At UCLA, the expectations are as high as the Pauley Pavilion rafters--the rafters adorned with banners representing each of the school's NCAA basketball titles. There are 10 banners, won in a 12-year span.
"It's hard to go through a day without being aware of the tradition here," guard Rod Foster said. "You want to protect what's been here."
"Everything has been done here," second-year Coach Larry Farmer said. "We can't do anything here that hasn't been done."
And center Stuart Gray: "After what John Wooden did, we're expected to win. If Wooden came out of retirement, he'd have to win a national championship."
When Wooden retired as coach in 1975, UCLA had just won the last of those 10 national titles. They have since gone seven seasons without one. But the expectations have not abated.
"There's still more pressure at UCLA than there is at any other place," said Los Angeles Lakers forward Jamaal Wilkes, who with Farmer and center Bill Walton formed the front line on UCLA's back-to-back, 30-0 national champions in the early 1970s.
Such perfection made Gene Bartow's nine losses in two years seem like failure. Bartow, Wooden's first successor, did not return for a third year because of the pressure.
The next two coaches, Gary Cunningham and Larry Brown, also lasted two seasons each. Cunningham said he left to spend more time with his family. Brown said he left to get back to the NBA. Neither said he would miss the burdens of UCLA.
Farmer was an assistant to Bartow, Cunningham and Brown. He turned down four college head-coaching offers to stay in line for the UCLA job.
Farmer, who will turn 31 at the end of this month, said he also feels pressure, but that recently he felt gratification. The Bruins--their only losses in 15 games coming in double overtime at Maryland and Friday night against Alabama--gained the No. 1 ranking. This was in contrast to last year at the same time, when UCLA was at a post-Wooden low.
In December 1981, the Bruins were banned from the 1982 NCAA tournament because of recruiting violations and other infractions. In January 1982, they fell to 6-5 after losing their first three Pacific-10 Conference games. (From 1967 through 1973--when the Bruins won seven straight titles--they lost a total of three conference games.)
Farmer recalled of 6-5: "I knew I was doing the right things. At that point, I knew that me jumping ship or giving up and trying to change everything that we had taught would really destroy the team."
Instead, Farmer continued to stress the Wooden elements--the fast break, the press and the quickness to get the open shot. The Bruins have lost only two of their last 16.
This year, they are eligible again for the NCAA tournament. They may have thought it started in December. UCLA has already beaten Louisville, Louisiana State and Iowa at home and has won at Notre Dame and De Paul. "The only team missing from our schedule is the Lakers," Farmer said.
The Bruins, including the coach, are more relaxed. His players say Farmer is a better coach because he is more at ease. Farmer says his players--guards Foster and Ralph Jackson, Gray and forwards Fields and Darren Daye--are better because they know him and each other better.
These players did not earn UCLA its first No. 1 ranking in four years because anyone looked past them.
Fields said, "Everywhere we go, it makes a team's season to hang in and stay close against us. It saves a coach's job if they can beat us or stay close. That shows how respected we are.
"We get tired of it, because everybody plays their best against us, such as Maryland. They've only won a few games since they played us."
Fields added, "When we lose, we should have won. I don't see any team in the country with better talent than we have."
And that talent is being coached by someone who is not spending timeouts looking for a new job, by someone who is inspired and not intimidated by the past.
"When I was hired," Farmer said, "Coach Wooden looked at me real stern and said, 'I want you to do one thing. I want you to stay at UCLA one year longer than I did.' "
Wooden was at UCLA for 27 years. But Farmer said, with a depressurized smile, "I want to be at UCLA a long time. I'm comfortable here, I like it here and I don't think there's any place better."