UCLA Left Him Blue So He Became a Devil
Duke men don’t wear plaid. Not even Mike Krzyzewski, the Bob Knight protege who coaches the NCAA basketball tournament’s Yuppiest team. “I hate plaid,” Krzyzewski said Sunday, which was his way of kidding his former boss, whose sport coats sometimes belonged on a horse.
What does the well-dressed Duke man wear? According to Jay Bilas, the debonair Blue Devil center from Rolling Hills, teammate Tommy Amaker will cancel the order of a custom-made shirt if he notices anybody else wearing the same style in public. “And if he ever gets a piece of lint on his clothes, he turns into a tiger,” Bilas said.
As for Amaker’s backcourt companion, Johnny Dawkins, he has “a thousand pairs of pants,” Bilas said, and prides himself on being seen exclusively in the latest designer fashions. Dawkins is the leader of a stylish Duke outfit that, following tonight’s national championship game against Louisville, might get overlooked by other magazines, but almost certainly will dominate the Gentleman’s Quarterly All-American team.
In apparel matters, Bilas said, “The rest of us try to see how close we can come to Johnny.” Last Christmas, after receiving some excellent additions to his wardrobe among his gifts, Bilas’ reaction was: “Boy, Johnny’s gonna be jealous of this!” To which Bilas’ mother replied: “Jay, I don’t buy this stuff for Johnny. “
On Easter morning, Bilas was hardly ragtag. No scruffy sneakers or T-shirts for him. He wore a purple Ralph Lauren polo shirt, crisply creased beige shorts, spotless Adidas and an elegant gold wristwatch. He sipped on a Diet Pepsi and spoke in a voice so resonant and precise that CBS must be tempted to wire the 6-8 senior with a mike and make him the first man ever to play in a championship game while doing the color analysis at the same time.
This is not one of those players--or teams--that overcame the cruelties of ghetto life and broken homes. Anthony Bilas worked hard, in TV repair, in commercial fishing, and eventually in the care and maintenance of buildings that needed to be made safe from the dangers of earthquakes, to provide for his loved ones and to root them in Rolling Hills, a rich place even by Southern California standards. “He worked so hard that it scared me, because a lot of my friends’ fathers had had heart attacks from working too hard,” Jay Bilas said.
“My dad has been a blue-collar worker all his life. He still goes to work wearing blue jeans. He worked hard and he’s made a great life for us. I don’t mean to make it sound like the guy carries a lunch pail and has a tattoo and spits all the time. I just don’t want to portray it as though we live where we live because he’s always had it soft.”
Jay is a big one who got away from UCLA. With any sort of encouragement, he said Sunday, he would have enrolled in Westwood, having loved West Coast ways and having been weaned on UCLA’s success. His sister, Cheryl, was part of UCLA’s Final Four volleyball team, and he gladly would have car-pooled with her to school.
But while Larry Brown, whose Kansas team lost to Duke in Saturday’s semifinals, was interested in Bilas, his successor, evidently, was not. “It seemed like Larry Farmer only came out to see me when I was playing against another good guy he was recruiting,” Bilas said. Whereas Krzyzewski would fly cross-country to watch him, UCLA recruiters stayed away in droves.
“I don’t know if it’s the same now, but when I was growing up, guys from the L.A. area pounded the door down to get into UCLA. And I was the same type of guy. But after Coach Brown left, there was a little bit of problem. People were saying, ‘Well, they can’t keep a coach. There’s so much pressure on these people here. ‘
“Coach K would fly out on a Friday, fly back on a Saturday, play a game, then fly out to see me play in a tournament on Sunday. And those (UCLA) guys can’t drive 20 minutes to see me play?
“I felt they didn’t show the interest in me I was worthy of. And if push had come to shove at that time, I was such a true-blue UCLA fan, I would have gone to UCLA. I wouldn’t do it now, knowing what I do now. There’s nobody in the country who can look me in the face and tell me they play tougher competition than we play, and that’s something I’m proud of. But I don’t know what UCLA’s problems are. If I knew, I’d write a book about it and become a big genius.”
Duke University was better known for its lofty academic standards, for having enrolled Richard Nixon in its law school and for its all-the-rice-you-can-eat diet clinic than for its basketball, although Duke did run second to UCLA in 1964 and to Kentucky in 1978. This year’s senior-dominated team was heralded--as Louisville’s Denny Crum acknowledged Sunday--as the best recruiting class in the country when Bilas, Dawkins (who is from Washington, D.C.), Mark Alarie (Scottsdale, Ariz.) and David Henderson (the only North Carolinian in the starting lineup) were seduced by Coach K.
While in high school, the young Bilas happened to be in the East one day and looked up Dawkins, of whom he had heard plenty. They went out and played ball for seven hours. Winners held the court, and games were played to 15. There was such a crowd waiting to play that if you lost, you might not regain the court for hours.
In one game, Dawkins and Bilas were beaten. “No, no,” Dawkins told the winners. “We were playing to 20.” According to Bilas, Dawkins was “such a god around those guys, even then,” that no one objected.
Sure enough, this time they won. “Jeez, Johnny, you cheated,” Bilas told him afterward.
“Stick around, kid, you’ll learn,” Dawkins said.
Bilas loves Dawkins like a brother. Enough so to kid him about his “lousy” taste in music--too much Chuckie Brown, not enough Rolling Stones--about his slight build--"I’m sure a bunch of guys in an alley wouldn’t run away if they saw Johnny Dawkins coming"--and about his sense of style, which includes carrying an expensive Vuitton bag instead of the typical college athlete’s duffel.
“Johnny wants you to think he came from the inner-city, but he’s really from the suburbs,” Bilas said, laughing. “I just wish I could play like he does. You tell me who’s better than he is, and I’ll go up and shake his hand, and, I don’t know, give him my house or something.”
Dawkins is the most popular person on the Duke campus, Bilas insisted, not just because he plays basketball, but because he is so nice to everybody. The same cannot be said, of course, of some of Duke’s students. It must be something about schools with high academic standards, but Duke’s basketball fans have become the East Coast version of the Stanford University band.
In recent weeks, Duke fans have chanted “Abandon Ship!” at the Navy team, “Die, Pond Scum!” at others, “You’re No Johnny!” at dunkers who imitate Dawkins, and “Jarhead!” at flat-topped Kansas center Greg Dreiling. When a Maryland player who had had a run-in with the law broke loose for a lay-up, dozens of Duke fans rose, pointed at him and screamed: “Freeze! Police!”
Bilas said he doesn’t know how they do it. The university president wrote an open letter asking them to lay off, so instead of yelling at enemy free throwers, they held up signs that read: “Please Miss.” Instead of a popular eight-letter vulgarity, they chanted: “We beg to differ! We beg to differ!”
Bilas: “We were on the road once and somebody held up a sign that said: ‘Bilas Is a Goon.’ Our students went around saying: ‘Oh, real clever. Real imaginative.’ ”
At Duke these days, the basketball players are celebrities and they know it. The scholars deserve the attention more, but as Bilas asked, “What can we do about it? You can’t applaud people in the library.”
Bilas learned something about coping with recognition when he went to high school with tennis player Tracy Austin. “She always handled the pressure and the attention she got, and seeing her really helped me out. I also think she was misunderstood. She very rarely showed up and still got all A’s, because things came easier for her. But some people probably resented it because they figured she had it made. She didn’t. She had more pressure than most people, not less.”
At home in California, hardly anyone bothers Bilas. “Nobody knows me on the street. They’re busy looking for Marcus Allen or Christie Brinkley.” At Duke, though, he is a very popular figure. The basketball players are able to enjoy celebrity, without being reviled or resented as stereotypical mindless jocks.
Krzyzewski, the dapper young coach of the Blue Devils, put it plainly: “Duke’s a school that’s got its head screwed on right.”
Bilas said: “It’s a great place to go to school, and I recommend it highly.” Of course he does. It’s as if it were tailor-made for him.