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But sustaining success eluded Lavin, who was personable and outgoing, a charismatic ambassador but one who often gave the impression he did not seem to enjoy the actual work that accompanied his job. Once, when the Bruins took the court for a game against Gonzaga, he turned to an assistant to ask if the Zags played zone or man-to-man. One summer, he left the recruiting circuit to fly to Boston to watch baseball’s All-Star Game at Fenway Park.
At a high school tournament near Seattle, while coaches and scouts sat in the bleachers taking notes on prospects, Lavin watched the games from the side, pedaling away on an exercise bike until he was soaked with sweat.
Lavin gets far too much credit for recruiting top-tier players to UCLA; many of them were Southern California kids (Baron Davis and Jason Kapono, for instance) who would have ended up in Westwood regardless of the coach. And to get those players, Lavin associated with men (Pat Barrett, Myron Piggie, etc) who continually drew the interest of NCAA investigators.
I once asked one of his better-known UCLA players what Lavin really told them during timeouts late in tight games.
Wait, I said, I know: “Play harder!”
The player laughed for a long time, nodding his head the whole time, then added: “One other thing. He’d also say, ‘Run faster!’”
And I know it’s only a matter of hours before we hear Lav chattering away about the deep affection he’s always held for Louie Carnesecca, the borough of Queens, Walter Berry, Louie’s sweaters, Nathan’s hot dogs, Madison Square Garden, Bill Wennington, the New York Daily News, Brian Kenny, Mario Cuomo, the Big East tournament, Rich Aurilia, and, yes, of course, Chris Mullin.
If Lav doesn’t say all this, or a close version of this, I’ll be very, very disappointed.