As the days dwindle down to a precious few, there being only a handful of basketball games left now in his remarkable college career, Don MacLean walks the UCLA campus wondering how four years could pass so quickly...Bye, Bye...and where all those points and whines and rebounds and sneers and glamour and controversy went...Miss American Pie...and wondering just precisely how, in his edge-of-Hollywood fairy-tale world, people will judge him: as a benevolent, record-setting elf or as a snide, tradition-bashing troll.
"Always looking ahead," MacLean says, "you make the mistake of not stopping once in a while and saying, 'Hey, wait, this is college. This is my life here.' " MacLean is strolling the promenade, nodding hello to still another gorgeous gawking starlet/student, and sounding more sweet and nostalgic than the high-strung, yowling potentate he appears to be on the hardwood. "It's kind of sad," he says. "It's gone so fast. I wish I had slowed down and enjoyed it more."
The thing is, during MacLean's tenure in Westwood—has it honestly been only four seasons, or did this guy really come in with Gene Bartow?—he has been both unrepentant jerk and joyful romantic. In other words, your average college kid. ("That's the beauty of this job," UCLA coach Jim Harrick says. "Watching young people grow and change.") But even though he always knew what he wanted, he couldn't figure out the best way to go about getting it. The resulting dilemma is that history may make him only a footnote; he blew away the Babe, and all anybody relates him to is Roger Maris.
First off, there is the 6'10", 225-pound MacLean's on-court personality, a nasty haughtiness that he describes as a "McEnroe thing," a sort of rage for perfection ("Don doesn't think he should ever miss a shot," says Harrick). MacLean's fairly obnoxious on-court facial expressions have always obscured his shooting skills and his work ethic. It didn't help that he has gone after referees at practically every whistle.
That image was reinforced by questions about the ethics of his recruitment by Harrick, which were raised and investigated—and which continue to be discussed a full career later.
Moreover, MacLean's glitzless game has been overshadowed in megagloss Los Angeles—UCLA hoops having only recently reemerged above bimbo jello-wrestling in the L.A. sports pantheon—by the spectacular Harold (Baby Jordan) Miner downtown at USC, and even by MacLean's teammate Tracy Murray, who embellishes distant bombs with a prolonged, Reggie Jackson-inspired gaze and pose.
As a close friend of MacLean's says, "Don's different, but he's consistent. He's arrogant, but it's a good arrogance. He's always known all this would happen if he worked hard. This is the year he's looked forward to all his life."
Sure enough, after daring and dreaming and hoping for a magical moment that would have seemed impossible in UCLA's recent wasteland, MacLean has now surpassed the point totals of all the celebrity guards and forwards and centers who were instrumental in UCLA's historical success—Goodrich and Hazzard, Wicks and Rowe, Walton and Wilkes. Washington and Johnson, Vandeweghe and Miller—and is about to nail the scoring mark set by the big kahuna himself, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor, and no relation to Paula Abdul). At week's end MacLean needed only 19 points to break the legend's UCLA career record of 2,325 points. So what if it took MacLean four seasons to accomplish the feat while his predecessor played only three? Paint the asterisk Bruin blue and gold and remember this: MacLean, under the newly appointed Harrick, wasn't playing on one of those Bruin powerhouses of old; he had to pick up a nearly dead horse and virtually carry it to the finish line.
With two victories last week, the Bruins continue to revel in their glorious resurrection. Ranked No. 3 with a 17-1 record and perhaps looking at their first championship in the Pac-10 in five seasons, they also are counting down to a game against No. I Duke at home on March I that will awaken the spirits in Pauley Pavilion just as surely as old coach Wooden will be sitting at courtside to hear them.
Nonetheless, petty jealousies still surround MacLean like fruit flies. Senior point guard Darrick Martin was heckled by some UCLA fans in a game earlier this year when he failed to pass to MacLean on a fast break. Murray, a junior who plays virtually the same "perimeter forward" position as MacLean, and who is neck and neck with him this season as team scoring leader (through Sunday, they had identical 21.2 averages), says, Ali-like, "I don't have no quarrel with MacLean anymore." All of this followed the Jade West Jaw-In, the now famous preseason team meeting at a Chinese restaurant in Century City at which the Bruins dealt with the question of selfishness; i.e., where exactly did his teammates fit into MacLean's plans this season?