Larry Farmer adds to UCLA influence on N.C. State staff
RALEIGH, Dec 18, 2012 (The Fayetteville Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
At first glance, Larry Farmer's office in N.C. State's Dail Basketball Complex doesn't hint much at the winding journey that led him there.
There's a coffee mug from a previous job, a pennant he got on a visit to a nearby middle school, and a large framed photo of former Wolfpack stars Rodney Monroe and Chris Corchiani from their 1990s heyday.
"That was there when I got here," he said of the last item.
But just over his shoulder is a photo of Farmer from his playing days at UCLA under legendary coach John Wooden. Wooden gave him the picture when Farmer became the Bruins' head coach more than three decades ago.
"I don't want to get choked up when I read this," Farmer said as he leaned in close to read Wooden's inscription. "It says 'Larry, my hopes for you are that your head coaching days at UCLA will be as enjoyable as your playing days.' "
Farmer's career has taken him from the height of the Bruins' dynasty to coaching jobs ranging from UCLA to Kuwait. N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said he was thrilled to add Farmer's experienced voice to his staff before this season.
"I think everybody listens a little closer," Gottfried said of Farmer's stories from his days at UCLA.
So with that in mind, here are a few of those stories from UCLA and elsewhere.
During his time as a player at UCLA, Farmer's teams went 89-1 and won three NCAA titles. It came during a run of seven straight national championships for the Bruins.
"At UCLA, when you're ranked No. 1 and you're ranked No. 1 all year, every place that we went in was sold out on the road, hostile crowds. We knew that we were going to be our opponent's biggest game of the year. For our home games, a lot of times, the schools that we were going to play would come for their practice. They would practice and then their whole team would go into the UCLA bookstore and they would buy UCLA T-shirts. We always kind of felt, when we heard of them doing that . they were probably already beaten."
Despite a colorful cast of players such as Jamaal Wilkes, Sidney Wicks and Bill Walton, Farmer said the Bruins of that era had an unusual unity. He recalled an impromptu birthday party Walton threw for him.
"My senior year, I was the team captain. One day, I don't know how Bill found out, but Bill found out it was my birthday. So that day, after practice, we're all in the locker room, Bill announces to the team that it's my birthday and he's having everybody over for -- Coach Wooden has passed away so I can tell this -- he's having everybody over to his room. He had a room in a fraternity house. At that time, in the 70s -- he wasn't a frat guy -- but the Greek system, with all the anti-American protesting, the Greek system had kind of fallen by the wayside a little bit. So instead of living in the dorm, guys could rent a room in a frat house and the rules weren't nearly as strict because you weren't living in the dorm. But anyway, Bill announces to the team as we all went to the locker room that 'Everybody's coming over. I've got a keg and some hors d'oeuvres. It's Larry's birthday.' So I'm like, 'My girlfriend's taking me out.'
"We've got training table, so everybody goes to training table and (eats quickly) and then everybody goes to Bill's. Bill never did anything small, so he's got this huge keg and these ginormous speakers. He loved the (Rolling) Stones and so he's playing the Stones. He already told everybody in the frat house 'Hey, the guys are coming over.' Whenever he would play (his stereo) you could hear this thing probably to San Diego. And he's got that music and we're all drinking beer, the whole team. The whole team was there. We stayed for about an hour and I remember that my girlfriend was mad. When I finally got to where I was going to meet her, I had had a couple of brewskis and I'm sure I smelled like it. But that's the kind of teammate he was.
"We were all very different politically and culturally and socially. But when it came to being a group, when it came to stepping on that floor, it was a whole different story."
In 1981, a 30-year old Farmer became the fifth coach to try his hand at the difficult task of following John Wooden. He'd been an assistant for the previous four coaches and saw how the pressure led to abbreviated tenures. After two solid seasons, he finished 17-11 in his third. Despite receiving a contract extension days earlier, Farmer stepped down, saying he wasn't sure he was the coach that could get the Bruins back to where he felt they needed to be. He said he second-guessed the decision for years. But by the time he returned to UCLA to cover a game as a broadcaster on a night the school honored him before tip-off, he said he'd made peace with it.
"I was walking away from a lot of money, in those days, certainly not anything like now. And then you second guess yourself. Was this the right decision Should I have stayed Should I have fought But after a few years of being removed from it and then going back, it was exactly the right decision. . When I walked out on the court, my family was there, I got a standing ovation. When I walked out to the center of the court, I thought 'That was a good decision.' Because I didn't know, if it had ended in a different way, had I been fired, that might not have been something I experienced.
"The only way to describe it is that if I had a chance to do it all over again, I would do it all over again. Because it was a great opportunity for me at 30. It was a dream come true for me to play at UCLA . and then a handful of years later, I'm walking out there with a whistle around my neck You've got to be kidding me."
In the late 1980s, Farmer spent time coaching a club team in Kuwait. After the first Gulf War, he returned to coach the country's national team, giving him a slightly worldlier view of the game than most college assistants.
"For the older guys and even the 17-, 18-year olds, English is a second language throughout the world. So, I had no problems at all communicating. Coming there and those guys having heard of my background at UCLA, I think it gave me a little more credibility on the front end. . It was the Under-17s where my assistant coach was actually a translator. So we were in Thailand, in Bangkok. We were in this Under-17 tournament and we wind up finishing third. But we're in a game and we're down 20 at halftime. We come back and send the game into overtime and win it. But my halftime speech, we're down 20, and I'm going off on the team. I've got this translator there. But I went off on about a minute tirade. We're not playing hard. We're not doing this, we're not doing that. I'm animated and saliva's flying. And after about a minute tirade I look at the translator and the translator goes 'blah-da-da-da-da-da.' And they all looked at me."
"I figured he said, 'I don't know what this guy said, but he's really mad. So what I'd do if I were you is play hard.' But his blurb was about that long. I remember chuckling to myself like 'OK, I don't know how that translated, but that probably wasn't what I said.' "
With Gottfried, a former UCLA assistant, and UCLA grad Jeff Dunlap already on the Wolfpack staff, Farmer adds to N.C. State's bond with the Bruins. But N.C. State's victory over UCLA in the 1974 NCAA tournament is another connection he's had to address often.
"When I got here, the most fun that I had was that most of the fans here wanted to talk about the '74 championship. Because I was 89-1, they all wanted to know if that one loss was to N.C. State and David Thompson. But I had to tell them, 'Nah, I had already graduated. I was a graduate assistant when that happened. That wouldn't have happened on my watch. I didn't guard him.' "
"That's very fortunate because (if I did) I wouldn't have been 89-1."
Staff writer Stephen Schramm can be reached at email@example.com or at 486-3536.
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