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Bruin Has Philosophy All His Own About Playing Water Polo

September 24, 1987|RAY RIPTON | Times Staff Writer

The French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, believed that man was naturally good and was corrupted by artificial societies. UCLA water polo Coach Bob Horn feels much the same way about coaching third-year sophomore Alexis Rousseau.

Horn said that the young water polo player, "is so darn fresh . . . really unspoiled," that he tries to keep his coaching to a minimum so as not to ruin Rousseau's creative approach to the game.

He said that although Rousseau (no relation to the 18th-Century philosopher) has much to learn about water polo, he is a natural--in much the same way that Magic Johnson or Larry Bird are in basketball.

"He has the kind of mind that adapts readily to team-sport situations. He has street sense and good instincts."

Horn said that he began to realize that coaching Rousseau was not entirely necessary when UCLA's AAU summer team was playing the U. S. national team. He said he tried to give Rousseau technical advice on playing against such world-class players as Drew McDonald and Gary Figueroa. But he gave up on it when Rousseau asked, "Who are they?"

The UCLA coach said he finally told Rousseau just to "forget the scientific play and use your instincts. He did, and his play was delightful."

What pleases Horn most is Rousseau's ability to score. In his first college season last year, the Santa Monica High School graduate scored 60 goals to lead the Bruins and was named a second-team All-American as UCLA finished third in the NCAA Tournament.

The 6-3, 190-pounder is a two-meter, or hole, man, comparable to a center in basketball, and his chief responsibility is to pass off to teammates so that they can make goals. And he does get plenty of assists when his teammates score.

He scores more than hole men usually do. Horn said he was not surprised at Rousseau's scoring, that his two-meter man is a big, rangy left-hander and that portsiders have a scoring edge.

But he did not expect Rousseau to top the Bruins in scoring and still have a lot of assists. "That he does both is tremendous. He also gets a lot of goals on power plays (when an opponent must play short-handed because of a penalty)."

At 19, Rousseau is a member of the U. S. junior national team and hopes to make the senior national team for the 1992 Olympics. Junior team Coach Rich Corso considers Rousseau one of the top three juniors in the world, according to an article in the water polo magazine Scoreboard U.S.A.

Horn, in his 25th year as UCLA's coach, said that, if Rousseau "continues to progress, he'll make the natural transition from the juniors to the national B team. If he continues, he has a chance to make the Olympic team. I'm confident he'll get that opportunity if he doesn't lose his hunger for the game and continues with his enthusiasm." But Rousseau's ascent to the heights in water polo has not been a natural progression.

He was born in Paris of parents who were French citizens and had left Algeria before the revolution ousted the French from their former colony. When he was 3 his parents emigrated to Montreal where Alexis learned to swim and play hockey. After a later move to Vermont, he took up skiing.

When he was 11 the Rousseaus settled in Santa Monica. At Santa Monica High, Alexis' older brother Jean, now 22 and a UCLA graduate, played water polo.

But when Alexis got to high school he was considering going out for the football team. He said that Jean, however, talked him into water polo, telling him that his experience as an age-group swimmer in Canada would help him in the water sport.

"My dad also was not too keen about football because of the injury factor," he said in an interview before a recent practice.

Alexis soon found that he was keenly interested in water polo. But his emerging prowess was not enough to stimulate much interest among college coaches, who tend to look for California prospects up north or at Orange County powers such as Newport Harbor High or Corona del Mar.

UCLA and USC were the only schools that recruited him, and Horn found out about him only through a friend whose daughter was dating Rousseau.

Horn said he took the youth to a UCLA basketball game and was going to introduce him to John Wooden, the former basketball coach who led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships. "But he didn't know who John Wooden was.

"He was so darn fresh and so darn new to this country that nobody really recruited him. He was unspoiled and unique, and I decided then that I wanted this guy."

After his sensational freshman year, when he averaged about two goals a match, Rousseau is a wanted man--wanted and keyed on by defenders.

"I think I was marked by other teams a little bit last year because I had played on the junior national team," he said.

"But this year I definitely expect more competition and for defenders to key on me more. But that gives me more drive, makes me work harder."

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