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Bruins’ Edney Has Become a Crowd Favorite

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Talk about sudden impact. Two games into his freshman season, Tyus Edney is already a favorite at Pauley Pavilion.

“I usually think it’s my family,” the littlest Bruin said of the fans who call out his name, urging UCLA Coach Jim Harrick to bring the 5-foot-10 guard off the bench. “But it seems like I’ve heard different voices.”

One of Edney’s admirers is former Bruin coach John Wooden.

“I like him very much, not just because he’s small and exciting, but (because) he gets things done,” Wooden said. “I watched practice one day, and that was the first time I’d seen him, and I was impressed. I saw in some of the drills that he had better vision and was getting the ball to open people at the right time better than anybody else.”

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Said Harrick, recalling the moment: “There was a sparkle in Coach Wooden’s eye when he talked about him. He kind of lit up like a Christmas tree.”

Edney’s play has brightened Harrick’s outlook, too.

With veterans Darrick Martin, Gerald Madkins, Mitchell Butler and Shon Tarver creating a potential logjam in the Bruin backcourt, Edney wasn’t expected to play much this season, if at all. It was speculated that he might even be a redshirt.

Edney came to UCLA from Long Beach Poly High, where he helped the Jackrabbits win a Southern Section championship two seasons ago. Last season, with many of his most talented teammates from the previous season graduated, he was named most valuable player in the competitive Moore League, even though Poly finished third.

Poly Coach Ron Palmer looked back at the best of his former guards--among them Morlon Wiley, formerly of the Dallas Mavericks and Orlando Magic, and Tony and Chris Gwynn, who turned to baseball after they left high school--and told Harrick that Edney was better than all of them.

Edney was tabbed as UCLA’s point guard of the future, but Ed O’Bannon’s lingering knee injury has forced Harrick to use Butler at forward, and Edney’s star has risen faster than anybody expected.

Not that he has been given playing time by default.

“He’s playing probably a little more than I anticipated, but he’s earned it,” Harrick said. “I didn’t think I’d have the minutes for him, but I feel comfortable with him in there, so I don’t take him out because he’s making plays. Making good plays.”

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He has made them from the first day of practice.

“The first week, we said, ‘He’s not bad,’ ” Harrick said. “The second week, he kept getting a little bit better, and we as a staff said, ‘Wait a minute, he’s not that good, is he?’ We said, ‘He’ll wear down.’

“Then we had fan appreciation day, and he ran a clinic for about 15 minutes (during a scrimmage) on how to run a fast break.”

In UCLA’s opener, an 87-72 victory over then-No. 2-ranked Indiana in the Hall of Fame game at Springfield, Mass., Edney contributed four assists and three steals--and made no turnovers--in 10 minutes.

Wasn’t he nervous, playing his first college game on the road against a traditional power, Coach Bob Knight’s Hoosiers, and in front of a national television audience?

“I tried not to think about that,” Edney said. “I tried to stay focused on the game. I was nervous but excited at the same time. When I started playing, the excitement took over and the nervousness kind of went away. When I first got in, I was a little nervous, but I was pretty calm after that.”

Surprisingly, so was Harrick.

Originally planning to give his regulars a short rest, he kept Edney in the game down the stretch as the Bruins pulled away.

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“I know Bill Walton on radio was saying, ‘What’s Harrick doing?’ ” Harrick said. “But the kid just came up with play after play--deflections and steals and setting guys up.

“I saw where he really spoon-fed the guys. As a point guard, you want to get baskets for your team. It’s (a matter of) making the right pass to the right guy at the right time to the right spot.

“He has the ability to do that.”

It’s just that nobody expected him to be doing it so soon.

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