For UCLA's Bailey, NBA can wait NCAA TOURNAMENT

SEATTLE — SEATTLE -- Throughout the NCAA tournament, one of the sideshows was speculation over who's leaving college early to go to the NBA.

It's a topic that hits home in Maryland, where everyone wants to know one thing: Will Joe Smith go?


At the Final Four, North Carolina's sophomore All-Americans, Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse, were asked the same question. Arkansas has to deal with the possible departure of juniors Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman.

Even Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson didn't discount the possibility that he would move to the pro ranks and direct the expansion team in Toronto.


For at least one night, however, none of those men looked as ready for the NBA as UCLA's Toby Bailey, the freshman guard who overwhelmed the Razorbacks in the Bruins' 89-78 victory in the NCAA championship game.

The 13th start of Bailey's college career was more than just a lucky one. Arkansas is a team known for its athleticism, fiery demeanor and cool play in clutch situations, but it was Bailey who displayed those traits after his running partner, point guard Tyus Edney, couldn't play because of a sprained wrist.

John Garfield Bailey -- Toby is a nickname -- was cocky in the interview sessions the day before the game, and backed it up with a backboard-banging 26 points and nine rebounds. He had the same numbers in the West Regional final against Connecticut.

He is just settling into college and has no interest in turning pro, but Bailey has come a great distance from the kid who pouted after playing 10 minutes and missing both his shots in a nationally televised win over Kentucky and didn't break into the starting lineup until mid-February.

"There aren't any nerves associated with this," said Bailey, 19, who received no more than honorable mention on the assorted high school All-American teams last year. "I didn't have that great of a game in the semifinals, and it's not like Arkansas can key on me anyway."

Spoken like the leader Bailey will become now that the Bruins will lose seniors Edney, Ed O'Bannon -- the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four -- and center George Zidek.

UCLA still has sophomores Charles O'Bannon and Cameron Dollar, who filled in admirably in Edney's absence, and J. R. Henderson, the 6-foot-9 forward who until Bailey's recent emergence was the most productive Bruins freshman since Don MacLean.

Coach Jim Harrick has a loaded freshman class that also includes omm'A Givens, the 6-10 center who presumably will take over for Zidek, and 6-4 swingman Kris Johnson, whose father, Marques, was a sophomore starter on the last UCLA team to win an NCAA title.


Harrick worked wonders holding the Bruins together when Edney went to the bench after playing only three minutes against Arkansas. It was a cameo reminiscent of the seventh game of the 1970 NBA Finals, when the Knicks' Willis Reed took some cortisone shots for an injured knee and hobbled out on the floor to face the Lakers' Wilt Chamberlain.

The difference then was that Reed made a jumper at the foul line, and that the team from Los Angeles crumbled. This time, the guys from southern California showed incredible mettle.

UCLA's conquest of Arkansas and domination of the Final Four just added to the appreciation for the Bruins' dynasty under John Wooden, and how difficult it is to repeat in an era of scholarship limits and more than 300 Division I schools fighting for the top talent.

Defending the crown weighed heavy all year on Arkansas and Richardson, who was trying to become only the second coach since Wooden retired to win back-to-back titles. Mike Krzyzewski PTC took Duke to the 1991 and '92 titles.

Arkansas was the first champion since UCLA in 1967 to return all five starters. After he was pushed around by Zidek in the pivot, Williamson sounded as if he was ready to come back to the Razorbacks for one year, but even if he leaves, Arkansas has some rebuilding to do.

The Hogs lose seniors Corey Beck, Clint McDaniel, Dwight Stewart, Elmer Martin, Davor Rimac and Alex Dillard, three-point shooters all.