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Could Cause Recruiting Problems : 'Westhead Leaving' Rumors Fly as Fast as Loyola's Attack

June 16, 1989|ALAN DROOZ, Times Staff Writer

The sports rumor mills have worked overtime since Paul Westhead arrived as basketball coach at Loyola Marymount, especially in the last two years when Westhead's teams have set scoring records and appeared in the NCAA playoffs.

Westhead has been mentioned for virtually every coaching opening from Stanford to Washington to Texas to Providence. Reports have had him interviewing across the country, from sea to shining sea, from the high and mighty (Kentucky) to the lowly and downtrodden (Clippers).

The rumors and Westhead sightings have stopped just short of the supermarket tabloids linking him to extraterrestrial teams and recruiting Elvis.

Funny thing is, Westhead has not actively sought another job since coming to Loyola four years ago and has rarely been contacted by the dozens of teams supposedly craving him.

The latest stops on the reported Westhead itinerary were the University of Maryland and the New York Knicks. The Baltimore Sun reported that Westhead was a prospective candidate for the Maryland opening; apparently that was speculation. Maryland did talk to several coaches--including USC's George Raveling--before hiring Gary Williams from Ohio State. But Westhead said he "was never involved" in the Maryland hiring process.

So the day Williams was hired at College Park, another report hit the news wires saying Westhead was talking to Knicks General Manager Al Bianchi. And, indeed, Westhead said he had spoken with Bianchi this week. But, Westhead said, linking a conversation with Bianchi to a job offer was jumping to a conclusion. It was merely a conversation between old friends, Westhead said, about everything but the job opening.

And what about Newsday's report that the two talked business? "I did speak (with Newsday) and made it very clear we did not talk about the job," Westhead said. "There's nothing to it."

Westhead said the constant job rumors are more amusing than irritating. "It's not like every week you're indicted for something," he joked. "I don't put a lot of stock in (rumors) but I don't find it annoying. If your name is being mentioned, I guess the spill-off is it's a compliment."

He has found that it can cause anxious moments when recruiting. "It is curious when I talk to a prospective recruit," he said. "They or their parents will invariably say, 'We hear you're leaving.' My feeling is it's kind of interesting. I'm here starting my fifth year and the rumors always come from places where the coach has been there a lot less than five years. But if the recruit is concerned, there could be damage."

One signing was held up recently when Westhead's name surfaced for the Kentucky job. Tony Walker, a guard out of Ventura College, finally signed a few days later. The Kentucky job wasn't filled until last week, when Rick Pitino was hired away from the Knicks.

While the Westhead rumor mill continues to churn, he said his summer travel schedule is built around recruiting for Loyola, scouting the high school all-star camps and tournaments at Princeton, N.J., Santa Barbara and Las Vegas.

Westhead, who last coached in the National Basketball Assn. in 1983, has always maintained that he would listen to an attractive offer (Knicks?) but is happy at Loyola, where his fifth team--with a nucleus of Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble and Jeff Fryer--appears capable of a West Coast Athletic Conference title and a three-peat in the WCAC Tournament.

Westhead's only other coaching plans for the summer involve a fast-break clinic in Great Falls, Mont.

"They told me they have the greatest hunting in the country there," he said. "I said, 'I don't hunt.' They said they have some of the best fishing in America. I said, 'I don't fish.' They said they have a couple of the best golf courses around. I don't golf. But they said, 'C'mon up anyway, we'll have a great clinic.' "

Hmm, sounds fishy. Is there a coaching opening at the College of Great Falls?

Back spasms cost Loyola star Hank Gathers a possible spot on the U.S. team that is competing in Mexico City to qualify for the World Games. The 6-foot-7 Gathers was reportedly

felt he was not sufficiently healed to accompany the team to Mexico.

Gathers is back in Los Angeles, Gathers is back in Los Angeles, has resumed normal workouts and training and said he felt that he made a good impression on pro scouts who attended the workouts. Westhead, who attended part of the tryouts, said Gathers "was certainly everyone's equal" and "was clearly in the plans" of U.S. Coach Bobby Cremins. "The spasms took a couple of days to cool down. It's nothing really serious. He's back lifting weights."

Although the West Coast Athletic Conference hasn't been considered one of the nation's premier basketball leagues, WCAC teams did well in the 1980s. As the WCAC prepares to enter a new decade, it will be building on a 10-year winning percentage of .550. The WCAC's eight teams played better than 200 games above .500 at 1,185-971.

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