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BIG WEST CONFERENCE NOTEBOOK / JASON REID

Tight Race Puts No Strain on These Coaches' Friendship

February 15, 1996|JASON REID

You wouldn't expect to see Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith chatting in public, let alone sharing ice cream and cake the night before another showdown between Duke and North Carolina. And just try to get Bob Knight or Gene Keady to go roller-blading before Indiana and Purdue resume their manic rivalry . . . or ever, for that matter.

Seth Greenberg and Rod Baker? They're a different story.

The day before Long Beach State and UC Irvine played the biggest game in the Big West Conference this season, the Greenberg and Baker families spent the afternoon together. They celebrated Zachary Baker's 8th birthday with a skating party in Huntington Beach.

"It wasn't pretty," Greenberg joked. "Rod is much better than I am."

Then on Monday night, the longtime friends matched wits. The Anteaters defeated the 49ers, 84-81, at the Pyramid to regain first place. They hold a half-game lead over the 49ers.

That Baker is one of Greenberg's few close friends among Big West coaches is especially interesting this season because the Anteaters and 49ers are the top teams.

"Rod is one of my contemporaries," Greenberg said. "He's one of the people whose opinions I respect. I care what the Rod Bakers think about me."

Baker and Greenberg are two East Coast guys who came west to win basketball games. Baker was reared in Philadelphia; Greenberg in Plainview, N.Y.

They met climbing the ranks as assistant coaches.

"We worked together in [1979] at Columbia [in New York City]," Baker said. "I've got this picture of me, Seth and the guy who was the head coach around here [Baker's office] somewhere. I actually lived with Seth for a couple of weeks before I got my own apartment."

If anything, Baker was a good influence on Greenberg. He showed him a new way of life--at the grocery store.

"I took Seth to parts of the supermarket he had never been to," Baker joked. "You know, that there are things there besides frozen food. Fresh vegetables and things like that."

Greenberg was an assistant at Long Beach for three seasons under Joe Harrington and took over before the 1990-91 season. Baker was an assistant at Seton Hall for three seasons before being hired in 1991 as Irvine's fifth coach.

Despite battling for players and conference victories, the friendship endures. All the madcap birthday parties help.

"We go to all of Ella and Paige's parties, and they come to all of Zach and Rachel's," Baker said of Greenberg's children and his. "We've been doing it ever since we've come out here."

*

Tough road ahead: Irvine and Long Beach play their next two games on the road. Irvine goes to New Mexico State and Nevada Las Vegas. Long Beach plays at Nevada and Utah State.

"Rod's done a great job," Greenberg said. "But what people don't understand is that we're both going out on the road. It's not going to be easy for either one of us."

Likewise, Baker isn't seeking designs for championship rings quite yet. He doesn't believe anything is decided.

"It feels fleeting," Baker said. "It feels like we've got to go play a whole lot more games on the road, and Long Beach is in the exact same situation."

*

Test might tell: Long Beach routed New Mexico State, 73-57, Saturday night at the Pyramid. Aggie Coach Neil McCarthy believes the 49ers will win the conference if they play that way on their upcoming trip.

"That will be the test for them up there on the road," McCarthy said. "If they play that aggressive on the road as they do at home, then that could do it. They've sure got the talent to win it."

*

Titan woes: An 85-75 loss Saturday night to Irvine dropped Cal State Fullerton into a tie for ninth place with Nevada Las Vegas. The Titans are now two games behind the current breaking point for one of six spots in the conference postseason tournament. That doesn't bode well for Fullerton with only two of its final six games at home.

On the road, Fullerton (5-15, 4-8 in the Big West) is 1-9, 0-5 in conference play. The Titans had 19 turnovers in the first half against Irvine and 25 for the game.

"We continue to make mistakes that a veteran team doesn't make," Coach Bob Hawking said. "I hate to always go back to how young we are, but the things that will take care of that are maturity and experience."

Staff writers John Weyler and Lon Eubanks contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

This Week's Schedule

TONIGHT

Long Beach State at Nevada, 7:35 p.m.

Cal State Fullerton at New Mexico State, 6:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

Cal State Fullerton at Nevada Las Vegas, 8:05 p.m.

Long Beach State at Utah State, 6:05 p.m.

UC Irvine at New Mexico State, 6:30 p.m.

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