- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

Steve Lavin credits his third-grade teacher, Mrs.Ramiacotti, for preparing him for his inevitable termination as UCLAs basketball coach.

"In grammar school, you go through all the fire drills, so youre pretty well drilled in the event of a fire and how to get out of the building in an orderly fashion," Lavin said of his tenuous job security. "Ive been through the drill 11 consecutive years as an assistant and now head coach. So this is the 12th year, the alarm goes off and there really is a fire, youre kind of prepared both mentally and physically on how to hit the exits."

Mrs. Ramiacotti emphasized walking, not running, to the schools exits. She never talked about getting booted out the door.

Today at MCI Center, Lavin hopes his reeling Bruins (4-14) can end a nine-game losing streak against equally troubled Georgetown (10-8), which has lost four in a row and six of its last seven.

UCLAs nine-game losing streak the schools longest since World War II has Lavin comfortably resigned to the fact he no longer will coach the Bruins after his seventh season in Westwood ends.

"The last time we had a losing season was the last time in snowed in L.A.," Lavin said jokingly. "If you look back, you can probably find the date."

It never rains in Southern California, but it has poured on UCLAs season. UCLA was a consensus top-20 preseason selection. On paper, the Bruins seemed loaded with talent like senior forward Jason Kapono (16.9 points), a preseason finalist for the Naismith and Wooden awards who is complemented by size and unquestionable talent on the wings.

But early season losses to San Diego (86-81 in overtime) and Northern Arizona (67-63) and a 35-point blowout by No.2 Arizona at Pauley Pavilion on Jan.18 were enough for the UCLA faithful to call for Lavins over-moussed scalp.

"Their fan base was just waiting for Lavin to fail and then pounce on him," said ESPNs college basketball analyst, Andy Katz. "The albatross hanging around neck is those 10 titles , and that will never happen again. Apathy is far worse than people coming out and booing. When fans dont care, its a reason to dump you."

UCLAs season simply got off to a bad start. Six-foot-eight Evan Burns, the seventh McDonalds High School All-American to sign with Lavin, couldnt gain admission to UCLA and enrolled at San Diego State. Andre Patterson, a 6-7 forward, flunked out of school and was readmitted for the second semester. Patterson, who is averaging 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds, has played in 13 games. Sophomore guard Ryan Walcott, the cousin of Sacramento Kings star Mike Bibby, was suspended for the first two games by the NCAA for playing nine minutes in a 2000 exhibition and then redshirting that season.

"I like Steve Lavin. Ive stayed away from saying whether the team needs a new coach or not," former Washington Bullets and UCLA standout Don MacLean, who is in his first year as UCLAs radio analyst, told the Los Angeles Daily News in a recent interview. "Id love to be having a good time calling games with them winning. Coming into this, I thought it would be more fun. But if youre starting out in this like I am and you want to be good, you have to be objective. And what Im seeing isnt right."

Lavin, 38, hears the names that are going to replace him: Pittsburghs Ben Howland, Gonzagas Mark Few and Utahs Rick Majerus. By dealing with this seasons adversity, Lavin (139-73) may be auditioning for a job elsewhere. Not counting this season, Lavin is one of two coaches to lead his school to five Sweet 16s in the last six years. The other is Dukes Mike Krzyzewski.

"From the interim days to the final days, Ive been pretty consistent with the team in terms of stay the course, continue to work hard and do the best youre capable of on a daily basis," Lavin said. "That doesnt guarantee success. Weve turned over every stone, tried every combination. Sometimes theres not an answer."

Lavin has had long conversations with Wooden, whose advice was to withstand the moment, which is easier said than done. UCLA has had seven coaches all of whom posted winning records since Wooden retired following the 1974-75 season.

UCLAs athletic administrators use Wooden, 92, as a barometer for what they want to see out of the basketball program. Good coaches like Jim Harrick, who seems to take Georgia to the NCAAs every year; Larry Brown; and Gene Bartow were forced out of Westwood because they could not measure up to greatness.

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