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NCAA COLLEGE BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT | BILL PLASCHKE

Stint Is Short and to the Point

Sean Farnham, UCLA's inspirational senior walk-on, gets the most out of the precious little playing time afforded him.

March 18, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE

MINNEAPOLIS — It might be only two minutes on the score sheet. It might be only two minutes to you.

It is more for Sean Farnham. It fills his head and stretches his imagination.

Lying on his apartment bed, closing his eyes, those two minutes become 30.

That is how long Farnham spends the night before each UCLA basketball game, visualizing exactly what he'll do during his brief encounter with glory.

He sees loose balls, swatting hands, clutched rebounds. Sometimes he sees jump shots, other times free throws. Always, he sees victory.

Then he gets up, brushes his teeth and returns to bed for the night.

"I don't want to actually fall asleep while I'm visualizing," he said Friday. "If I do that, then it's not as real."

Oh, as if he is real.

A senior walk-on forward taking the floor for the opening tip in the biggest games involving America's most decorated major college basketball program?

Just because he hustles?

Returning to the bench two minutes later, seldom to be seen again?

His team is 15-1 when he is in the starting lineup?

And it's not a fluke?

The most important thing about the NCAA basketball tournament is not a game-winning shot, some grizzled coach, or a dancing mascot.

It is that players like Sean Farnham get chances to start.

And, in his case, play the two minutes that define him.

"Sometimes I'll look around and think, 'This is amazing,' " he said.

So do we.

So will favored Maryland today when it plays the Bruins in a second-round game.

"He gets in there, runs around for a couple of minutes, gets everybody going, then leaves," Terrapin Coach Gary Williams said with a smile. "It looks like he gets them off to a good start."

While providing a wonderful finish to a Bruin season that desperately needed his charm.

"Guys like Sean Farnham are what make college athletics so good," Coach Steve Lavin said. "There is still room in our game for a guy who has no future playing at the next level, yet does everything right."

Farnham did precisely that Thursday in the Bruins' first-round victory over Ball State.

He started the game and played hard enough defense to force the Cardinals into a wild first shot at the 35-second buzzer.

Then he grabbed the first rebound, which led to the Bruins' first point.

Moments later he grabbed another rebound. Then another. Then he was gone.

Two minutes and 31 seconds. Three rebounds. The rest of the game on the bench.

Farnham then retired to the usual postgame party enjoyed by the modern college athlete.

He met his family in the team's hotel lobby. His sister Shannon Hunt was so proud of him, she cried.

He walked upstairs so jazzed, he couldn't sleep, fiddling with the TV's remote control until 3:30 a.m.

Of course, the next day before practice, he was the first one on the bus. He's always the first one on the bus. He's always the first one at meals.

He always the one running wild when everyone is wiped out during workouts, the one who occasionally gets punched in the gut so he'll slow down, the one who makes his teenage teammates look old.

You could say he drives the Bruins crazy, if they weren't already long past crazy.

"Sean is one of those guys who will fly all over, do whatever," Jason Kapono said. "He will, like, jump in the stands and break his neck going for a loose ball."

That apparently hasn't happened yet, but Farnham is sporting a black eye from a flying elbow, making him look like your basic 6-foot-6 tight end.

He also once broke his nose in an intra-squad game, if that counts.

Until last season, being the mop-up man and fall guy was essentially Farnham's role, and he was paid well for it.

Although he joined the team as a walk-on after a successful prep career at Concord De La Salle, he earned a scholarship before his first freshman game, and kept it through an undistinguished sophomore season.

Then the Bruins did something you should never do to a player like him.

They told Farnham he wasn't good enough.

Needing one more scholarship for one of his highly rated recruiting classes, Lavin apologetically took it away from Farnham.

"It was in the spring, and I was really down, and I could have done one of two things," Farnham said. "I could have resigned myself to spending the rest of my career here on the end of the bench . . . or I could have worked harder."

It's not hard guessing which road he took. He returned to his Bay Area home and spent that summer lifting weights twice a day and playing basketball the rest of the time.

He returned to make an impact with his practice habits and game hustle.

When the Bruins were depleted with injuries and suspensions before the Pac-10 opener against Arizona, Lavin shrugged and stuck him in the starting lineup.

UCLA won, and Farnham became part good-luck piece, part lighter fluid.

Last spring he regained his scholarship, and Thursday he avenged his only loss as a starter (last year's first-round debacle against Detroit Mercy). And today? Well, Lavin won't say whether he will start again.

But even in a game of this magnitude, where every minute could be debated for hours, expect to see him in the lineup. Lavin understands how these things work. He knows how Farnham works. He realizes he has found a perfect fit.

"I'm not as talented as some guys," said Farnham, who wants to be a coach when he graduates this spring. "But I will do things other guys won't do, and maybe that's a talent in itself."

Funny thing about a guy bold enough to spend a half hour visualizing two minutes. When thinking of this UCLA season, some of us will be visualizing him.

MIDWEST

UCLA vs. MARYLAND

at Minneapolis

Today, 5 p.m.

*

REVVED UP

The Bruins, who displayed their tendency to get too wild for their own good against Ball State, crash into a similar opponent in the Terrapins. R6

ALSO

Former Loyola Marymount player and current Metro State Coach Mike Dunlap has emerged as the leading candidate to replace Charles Bradley. R7

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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