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Passion for the Game : Former Bruin Dave Meyers Teaches Children About Basketball, but He Doesn't Want to Coach

April 01, 1995|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAKE ELSINORE — Dave Meyers has come back to basketball at the same moment basketball was looking for him.

He teaches the game, the way Coach Wooden did. For an hour a week the last four weeks at the Temecula Recreation Center, it's drills and more drills--the same ones from Meyers' salad days at UCLA.

Meyers enjoys these Friday afternoons working with kids, some of whom are literally knee high. He can pass along knowledge in the sport he loves in a setting he loves.

"A lot of people have asked me about coaching," Meyers said. "But I don't like the competition part. I like the teaching side. I can see why Coach Wooden got such a thrill. When we did those drills, it was part of the overall picture."

Twenty years after leading UCLA to the national championship and 15 years after walking away from the NBA, Meyers is a picture of contentment. He is a husband, father and teacher--the roles he cherishes most.

But his life includes basketball again, for better and worse.

Meyers, 41, walked away from the Milwaukee Bucks after five tumultuous seasons. That road led to back to the classroom. He has been a sixth-grade teacher at Railroad Canyon School in Lake Elsinore the last eight years.

He was happy to smother his playing career the way he once smothered opponents. But his past lingers.

UCLA has returned to the Final Four, trying to win its first national championship since Meyers and Co. sent Wooden off to retirement in style in 1975. Meyers was captain of the team that beat Kentucky, 92-85, for the Bruins' 10th title in 12 seasons. Those memories have been heavily recruited lately.

"People have called the last couple weeks wanting to talk with me about 1975," Meyers said. "Most cultures are fascinated by anniversaries."

Meyers has one of his own to celebrate this year, his 20th wedding anniversary, which is approaching. But it's tough being an inconspicuous ex-Bruin when UCLA is in the Final Four.

Even former teammates can unknowingly betray you.

"I look at (UCLA forward) Ed O'Bannon and he reminds me of Dave Meyers in 1975," said Marques Johnson, who started at forward opposite Meyers in 1975. "Ed's a senior, pushing the team toward the national championship, just like Dave did with us."

A compliment, but one Meyers can do without. "This is their season, not mine," he said.

His is etched in history and people remember.

*

When Meyers was announced during a halftime tribute to Wooden at The Pond of Anaheim in December, he received a standing ovation.

"Everywhere I go, people always ask me about Dave," said his sister, Ann Meyers Drysdale, a former basketball All-American at UCLA and now a television broadcaster. "People admired him that much."

Letters will arrive at Railroad Canyon from fans. Meyers shares some with co-workers and answers them all.

Meyers was honored at a UCLA game this season. He took his daughter, Crystal, 19, who was amazed to learn of her father's exploits.

"Even his kids don't know what he did," Ann Meyers said. "But he was something special."

Most who played for Wooden were. A player didn't choose UCLA, it chose him. The talent pool was deep.

Meyers, a 6-foot-9 forward, led Sonora High to the Southern Section 2-A title and was named the player of the year in 1971.

The lineage had reached Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes by the time Meyers arrived. That was fine with him. It was better to play in the shadow than to cast one.

Not that Meyers was a complete introvert. But his personality was reserved for family and friends.

"Whenever one of the kids was sick, I would tell them to take some aspirin and go to bed," said his mother, Pat Meyers, who had 11 children. "Dave came home with a broken finger one day. It was a fracture that had broken the skin. He said, 'Do I take an aspirin and go to bed?' I laughed, as we went off to the doctor."

Said Ann Meyers: "He always holds court when he talks, because he is so genuine. He used to pit my brother Jeff and I against each other. We'd play football and it would be Jeff and I against each other, with Dave as the quarterback."

But Meyers remained in the background as much as possible at UCLA.

"Dave didn't need a lot of media attention," Johnson said. "Which was good, because with Walton and Wilkes, there wasn't a lot left over. But Dave never sought it."

*

Going unnoticed, though, was difficult. This was, after all, UCLA under Wooden.

Meyers was on the fringe of Bruin, and college basketball, history in his sophomore and junior seasons.

He was a reserve in 1973, playing in the title game in which Walton made 21 of 22 shots and scored a title-game record 44 points. He was a starter the next season, when Notre Dame ended the Bruins' 88-game winning streak. The Bruins' run of seven consecutive national championships also ended, when they lost to North Carolina State in the semifinals.

Dramatic moments, but preludes, really, for Meyers' senior year and Wooden's finale.

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