GARY MALONCON : UCLA's Captain Has Discovered That It Isn't Easy to Live Up to Walt Hazzard's Greater Expectations

Times Staff Writer

This was supposed to be Fat City, Gary Maloncon's senior year at UCLA, although it's turned out more like "30 Seconds Over Tokyo." Coach Walt Hazzard is playing the part of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Maloncon is playing Tokyo.

Maloncon is on record as saying that Hazzard "is the best thing that ever happened to me."

That may be true, though it does seem to have been kind of a mixed blessing. This is how it has gone this season:

Dec. 22--St. John's 88, Bruins 69. Hazzard decries lack of effort, promises to play younger players. Asked who has played well, he names everyone but the starting front line, Maloncon, Brad Wright and Reggie Miller.

Dec. 29--Bruins 69, Oral Roberts 61. Maloncon gets 18 points and seven rebounds. Hazzard says: "This is what I expect of our captain. He's our leader. Maybe it's a case of him adjusting to a new coaching staff but he's done that. He's had some tough times but he's still on his feet fighting."

Jan. 5--Bruins 67, Oregon 59. Maloncon has eight points and three rebounds in his first two conference games. Hazzard notes that he has been playing with flu.

Jan. 19--Arizona 53, Bruins 52. Maloncon's inbounds pass in the last minute is tipped and intercepted. Hazzard, asked if he had the man he wanted putting the ball in, says: "After the fact, no."

Jan. 21--Bruins 63, Washington 51. Maloncon shoots one for six, takes three rebounds. Hazzard plays him 26 minutes.

Jan. 24--Bruins 80, Cal 69. Maloncon: 4 points, 3 rebounds, 17 minutes. Hazzard blisters his whole team's effort. Asked about the big men, Maloncon and Wright, he notes: "I guess they took the night off."

And, finally, to suggest the possibility of a happy ending:

Jan. 26--Bruins 100, Stanford 71. Maloncon makes 10 of 15 shots, scores 23 points and takes a career-high 11 rebounds.

There is an underlying theme in all this. Hazzard demands defense and rebounding. Maloncon, worried about his game, wasn't giving it to him. Against Cal, Hazzard put Maloncon in late in the first half, watched him give up a lightly contested 15-footer and sat him down a minute later.

Hazzard is re-installing the work ethic at Westwood, where a certain self-satisfaction had crept in over the years, along with a certain feeling of persecution. Bruin players used to turn poetic at the thought of little schools, whose season would be made with an upset of UCLA. They gave them nicknames like Transylvania Tech. They carried on game-long debates with referees.

And Hazzard is winning.

"He really is the best thing that could have happened to me," Maloncon said a couple of days ago. "The night before our last game, he had a long talk with me in the hotel. He said, 'Hey, I didn't appoint you captain for nothing. I have a lot of faith in you. Just relax, go out and play your game.'

"I knew it was going to be a big adjustment this season. But it was an adjustment that Nigel (Miguel) had to make, that Brad had to make, too. Nigel is playing well, Brad is playing well. I started off the season playing well. I guess everyone is going to have periods when things go wrong."

Maloncon just wasn't used to his lasting two months. He was the lone returning full-time starter. His picture was on the cover of the media guide. He was a preseason pick on the 10-player All-Pacific 10 team. Extroverted, good-natured, quick to laugh, he was a natural leader.

When things went south, he remained gracious, if harder to find.

"I took to myself," he said. "I just talked to myself, talked to my mom. . . .

"Arizona, that was the worst. I've never felt like that. I remember being on the bus going to the airport. It was like the longest ride in the world. I was sitting there, staring at the mountains, thinking. I told myself, 'Hey, it's over with. You've just go to go on from here.' But my mind kept coming back to it. In my mind I was thinking, 'If I had more time, if I could only replay it. . . . '

"I think it bothered me for a while. A lot of students told me, 'You're not going out there with fire in your eyes, raising your fists, talking to everybody. . . . '

"After the Washington game, Coach Hazzard told me I played great, even though I didn't have big stats. He said I did what we had to do for us to win, helping Nigel on (Detlef) Schrempf, helping Brad inside. . . .

"This team is more together. I mean really together. Last year we thought our team was together but we had a lot of individuals. This year it doesn't make any difference who scores the most. I even see Reggie (Miller), when he gets eight rebounds and four points, he's happy. He's not even worried about it. . . .

"Last year, it was different. Off the floor we did a lot of things together. We went to movies. On the floor, everyone wanted to go for themselves. . . . They were all good people. I think it wasn't stressed enough that we were a team. I think it was said but not like now. Coach Hazzard tells us every day, 'You're not going to win a damn game without playing together. . . .'

"Coach Farmer (Larry, Hazzard's predecessor) is a very nice guy. I really like him and Coach (Kevin) O'Connor. I really felt bad for what happened. They really loved this school. . . .

"Was he too nice? If you look at Hazzard and you look at Farmer. Hazzard, he doesn't care who is around, he's going to say what he wants. Coach Farmer was a very nice guy. He always smiled. He didn't want to say anything bad about you. But I think it's easier if someone comes to you and says, 'You're not doing this. I'll tell you what you're going to do.' That's better than someone saying nothing to you and you wondering."

Anyway, it's been an experience. When Maloncon was in junior high in Gardena, he brought in a poster full of shots of professional basketball players for career day.

When he was allowed to transfer out of his district, up to Crenshaw to go to high school, he got his first big-time publicity. He was profiled on "60 Minutes" in a study of the recruiting done by high schools. It wasn't exactly what he'd had in mind.

But he's still playing the game he loves. He has noticed that a lot of the kids he knew from the playgrounds, even some who were better, are gone.

He's carrying around a letter from the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Hazzard Air Corps is in the hangar, refueling, or awaiting further orders. Above Gary Maloncon's head, the skies are wide open, Bruin blue.

Bruin Notes Walt Hazzard, on the report that Tom Lewis of Santa Ana Mater Dei visited Syracuse during the Orangemen's upset victory over Georgetown Monday: "One thing was different. When they left that Carrier Dome, it's a lot different than Pauley Pavilion, walking outside." . . . There was a new development at Hazzard's weekly media breakfast Tuesday--diplomacy. Hazzard, asked if USC had been looking ahead to the Bruins in its loss to Stanford: "I think they ran into Dr. Davis (Stanford Coach Tom Davis). They ran into Dr. Davis' tricks, all the funny little things he does to change the game. I was sitting next to a man from Oregon State and he kept saying, 'I can't believe this, I can't believe this.' I could believe it."

Nigel Miguel, who shot 39% a year ago and started this season 1 for 9, is 22 for his last 28. His season percentage is up to 49.2% and his conference percentage is 57.0. . . . Hazzard, asked if the coaches had changed Miguel's technique: "There are two experts on shooting in this town, Bill Sharman and Jerry West. I had a chance to ask Jerry about it. Jerry gave me a very simple solution. He said Nigel was not keeping his fingertips on the ball. I said, 'I'll be damned.' " . . . Montel Hatcher is shooting 55.1% in his six games as a starter. As a sub, he shot 46%. . . . Tough house: Hazzard, asked which Bruin had surprised him most: "I'd say Brad Wright. It wasn't so much me as the things everyone said about him: He had no stamina, he couldn't play, he couldn't do this, he couldn't do that. Brad is a good passer, a good shooter and when he's awake, a good rebounder." Wright is averaging 8.3 rebounds a game, second best in the conference.

Bruin officials expect 6-foot-8, 240-pound Carl Pitts of Trade Tech to announce he'll attend UCLA. They're still pursuing 6-9 Jonathon Edwards of New Orleans Walker High School; 6-8 Tommy Hammonds of Crestview (Fla.,) High School and 6-8 Anthony Martin of Manual Arts. Since the Bruins no longer expect to find a 7-footer this year, they're figuring to go with someone that size at center next season.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World