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A Checkered Career Draws to an End : Loyola's Center May Put Away Basketball and Get Down to Business

January 22, 1987|ALAN DROOZ | Times Staff Writer

As a recently graduated philosophy major, Victor Lazzaretti can look philosophically at his checkered basketball career at Loyola Marymount by way of Marquette.

The injuries, the lowered expectations, the glimpses of stardom that were all part of Lazzaretti's college days have woven a colorful quilt of a collegiate career that ends in six weeks.

And as a master's candidate in business as of this week, Lazzaretti says he's ready to get down to business starting with Saturday's 7:30 p.m. West Coast Athletic Conference game at rival Pepperdine's Firestone Arena.

The 6-8, 220-pound senior center has shown signs of becoming the steady big man Loyola has long sought since he overcame a rash of injuries and was inserted as a starter nine games ago. Since then he has averaged 14 points and 9.3 rebounds and shot 65% from the field. Those games included a 28-point, 15-rebound effort against Loyola of Maryland, 16 rebounds against U.S. International University and 17 rebounds against the University of San Francisco.

However, last weekend in two conference games Lazzaretti had only two rebounds against Portland and only five points on 1-for-6 shooting in an overtime loss to Gonzaga.

Sometimes, he said, when he's not completely attentive or aggressive, the quilt begins to unravel.

"I've had so many games when I felt I was breaking out . . . till this weekend," he said after a practice this week. "I played terrible defense against Gonzaga. . . . I didn't even sleep after losing to Gonzaga. I hated to lose that one. But in general my game's been coming around pretty good."

Lazzaretti played two frustrating seasons at Marquette before transferring to Loyola and sitting out the 1984-85 season. Last year he had a foot injury at the start of the season and rarely seemed able to keep up Loyola's frantic pace until the final two weeks of the season, when he produced several big games and Loyola was invited to the National Invitation Tournament. He had 16 points and 9 rebounds off the bench against Santa Clara in one of the final WCAC games and grabbed 11 rebounds in a victory against UC Berkeley in the NIT--cause for optimism among Loyola fans. He finished the season averaging about 6 points and 5 rebounds while shooting 56%.

This season Lazzaretti is averaging 10.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and is shooting 60%. His numbers are lower than anticipated because of the injuries that again slowed him at the start of the season.

First he injured his back in preseason conditioning drills. He was still ready for the start of practice and was rounding into shape when he twisted an ankle and damaged bone spurs. The doctor, not wanting the spurs to break off and float in the joint, placed the foot in a cast.

"That's my biggest problem, keeping my body fit," he said. "I would play for two or three weeks, then bang, an injury. It's just mentally draining. There were so many times I'd just have to mentally unload, get my mind off basketball for days at a time. What do you do when your leg is in a cast? Then you have to reload, push yourself 110% for two or three weeks just to get back to where you were."

Lazzaretti's ankle still bothers him but he is finally able to play more than 30 minutes per game and was installed as a permanent starter just before Christmas. "The injuries are less and less a factor every day," he said. Coach Paul Westhead noted after a recent game, "The difference is he is hanging around at the end. He has the presence now to stick around."

Lazzaretti agreed. "I'm able to run 35 or 40 minutes. It is mental--when I know I can jump, get the rebound, spin and get there ahead of the other guy, I just have to say, 'Screw it, go out there and do it.' It definitely is mental."

Despite his bulk, Lazzaretti runs the floor well in Loyola's style and has a reliable 15-foot jumper. His game is built around his ability to combine shooting with sophisticated drives to the basket, where he is effective with either hand.

If Lazzaretti is not a bona fide star, it may be because he was down so long that he sometimes slips back. For all the stretches he dominates, he has times when he disappears or plays passively. He's one of the few players who sometimes has to be prodded to shoot more.

Example: In the recent loss at San Francisco, Lazzaretti had 16 points in the first half and finished with 20. "Coach is looking for me to pick up the pace. In the USF game I felt I didn't take enough responsibility at the end of the game," he said. "I passed up a number of shots I probably should have taken. (But) our half-court offense has some problems, rushes things sometimes and then we fall apart. So I'll be the first to make the extra pass."

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