Richardson in to play point guard. And it is Hazzard who is mixing in freshmen Trevor Wilson, Greg Foster and Kevin Walker.
The ledger on Hazzard shows that his teams are in good condition and that he has a knack for making the proper substitutions in critical times, as he showed when he used Craig Jackson down the stretch at Arizona in the game that Jackson won with a last-second jump shot.
At the same time, Hazzard's teams are often confused when playing zone defense or when they face changing defenses, which is what happened at Temple when Hazzard admitted afterward that he had been out-coached by John Chaney.
Hazzard has his detractors among his peers in the Pac-10, principally Lute Olson at Arizona, but he also has made up with Cal Coach Lou Campanelli after a disagreement and enjoys a good relationship with Oregon State's Ralph Miller, one of college basketball's most respected coaches.
"I really don't care about being liked," Hazzard said. "All I want is to be respected as a man."
So Walt Hazzard continues to work beneath those 10 National Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship banners that were hung from the rafters of Pauley Pavilion during 12 years of the Wooden era. The Hazzard era, which produced an NIT banner in its first year, has a style of its own.
Hazzard is fond of Turkish coffee, English cigarettes and Cosby's cigars.
He likes to watch basketball games on the television set in his bedroom with the sound turned down, a cigar in his mouth and a be-bop record on the turntable.
He can quote from such divergent sources as Slappy White, the 20th-Century comedian, or Nietzsche, the 19th-Century German philosopher.
"Things haven't been easy for us this year, but you know, 'That which does not destroy us makes us stronger,' " Hazzard said.
Of course, Hazzard could quote from Bugs Bunny as long as UCLA continues to win. That is the legacy left by Wooden, who doesn't necessarily believe it's a bad one.