An aching [WORD ILLEGIBLE] finally has accomplished what [WORD ILLEGIBLE] UCLA opponents haven't been able to do this season: slow down Marques Johnson.
College basketball's player of the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] hurting. An impacted wisdom [WORD ILLEGIBLE] keeping him awake at night, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] when he runs, and just generally acting as one big pain in the [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
"It hurts a lot," Johnson admitted Tuesday. "I just have to hope that the author [WORD ILLEGIBLE] "I just have to hope that the authorities will erase some of the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] around the tooth. They don't want to pull it because it might put me injury for the tournament and they don't want to give me pain killers because they think it will make me [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
Sr. Johnson is reduced to trying to come somehow with the unimpeded [WORD ILLEGIBLE] which began UCLA's first-round [WORD ILLEGIBLE] tournament game with Louisville. He took a knock in the jaw early in the second half of that contest and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] eliminated his effectiveness. Now he fears that more bumps will [WORD ILLEGIBLE] his contributions in the West [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Thursday against Idaho State.
"The last thing I want is to get it in again," he said. "I was in a daze [WORD ILLEGIBLE] after it happened. You can't imagine the agony involved."
Until now, Johnson has been having what he describes as a storybook season. He is everyone's All-America, the latest in the line of fabulous UCLA players. The honors and awards that is [WORD ILLEGIBLE] about receiving when he was a kid practicing on the Los Angeles playgrounds are now his. All that remains is one final national [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
That's what makes this toothache so painful. Johnson realizes he is the last link between the glory days of the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Wooden era and the new [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of Gene Bartow.
It would definitely relieve a lot of pressure on coach Bartow," he said. "And I would get a lot of personal satifiction from it [the championship] being coach Wooden's last name remain and all. I want to give coach Bartow a winner."
Johnson already has done much to make Bartow's life easier. By passing in a chance to enter pro basketball last season, Johnson provided the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] coach with a foundation upon when he could construct this year's team. And Bortow has leaned heavily in his 6-foot-7 building block all [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the schedule.
At times near the end of the season, Johnson carried the Bruins almost by himself. And now he says he can sense the younger players, none of whom were around for UCLA's last [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in 1975, are looking toward him forever more leadership.
"It could sens it last week in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and I know it will be even stronger here this week," he said. They want the older players to settle them down and show them the way.
"During the regular season, they [WORD ILLEGIBLE] as much help. That's what is different about playing at UCLA. We are expected to win the league title. People told me in November that they already had reservations for Provo and Atlanta.
"This is when UCLA's season begins. The pressure really starts growing. It requires maximum concentration from everyone. That's why I think we become more businesslike. We always have something to prove."
Not that Johnson has anthing to prove. His scintillating season already has silenced the few critics who suggested at the beginning of the year he would be a lame-duck player, counting the days until he could begin his pro career.
Those words stung Johnson and he vowed to make sure "everyone realized that winning was foremost in my mind, not money, awards, the pros, but winning. I figured . . . it would rub off on my teammates. They would be able to see I wanted it as badly as they did."
Besides, there was the matter of finally being able to show his abilities after serving as a stand-by star for three seasons.
In the locker room, the Bruin players call it "paying your dues." You wait around patiently until the reigning UCLA superstar has graduated and then you get your moment of glory before someone else takes over. In Johnson's case, All Americas like Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes, Dave Meyer, and Richard Washington had to leave before his turn arrived.
"You live with frustration," said Johnson. "If you are smart, you realize when your time is coming and you prepare for it. Last year, I watched what Richard was doing, how he handled himself, what was expected of him. Being at UCLA puts you in the spotlight. If you aren't prepared it can really kill you."
Yet Johnson came close to never having the spotlight focus on him. His name stayed on the pro basketball hardship draft list last year until just minutes before the deadline. He pulled out only after Denver withdrew a contract offer and Detroit reduced its bid substantially to around $100,000 a year.
Johnson admits now he gambled. A serious injury could have made the $100,000 offer look like a million bucks. But he was convinced he was worth more and he needed one more season to prove it.
And now? "I think I've raised my price," he said with a big grin.
This is an example of what he can do: 21 points and 11 rebounds a game, 59 per cent shooting from the floor, and games such as against California in which he scored 37 points grabbed 13 rebounds, and missed only five of 22 attempts. His strength around the basket, his spectacular dunking ability (61 for the season) and his twisting body control have pro scouts drooling over a chance to draft him.
"He is going to make a pro coach delightfully happy," said Bartow. "He'll be ready to play every game and he'll never cause any problems.
"If you wanted to design a better player and person, you'd have trouble."