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THE MARCH TO MADNESS | Bailey's Cream Rises

College basketball: Living up to the '95 title game hasn't been easy, but he'll stick with program at UCLA.

March 08, 1997|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a name for fame, and a trapeze artist's game, Toby Bailey couldn't hide if he tried.

He's booed, taunted, squealed over, criticized, lauded, applauded, rebuked--sometimes all at the same time, by the same people--but never, ever, ignored.

"People perceive him to be this glamorous guy, hanging out with famous people all the time," senior Cameron Dollar said. "And that's not him at all. Never has been. He's just always been just mellow Toby."

But, almost from the moment he donned a Bruin uniform, Toby Bailey--TOE-OOOOE-BEEEE! goes the chant--has been a lightning rod with thunder dunks and tumultuous turnovers, and the flash point of everything good and ugly about UCLA basketball.

For better or worse, usually in the same game.

Toe-ooooe-beeee . . .

"That kind of makes me happy, when I see I'm the one who's on their minds," Bailey said this week when asked about being singled out for ridicule by almost every road crowd UCLA faces. "They're yelling my name--they haven't forgotten about me. I'm still on their minds."

Although he scored in single digits in 17 of 33 games and started only 13 his freshman season, Bailey entered the national consciousness as a rim-rocking 19-year-old on UCLA's 1995 dream team, ending an up-and-down campaign with a 26-point, nine-rebound, 39-minute performance in the national championship game against Arkansas.

By the time he finished it off with a levitating, left-handed put-back slam that gave the Bruins the lead for good in the final minutes, Bailey, who came to Westwood from Loyola High as a relatively unheralded player--compared to classmates omm'A Givens and J.R. Henderson--was a superficial superstar before he actually was a good college basketball player.

What do you do after you lead the world in savage dunks and magazine covers and NBA aspirations . . . and you still have three years of college ball left to play?

If you're Bailey, you struggle through a chaotic sophomore season after getting moved from the off-guard spot to the point and back, and you hear all about your failure to duplicate the Arkansas performance.

And, as always, you are the focal point for the UCLA analysts: Is the team undisciplined? Bailey can't be coached. Does the team play selfishly? Bailey dribbles too much and preens for the NBA scouts.

"I think he got a bad rap because he had the great game, and I think a lot of people perceived him being cocky," said Kris Johnson, Bailey's best friend on the team.

Even though he has followed it up with a much stronger junior season, in which only Charles O'Bannon has been more consistent, the 6-foot-5 Bailey says he understands that unless he throws down eight dunks and scores 25 points a game, he has disappointed.

"I wouldn't change anything," said Bailey, who, unlike Henderson and sophomore Jelani McCoy, has flatly announced that he will stay all four years at UCLA.

"But it gets tiring after a while, when I feel like I'm playing good basketball, and I'm being consistent. I've risen in assists, I've risen in rebounds, and I think I've even risen my point average from last year [actually he's down, from 14.8 last season to 14.1].

"People don't see that, unless I'm scoring, like, Michael Jordan numbers."

Undisciplined? Henderson, McCoy and Johnson have all been benched for minor rules violations. Bailey hasn't. Moody? Unreliable? In one six-game stretch in January, which included two overtime games, Bailey averaged more than 40 minutes a game, and he has never been an injury question mark.

Uncoachable? Bailey is probably the Bruin who had to make the biggest adjustment to new Coach Steve Lavin's motion game, and he's the one who could have loused it up most seriously by ditching the dish-off to go one on one.

For the most part, he has stuck with the program--and personified Lavin's preaching about an upbeat, fearless attitude.

"Mentally, he's one of the toughest guys on this team, and a lot of people take that for granted," Johnson said. "He'll make a bad play or something but he'll stay in it and come down and make four good plays. He just stays in it.

"When he finishes out his senior year, I think he should go down as one of the greatest players in the last 15 years of UCLA history."

Bailey is still giving up turnovers at a dramatic rate--97 so far, only 10 short of his mark last season--but he also is still attacking. He made the lunging three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime at Oregon, then missed one at the end of overtime that would have won it. He sliced the Duke defense twice in the closing minutes for crucial baskets. And just Thursday, he made a critical steal in the last three minutes to protect UCLA's then one-point lead over Washington.

"The people that I respect the most and know basketball, they see what I'm doing and they see it's not realistic for me to be scoring 26-27 points a night," Bailey said.

"That would be extremely selfish on my part, if I was doing that. I think I'm doing a good job of just playing hard, doing what the team needs.

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