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THE FIRING LINE: HARRICK OUSTED AT UCLA | PLAYER REACTION

Team Left Looking for Answers

College basketball: Stunned seniors never dreamed Harrick's penalty would be so severe.

November 07, 1996|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first reaction, as the Bruin phone lines buzzed with the initial reports late Tuesday, was shock.

Then, as Jim Harrick's firing sunk in and the players met with interim Coach Steve Lavin early Wednesday, at least a few Bruins felt more than a touch of anger--and disappointment.

The players had known something was going on between Harrick and the UCLA administration, but his dismissal was never thought to be a possibility.

His last words to the team came at the end of practice Tuesday: same time, same station tomorrow.

Then he went to his meeting with Chancellor Charles E. Young and Athletic Director Peter T. Dalis, and the team as of Wednesday afternoon had not seen or spoken to him since.

"I had no idea it would be so severe," senior forward Charles O'Bannon said Wednesday afternoon. "We thought maybe a slap on the hand, maybe suspended for a couple games, but nothing this severe.

"We were very disappointed, and we were just looking for the reasoning behind it."

Only the team's three seniors were available to speak to the media Wednesday.

O'Bannon gave a noncommittal answer when asked if all his questions had been answered.

But O'Bannon had no hesitation in expressing his frustration that Harrick, who won more games for UCLA than any coach except John Wooden, probably would be remembered as the man who was fired for lying about a dinner expense report.

"Which isn't fair," O'Bannon said. "That really upsets me, that people are going to remember that Coach Harrick got fired by UCLA and didn't go out the way he wanted to.

"The eight years he's gone to the tournament, he won a championship and three Pac-10 championships. He's been the most successful UCLA coach since Wooden and it's too bad that people will only remember that he made one mistake and paid for it."

Senior forward Bob Myers, a Harrick favorite since winning a scholarship after walking on as a freshman, said many team members were frustrated that Harrick was punished so swiftly.

"I believe it's kind of harsh," Myers said. "To look back on his years he was here and his wins and losses, not only those, but his personal character, and to judge him on one infraction. . . .

"Some might say it's a big issue, but to judge somebody on one thing, it's tough. Tough on us, tough on him, tough on his family."

Asked if he thought, as Harrick said, that there were some people in the UCLA athletic department who were out to get Harrick, Myers shrugged.

"That's a possibility . . . maybe," Myers said.

Myers said that with the firing coming so close to the beginning of the season in two weeks, there will be struggles in the short term.

"Yeah, that's just natural," Myers said. "We're going to have to move on, though. I mean, I'm glad we've got a couple weeks before our first real game. I believe we can work through this. We can try."

Senior point guard Cameron Dollar, one of the team's acknowledged leaders, said all he can really think about now is wishing Harrick well.

"First of all, I would thank him for all the things that he's ever taught me," Dollar said. "Just make him understand that it was appreciated and it never will be forgotten."

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