Watson, Bruins Get Another Shot At Duke
March 18, 2001
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Earl Watson was a homesick freshman the last time heplayed Duke.
Lost in the hustle and bustle at UCLA and lonely for his family back inKansas City, his miserable performance in that 120-84 drubbing was just anotherreason why Watson wanted to pack up and go home.
Bruins coach Steve Lavin talked him out of it, just as he did on severalother occasions when Watson needed assurance that he belonged at UCLA.
Four years later, Watson can't imagine life without UCLA. He cried like ababy after Senior Night and grabbed Lavin in a long, emotional embrace afterthe Bruins beat Utah State on Saturday to advance to the round of 16 in theNCAA tournament.
That victory set up a rematch next week with Duke, where Watson and UCLA(23-8) get a chance to atone for the 1998 debacle.
'It's been a long road, one I couldn't have made without coach,' he said.'He's always been there for me, like a brother. When I was down and homesick,he talked to me about other things and convinced me how silly it would all seemtwo weeks down the road.'
Lavin chooses his words carefully when he remembers those days, his eyesdropping down as a wave of emotion hits him.
'He was very introverted when he came to UCLA, very quiet and very shy,'Lavin said. 'He was very slow to trust people and I don't know why.
'The quantum leaps he has made are really special and I've been reallyblessed to play a small part in his development. He's gone from not being surehe belonged to one of the all-time greats, kind of turned into the mayor ofWestwood.'
There's a strong bond between Lavin and these Bruins. Although this yearmarks the fourth time in his five seasons he's taken UCLA into the round of 16,this is the first time he's done it with a team made up strictly of players herecruited.
They've been through thick and thin with Lavin, supporting him every timetheir play led to questions about his job security, and turned it up a notchwhen he drew fire after their 4-4 start this season.
'If I'm going to struggle, this is a group I want to struggle with,' Lavinsaid. 'This is a remarkable group - their maturity, character, togetherness -seeing their individual and collective improvement has made this a specialseason for me.'
Watson now has a chance to come full circle with Lavin when UCLA faces Duke(31-4) next week in Philadelphia.
That first meeting against the Blue Devils was Watson's 26th start and itwas awful - he had two points, two turnovers, one assist and one rebound in 27minutes.
Watson makes it clear, though, that he won't be haunted by memories of that1998 game and that the Bruins will not fear Duke.
'We're a whole different team than we were three years ago,' the seniorguard said. 'Duke's like any other team to me - they're great, they have a lotof tradition. But you don't go to UCLA and say, 'I want to play Duke reallybad.''
And Watson is quick to point out that UCLA has its own tradition for Duke tohandle.
'We're UCLA ... we carry a legacy,' he said. ''Not only do we have toface them, but they have to face us.
'It's going to be a battle. It's going to be a war.'
By JENNA FRYER
AP Sports Writer