Iky La Boom Ba Iky La Picky Wicky Alfa La Dalfa Wata UKA Tiaaaaaaaaaaa
Although they shout this in unison nearly every day, the UCLA players have no notion what it means. The rest of semamateur basketball does. It signifies that the longest shadow in sports -- John Wooden's -- no longer hangs over UCLA.
Because Wooden is the greatest coach in the history of collegeiate basketball, it took longer for the Law of Legend Replacements to be proven. Five years, to be exact.
With few exceptions, the man who replaces an exceptional coach is both a fool and almost certain soon to be unemployed. But athletic memories are short enough for the successor of the successor to be successful.
UCLA is unique. Nowhere else in sport could two men -- Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham -- win more than 85 percent of their games in four years and yet be seen as failures.
But a pleasant conspiracy has put UCLA in the NCAA final once more. It has included several unexplainable Iky La Picky Wickies and enough time has lapsed for everyone to appreciate Wooden fully and to sympathize with his successor's successor's success or, Larry Brown.
"This season, for the first time, the alums and fans have been asking what they can do to help instead of criticize," said senior Kiki Vandeweghe, who has quietly and thouughtfully watched the transformation take place.
The final symbolic snipping of the Wooden umbilical cord was the combination of Brown, four of the most talented and free-spirited freshmen ever, and that cheer a UCLA swimmer from Hawaii offered them.
Few coaches could be more unalike off the court than Wooden and Brown. Wooden brought his Indiana conservatism west and created the quintessential athletic machine. The Wizard trained his players brilliantly, but also shielded them and quite often stifled their personalities.
"With Kareem and Walton, his (Wooden's) teams didn't have to do much shouting," said one of those special freshmen, Darren Daye. "They know they are gonna win. It was just a matter of how much."
For ever so long this season, it was the UCLA Way in reverse. The Bruins seemed to know they were going to lose, the major question being by how much.
Brown separates himself from Wooden with such light-hearted reality as:
"UCLA had won 13 straight Pac-10 championships until the little Jewish kid from New York arrived. It has lost only seven games to three teams at home in 14 years. We lost four times to four different teams this year at Pauley.
"Washington State beat us for the first time -- and a coach cried. We had more offenses and defenses than all the former UCLA coaches combined. We have that cheer, some dances, music at practice."
Slyly, he continues: "I know we've added a lot to the program."
Then he almost falls to his knees in gratitude for the NCAA expanding its tournament enough for his nine-loss team, fourth in the Pac-10, to be included.
Brown is as outgoing as Wooden was calculating. Probably, Wooden also would have recruited Daye, Rod Foster, Michael Holten and Cliff Pruitt. But he surely would have molded them in his image, instead of saying, as Brown did today:
"What wackos. Foster is the fastest player I've ever seen. I just don't want to mess him up by coaching him. But if a basketball court didn't have boundaries there's no telling where he'd be now.
"Daye even screwed up throwing the ball into the stands (after UCLA's victory over Purdue in the NCAA semifinal Saturday). He thought he was throwing it toward Purdue. Instead, he throws it into the Iowa crowd.
"Somebody asked Pruitt about pressure and he said: 'I can't remember the last pressure game I've been in.' I think he lives for these moments."
Holton is the least mouthy of the freshmen, the one who has sacrificed the most personally for the team, though James Wilkes admitted: "They all think they're as good as Darrell Griffith."
Replied Brown: "They probably think theyRe better."
They all essentially are guards, though Pruitt and Daye are 6 feet 7. Which causes UCLA to be in the unusual position of having a 6-7 guard and a 6-6 center on the court at the same time. And for Brown to say: "And those 6-7 guards'll drive you to drink, won't they?"
He was especially upset with Daye for what could have been a premature on-court celebration in the final minute against Purdue, though Brown leaped into Daye's embrace moments after the final buzzer.
Could anyone imagine Wooden leaping into Curtis Rowe's arms after an important victory?
Later, in the dressing room, Pruitt slipped behind a crowd of reporters, tapped Holton on the shoulder and said: "This is the international press. I would like your autograph." Holton obliged.
Pruitt is wonderfully animated. When admiring the defensive skills or Wilkes, he bubbles, in a sort of verbal shorthand: "If there's a war 'tween us and Iran, put J Dub (as in JW) in front. They wouldn't bother."
It was Pruitt who offered an anecdote that put Wooden and Brown in vivid contrast.
"We were at Stanford (in the next-to-last regular-season game) and needing a win to get a (postseason) bid. Three minutes left. Up three. Time. He's diagramming a play -- and all of a sudden looks up and says: 'Daye, you need a shave.'
"We had a little cuckle. Relaxed some. Played harder. And won."
When he considers this season, Brown will shake his head in wonder. He lost as many games in one year as Bartow did in two -- and one more than Cunningham did in his UCLA career. Yet they were cursed; he is celebrated.
Bartow and Cunningham each won the Pac-10 title twice. Brown finished fourth. Had expansion not come at the right moment, UCLA under Brown would have missed the NCAA tournament the first time in 14 years.
Still, Brown recruited better players in his first few months as UCLA coach than Bartow and Cunningham did in four years. This is why Brown's celebration will last, assuming UCLA meets his demands for more money. He still has not signed a contract.
"But now," he said this afternoon, facing more than 100 reporters, the spotlight on him once more after so much frustration the last few years, "it's almost like you don't want this thing to end."