The 1990s gave college basketball fans some of the most talented and, at times, ‘controversial’ teams in history. Tark & the Running Rebels. Dook. 48 Minutes of Hell. The Fab Five. The Untouchables. Four Corners full of future NBA stars.
Yet, there’s one team that tends to be forgotten from that era: The 1994-95 UCLA Bruins.
They were another team of the era who pro scouts drooled over, with a slick-haired (read that as shady) head coach who pushed the right buttons. The team boasted three starting seniors - each who had gone through the NCAA Tournament fire every season on campus – and all five starters would be drafted into the NBA after their days in Westwood ended.
Ed O’Bannon was the next great swingman who was going to ascend to the Association on the heels of a sterling regular season. His younger brother, Charles, had the unspoken language with his older sibling on the court. Tyus Edney was the unusually small, but heady point guard that let the engine roll. At center, Czech import George Zidek had a steadily improved game alongside fellow seniors Ed O’Bannon and Edney. Toby Bailey started as a freshman and seemed to be groomed to take the baton from the departing seniors with a strong March showing.
It had been close to two decades since the Bruins’ last national championship, and considering recent history in the NCAA Tournament, this team couldn’t just run though the Pac-10 (for the most part) to only get bounced in the first round of the tournament… again.
Harrick’s team had to shake off the ’94 upset to 12-seed Tulsa. The second round loss to Michigan in ’93. The Elite Eight beatdown in ’91 by Indiana. This was a team with far more to prove than anyone else in the field.
They didn’t win the national championship with the wire-to-wire dominance; in fact, they almost bowed out in spectacular fashion to Missouri. It was from a mix of superior skill, some demon exorcising, and a couple dashes of luck.
All of that, including Edney’s lucky heave, isn’t what a pro snob like me remembers most about this group. That title team stuck out to me, because it was the first team I can recall where not one player had a distinguished, or remotely memorable, NBA career.
Ed O’Bannon’s greatest post-UCLA contribution was not his five points per game in two seasons with New Jersey and Dallas, but being the face of arguably the most important ongoing lawsuit in American sports today.
Charles, managed to only halve his older brother’s production in the NBA; a ’97 second round pick by Detroit who only appeared in 48 games in two seasons (2.5 PPG).
George Zidek had cups of coffee with the Charlotte (Hornets), Denver, and Seattle before carving out a solid European career.
Toby Bailey’s claim to NBA fame was having his draft rights from the Nets traded with Sam Bowie to the Lakers for Benoit Benjamin. BENOIT BENJAMIN!
Edney is the only player from the title team that could have been considered serviceable in the NBA, despite his 5’10” stature. Drafted by the Sacramento Kings in 1995, he came on the scene with a solid rookie season – a shade under eleven points per game and 6.1 assists in eighty games (60 starts). That year, the Kings made the playoffs for the first time since arriving in Sacramento. However, a season later, Edney was replaced in the starting lineup that season by Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (the former Chris Jackson). Stints with Boston and Indiana were short, but Edney became a star in Europe.
When recalling the ’94-’95 Bruins, I was reminded about what makes the catch-all craziness of March Madness so profound. In the first days of the month, tournaments with varied levels of talent serve as frenzied prelims to THE tournament. Suddenly, pro factories such as Kentucky, UNC, Duke, and others are mixed together with overachievers and dreamers. Throw in a few teams with discernible future pros dotted on their rosters, and there’s a chance that those deeper, more talented teams could be caught slipping at any given moment.
Those Bruins may have not been as good (or even decent) after college as some of us thought they could be. In retrospect, in four uneasy years as one of the top teams in college basketball, we should have known better. Yet, it’s quite possible that among the lucky ones, the next ones, and the great ones during tournament time, the ’94-’95 Bruins were the biggest overachievers of all.
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Oh, I won't forget this squad...they were SUPER live! I remember their entire run.
What I remember them for NOW however is Ed O'Bannon suing for EA using his likeness on the 94-95 championship team on NCAA basketball. I need to check that out to see if he won or if they settled out of court...
If I recall, the litigation is still ongoing. Best believe that if a decision favors O'B and company, it's going to shake the foundations of amateur sports.
Just think of all the teams of that decade, though, and it became more evident how they've faded to the background. While there is always going to be some sort of divide between college basketball & NBA fans, there's something to be said about seeing some of those players have lenghty careers at the next level. Those guys are walking reminders of what they were when they were on campus.
We'll always associate Laettner, Hill & Bobby Hurley with Duke. Williamson with Arkansas. Webber, Rose & Juwon Howard are always Wolverines (and we need not mention the 'timeout'). Pretty much anyone that came through Chapel Hill before the 2000s.
E O'B, in my opinion, was the Western version of Felipe Lopez, but that's a story for another day.
Yeah, my first memories always go back to the Sheed-Stack Tar Heels, Vince-Jamison-Cota Tar Heels, Pepe-Greer-Karcher Temple teams and Zona Miles Simon-Bibby teams, then kind of everyone else. The 90s were awesome for entertaining as hell college basketball teams.
Shit, it's crazy that ANYONE could forget this team, but I even find myself losing this Bruins squad in my memories of favorite college teams. That bothers me a bit, because I was a huge Ed O'Bannon and especially Toby Bailey guy. Thanks for the reminding the world.
Joe, at the time, going-on-13 me recalled when Ed O'Bannon got drafted to the Nets, thinking at the time "maybe, just MAYBE the Nets can be respectable".
My Lord, was I wrong.
Who could ever forget the Dopeness of the O'Bannons. Edney was the key to the ignition tho. He made that team work. Dope piece taking us down memory lane Jason.
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