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UCLA'S WALKER, FOSTER AND WILSON : 3 Baby Bruins Have Helped Team Grow

March 05, 1987|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

It's practice, and UCLA's basketball team is working on a fast-break drill. Charles Rochelin takes a pass thrown half the length of the court and dribbles a couple of times to get his footwork into the proper dunking rhythm.

At the other end of the court, Greg Foster yells something at Rochelin.

"Freak it, Chuck."

Freak it? Of course. Foster seemed surprised that his instructions needed an explanation.

"I just meant for him to get freaky, man," Foster said. " Freak the dunk."

Come again?

"You know, do it like this," Foster said, changing the ball from one hand to the other, then simulating a reverse dunk.

Oh, that "Freak it"!

Rochelin was born in Haiti and has also lived in New York, Montreal and Toronto, which means he has doubtlessly been exposed to enough languages that something like "Freak it, Chuck" doesn't sound at all foreign to him.

But for at least one person, it was open to interpretation.

"These kids have a language I don't understand," Coach Walt Hazzard said, shaking his head.

Whatever language the kids at UCLA are speaking, people are hearing Foster and Trevor Wilson and Kevin Walker loud and clear right now.

"They've really had an impact, although it's not a surprising one," said Arizona Coach Lute Olson, who tried to recruit all three of UCLA's freshman class of Foster, Wilson and Walker--three of the reasons why UCLA is 21-6.

Lump the three of them together, and add them to a Bruin team that returned virtually intact after last season's 15-14 record, and their influence on UCLA seems dramatic. There are other quality freshmen in the Pacific 10 this season--Gary Payton at Oregon State, Bryant Walton at Cal, Mark Becker at Arizona State and Bob Erbst at USC--but they're not together as they are at UCLA.

"Far and away, they're the best group of freshmen in the league," Olson said. "No one else is even close."

Said Washington State Coach Len Stevens: "They'd be starting for most of the teams in the conference."

So why is it that none of them can start for UCLA? Hazzard said from the beginning of fall practice that he would bring them along slowly and he has done that.

Of course, Hazzard never needed to make any lineup changes involving the freshmen, because the Bruins lost only two games after Christmas.

But if there was a freshmen starter in their future, most figured that Foster would be the first to get into the starting lineup to replace Jack Haley. Foster did, too.

"I think about that a lot, and I'm hurt I'm not starting as I had planned," Foster said. "But Jack has done well, we're winning and like they say: 'If the machine's not broken, don't fix it.' "

With three new parts to the machine, the Bruins have gone from being the thinnest team in the Pacific 10 to the deepest. In fact, they're so deep that Walker, the best shooter of the freshmen, played more than 10 minutes only once in 27 games this season.

"I always knew I fit in, I just didn't know where . . . or when," Walker said. "For me, for all of us, it's been a definite growing experience."

Walker, who is 6 feet 10 inches, has grown upwards all right, but at 218 pounds he could probably stand to grow sideways a lot more. Since he's tall, though, Walker takes up a lot of space. The same is true for Foster, who is 6-11, and Wilson, who is 6-8, 210 and not the type of person you want to mess with on the court.

When the Bruins were in Corvallis, Ore., to play Oregon State before a sellout crowd and with the Pac-10 lead on the line, a group of Beaver fans jeered Wilson during the national anthem. Wilson responded with a hand gesture, possibly ordering a table for one. He was smiling.

"I love fans, whether they're for me or against me," Wilson said. "I don't care."

Two days later at Eugene, Ore., Wilson was in the middle of a fight that broke out near the end of a UCLA blowout when Foster charged into Duck guard Rick Osborn. Wilson said later that he hadn't seen any punches thrown.

"But I close my eyes when I swing," he said.

It's Foster, however, who looks as though he needs an attitude adjustment. He has a tattoo on his left biceps and a scowl on his face. But Foster said that he isn't being read right, that he is being misinterpreted.

"I act like that when I'm having a poor performance," he said. "I'm a very emotional player. I know I can be playing better. It's just really frustrating to me sometimes."

Walker didn't exactly act like Mr. Cool either when he got upset with himself early in the season because he had missed a shot.

"He'd turn his back on the world, kick his foot and take a bite out of the air," Hazzard said.

Like Foster, Walker seems to have changed. Instead of slapping his hands after missing a shot, he is simply making the shot. Against Oregon, Walker had 11 points in 7 minutes and had a 3-point basket within his first 30 seconds.

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