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Home Again--and Happy : Former UCLA Player, Coach Larry Farmer Is Finding Niche as Broadcaster After Return From Kuwait

March 14, 1993|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In late January, Larry Farmer was still in Kuwait, where he coaches and oversees the development of basketball.

But after returning to Los Angeles on Jan. 29, he figured it was time to get going on something he had wanted to pursue for some time--broadcasting.

His previous experience consisted of two 1987 Denver Nugget telecasts when, on Feb. 8, he worked as a commentator on an ESPN telecast of a Cal State Long Beach-Nevada Las Vegas game.

CBS was impressed. A little more than a week later, Farmer was hired to work the NCAA tournament, which begins Thursday.

In the meantime, he has worked games for Raycom, ESPN, SportsChannel America and Prime Ticket.

For the NCAA tournament, Farmer will be paired with play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman, and his producer, coincidentally, will be Roy Hamilton.

Hamilton, a 10-year CBS employee who lives in Santa Monica and will be working his third NCAA tournament as a producer, played at UCLA when Farmer was an assistant coach.

Said Hamilton: "I told Larry, 'You used to yell at me in practice . . . now I get to yell at you . . . .' "

Farmer and his long-time friend and teammate, Bill Walton, attended the UCLA-Oregon State game at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 11 and ran into their former coach, John Wooden.

Said Wooden, with a chuckle: "I told them, 'I may have failed in teaching you how to play basketball, but I succeeded in teaching you how to talk about basketball.' "

Farmer's sudden success does not surprise Wooden.

"He always spoke well, he is very intelligent and has a good vocabulary," Wooden said.

Said Walton: "Larry is going to be very popular. He's very congenial, a people person. He'll do great."

Farmer, though, has taken a strange route to broadcasting.

Farmer the player can claim a college record no one else can. The Bruins were 89-1 during his three varsity seasons--29-1 in Farmer's sophomore season of 1970-71, and 30-0 the next two. The season after Farmer graduated, when Walton was a senior, the Bruins lost four games--to Notre Dame, Oregon State, Oregon, and, in double overtime, to North Carolina State in the NCAA title game.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, was 88-2 during his UCLA varsity career.

"I think Kareem contributed to that record a little more than I contributed to mine,"Farmer quipped.

But Farmer was a starter for two years and, according to Walton, is the inventor of the lob-pass basket.

"He and Greg Lee were the first to do it," Walton said. "I'd clear out to one side, Greg would lob the ball up to Larry and he would put it in. I saw them do that three or four times and told Greg, 'Hey, that play has my name written all over it.' "

So, it might have been Walton and Lee who made the play famous, but credit Farmer for coming up with it.

"Nice of Bill to acknowledge that," Farmer said. "I remember the first time Greg and I did it. It was during my junior year. It wasn't anything planned or practiced, it just happened.

"I got inside my man and was expecting a pass, I just wasn't sure from where. Greg lobbed it right up at the basket, I grabbed it and laid it in. It wasn't a dunk.

"Coach didn't like it, so we never got to practice it. It was just a thing where Greg and I would make eye contact and

do it."

After his UCLA career, Farmer was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1973, but lasted only through the exhibition season.

The Denver Nuggets were interested--Farmer was from Denver--but the late Sam Gilbert told him, "Don't go." He also told him to stay by the phone.

The next day, Farmer had a new job--graduate assistant coach under Wooden. When Wooden retired in 1975, Farmer became a full-time assistant under Gene Bartow.

Farmer spent the next nine seasons at UCLA, the final three as head coach.

He served two seasons as an assistant under Bartow, two under Gary Cunningham and two under Larry Brown. When Brown left to coach the Nuggets, Farmer, then 30, became the youngest head coach in UCLA history.

"I never realized how moving just six inches over on the bench would impact my life," Farmer said.

In his first season, the Bruins went 21-6, but probation kept them out of the NCAA tournament.

They were 23-6 in Farmer's second season and won the Pacific 10 Conference title. But they lost to Utah in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The next season, 1983-84, the Bruins were 17-11 and rumors persisted that Farmer would be fired. Instead, he was given a three-year contract extension. Three days later, Farmer changed his mind and resigned.

Farmer never said what had changed his mind.

Fearing that he indeed was about to be fired, Farmer said he requested a meeting with Chancellor Charles Young.

"We were getting beat in recruiting," Farmer said, noting that, among others, current Clipper John Williams, then a Crenshaw High star, chose to go to Louisiana State.

"UCLA has higher academic standards than other schools," Farmer said. "I told Chancellor Young we needed to ease up a little on academic standards, that the program was going downhill."

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