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Boyz on the Wood : On Seat of Their Pants, Bruins' Final 5 Going to Final Four

March 30, 1995|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Flyin' Bobby Myers, as the last man on the UCLA bench is known by his fellow squatters, is shooting free throws at one end of Pauley Pavilion, long after the whistle ending Tuesday's practice session has sounded.

"He's a funny guy," 11th man Kevin Dempsey says from the other end of the gym, nodding in Myers' direction. "Look at him. He's over there shooting by himself and he knows he's not going to play."

Funnier still, a few minutes later Myers is approached with an interview request. This bears explanation, so Myers is told it's for a story about the UCLA reserves, the end of the Bruin bench, the final five on the team flight to the Final Four.

"The bench?" Myers replies, grinning broadly. "That's me. You got the right guy."

A similar request of ninth man omm'A Givens, 1994 high school All-American and Washington State high school player of the year, elicits an arched eyebrow and a hard stare.

"Is that what I am?" Givens retorts. "A reserve , huh?"

Givens mulls this over for several seconds.

"I guess I didn't expect to be called 'a reserve,' " he says. "Hopefully, that won't be the case too much longer."

Dempsey, the veteran of the group, has heard this before, seen this before.

"The five bottom guys--I think we argue and fight the most on the team, and we don't ever play," Dempsey says. "There's about three guys in our bottom five who think they're 10-year veterans in the NBA."

He laughs.

"I think the bottom five are more competitive than the top five. All we do is fight and bicker. It's amazing sometimes in practice. They want to be in there so badly. I think we've gotten into more fights than the starters have."

It's a tough crowd, the Bruins' bottom five would have you believe.

Hence, the nicknames.

The Wrecking Crew.

The Murderer.

Icy Ike, founding member of the Dark Side.

How on earth is Big Country supposed to contend with that?

Chances are, Oklahoma State's Bryant Reeves won't have to contend with any of them. UCLA Coach Jim Harrick relies on a strictly enforced seven-man rotation--the guys he plays call themselves Toby and Cameron and Tyus and George--which generally leaves the Wrecking Crew, the Murderer and Icy Ike to bide their time on the bench, hoping for foul trouble or a blowout and thinking up new nicknames.

Dempsey, Myers and freshman Kris Johnson are the Wrecking Crew. Why? "I think it was in a movie," Johnson explains. Adds Myers: "We've been calling ourselves that since the Arizona game. You go on the road, you get on the bus, sometimes you've got nothing to do. So we have this call. We just yell, ' Croooooooooo! ' "

Collectively, the Crew averages 4.3 minutes of playing time per game, or 1.43 minutes per Crew member. Johnson is high-point man, averaging 2.7 a game. Dempsey averages 2.0 points and Myers 0.4.

Sometimes during games you've got nothing to do.

Givens is the Murderer, so called because of his proclivity for inflicting bodily damage to teammates during hyperactive intrasquad workouts. "He plays so hard in practice, he hurts people," Johnson says, admiration in his voice.

The Murderer averages 6.1 minutes and 1.7 points.

Ike Nwankwo, a 6-11 sophomore center, is Icy Ike. At least that's what it says on his vanity license plates. "The other guys thought I was trying to be Mr. Big Shot, so they changed it," Nwankwo glumly reports. "They call me 'Spicer' instead. Spicer. They know I can't stand it, so they keep calling me that."

Icy Ike/Spicer averages 5.2 minutes and 2.9 points.

It's a mixed group, with mixed feelings about being tag-alongs on the road to Seattle. Myers, a former walk-on who played his way into a scholarship, and Dempsey, back in uniform after two seasons marred by back problems and an ulcer condition, are happy-to-be-here types. Givens, the Bruins' most ballyhooed recruit of 1994, and Nwankwo, the top-ranked prep player in Texas in 1992, stew over their lack of minutes. And Johnson, the son of Bruin legend Marques Johnson, is positioned somewhere in the middle--a self-described "fun guy" who worries that people might "think I'm a stiff or a nothing. Hopefully next year they'll see that I'm not a stiff."

This year, Johnson's biggest contribution to UCLA's march through the West Regional has been commandeering the "Towel Brigade," another time-killer devised by the Bruins' bottom five. Johnson and occasionally Givens wear towels on their heads, in a variety of styles, depending on the game situation--sort of a hoops version of the baseball rally cap--and maybe it's best that Johnson explains the rest:

"When the game is tight, I put on 'the Outlaw' towel. It's like a bandanna across my face.

"When the other team makes a run, I take off 'the Outlaw' and put on 'the Turban.' I just wrap the towel around the top of my head.

"And when the game is wrapped up and all is well on the Western Front, I put on 'the Terrorist.' That's 'the Outlaw' and 'the Turban,' both at the same time. I look like I'm about to throw a Molotov cocktail at somebody."

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