BAKERSFIELD Sunk deep in his seat on the bench, the old coach, after seeing his defense break down again, shuts his eyes for a moment and massages the bridge of his nose. A few minutes later, after his team misses a layup – one of a half-dozen on the night – a familiar look of irritation crosses his face, and he begins to fiddle with the knot on his tie and rub his left temple. Not long after, when one of his players is muscled away from a rebound, he has had enough. “That’s a foul,” the coach shouts in his recognizable, raspy drawl. The coach, dressed neatly in a brown tweed jacket, tan slacks, shirt, and print tie, unfolds himself from his chair, puts his hands in his pants pockets as if he’s searching for loose change, and strolls casually toward midcourt. A few seconds – and four-letter words – later, an official at the other end of the court blows his whistle and signals a technical foul. With that, the coach turns and shuffles back to his seat. It’s the middle of March, and Jim Harrick is working again – on referees, on his players, and perhaps on his image. It’s all familiar, except for the setting – a mostly empty arena that’s as close to March Madness as it is to Manhattan. Harrick, after being kicked into retirement amid allegations of academic fraud and his players being paid at Georgia in 2003 and then working as a scout for the Denver Nuggets, has returned to coaching with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA’s Development League, a six-year-old minor league. “Since 1964, I’ve had a team to coach. That’s what I like to do. That’s what I enjoy doing,” said Harrick, the former UCLA and Pepperdine coach who turns 69 in July. “I’m not a retired guy. It’s boring. When you’re scouting, you do it at night two or threenights a week during the season. I played golf every day. “You go 15 hours a day for 40 years and then all of a sudden, boom, you stop. My wife is all for it. “(Coaching) keeps you active, it keeps you involved, it keeps you sharp, it keeps your brain moving – you’ve got to watch tape and break it down. I’m doing what I love.” Harrick spent part of last summer coaching an AAU traveling team of high school players for the Valley-based Pump brothers, Dana and David. And coaching in the D-League, as it’s called, has taken some getting used to as well. Harrick has players like Mateen Cleaves and Gerry McNamara, who won national titles at MichiganState and Syracuse, and a pair of former NBA lottery picks in 7-foot center Patrick O’Bryant and Qyntel Woods. But when a middle-aged businessman in a coat and tie is brought out of the stands to dance with the Jam’s cheerleaders during a timeout, half the players huddled around Harrick as he diagrammed a play had their heads craned toward the court. The Jam is 16-29 heading into tonight’s game at Anaheim, anchored in last place in the Western Division of the 12-team league. “Well, it’s different,” said Harrick, who had two losing seasons in 23 years as a college head coach. “We only have four guys that I had opening day. They come and go out of this league so you don’t have time to build habits – like stopping penetration and getting back on defense.” Then there is the opponent – in this case, the FortWorth Flyers. “They’re completely different than when we played them before – all new players,” he said. “Nobody plays any defense, nobody knows what anybody’s doing – you can’t watch tape because everybody’s got different players. So you just….” And Harrick puts up his palms. Does he ever wonder what he is doing here? “I wonder that about a lot of people – coaches, ex-players who played in the NBA,” said Cleaves, who played for four teams in six NBA seasons. “But he’s a very down-to-earth person. He doesn’t look at it like it is a bad thing. He loves what he does, and that’s help young players get better.” It’s this sort of que sera sera approach that has often made Harrick popular with his players. He always has shown a knack for finding great talent – luring Don MacLean to UCLA when it was popular for kids from Los Angeles to head east, snaring Ed O’Bannon away from UNLV when it was put on probation, getting Lamar Odom into school at Rhode Island when nobody else could, and offering a place at Georgia when twins Jarvis and Jonas Hayes transferred from Western Carolina. Harrick teaches the same offense that he watched John Wooden run – “It’s not the only way to play, only the best,” he said – and lets his players play. What got Harrick into trouble was playing fast and loose everywhere else. By his resume alone, Harrick would seem to have a job of his choosing. He won an NCAA championship at UCLA in 1995, the school’s only title since Wooden retired; came within seconds of taking Rhode Island to the Final Four in 1999; and had Georgia on its way to an unprecedented third consecutive trip to the NCAATournament. But he left all three schools under a cloud of accusations, getting fired at UCLA for falsifying an expense report, the final straw for athletic director Pete Dalis in a haystack of minor transgressions; being accused of sexual harassment and recruiting violations at Rhode Island; and resigning at Georgia after his son, Jim Jr., an assistant, was fired. Mention these and Harrick’s eyes narrow. “I got Marty Schottenheimered at UCLA, that’s what happened,” Harrick said, referring to the San Diego Chargers coach who was fired because he couldn’t get along with his boss. “At Georgia, I did absolutely nothing wrong. I have a letter from the NCAA saying that.” Harrick and his son sued Georgia, but the case never got to trial, the last of the charges being dismissed lastyear. Even during the course of an interview, Harrick’s version doesn’t always square with others’. He said his name was mentioned in connection with the job at Marshall because he went there, though his biography says he graduated from what is now the College of Charleston. He said his relationship with UCLA coach Ben Howland began when Howland played at Weber State and Harrick was an assistant at Utah State, though Harrick left the school a year before Howland arrived. When he’s asked how he’ll be remembered – for the way he won or the way he left – Harrick leans back on the sofa in his office. “I don’t really worry about that – what is your legacy? What is going to be your perception?”‘ he said. “My perception is every guy who ever played for me. …” And then he launches into a soliloquy about the dinner he had at The Bellagio last summer in Las Vegas with six players from the UCLA championship team that lasted until 3 a.m. It then weaves into the story of Pastor Billy Ingram of Maranatha Community Church on Martin Luther King Blvd., the captain of the Morningside High team he coached, giving the opening prayer at an awards dinner after the ’95 championship. Then he crosses over to Kevin Love, the incoming UCLA star recruit, whose father Stan lived around the corner from Harrick and used to drop by for dinner when he was a student at Morningside. Kiki Vandeweghe, whose father Ernie used to be the Harrick family’s pediatrician, hired Harrick when he was the Nuggets’ general manager. The Clippers’ Cuttino Mobley and the Lakers’ Odom, who played for him at Rhode Island, call him. The Washington Wizards’ Jarvis Hayes and the Seattle SuperSonics’ Damien Wilkins, who played for him at Georgia, call him. He’s great friends with the Golden State Warriors’ Baron Davis and the Sonics’ Earl Watson, whom he recruited to UCLA. Then he goes on to a list of coaches who worked for him. Alabama’s Mark Gottfried calls him every week. Lorenzo Romar, Greg White, Larry Farmer, Jerry DeGregorio. Just about everyone except for his UCLA successor, Steve Lavin, but he doesn’t want to go into that. “That’s what matters to me,” he said after stopping to take a breath. “That answers every question in the whole world.” Then why spend several years in court suing Georgia? “That was for my son,” Harrick said of Jim Jr., who was mocked when some of the questions from his basketball coaching class – “How many points do you get for a 3-point shot?” – became public. “They hurt my son. What if somebody hurt your child? My son had the potential to be one of the finest young basketball coaches in America. You look at Tony Bennett. The coach who was with the Atlanta Falcons (Jim Mora) was the son of a really good coach. The Suttons at Oklahoma State and Oral Roberts. He’s as good as any of them, as good as Mark Gottfried, as good as Lorenzo Romar. I want to tell you something: Anybody who ever hurts your children, it’s going to leave a scar that will never, ever go away.” When UCLA played its first-round NCAA Tournament game two weeks ago in Sacramento, Harrick flew up with one of the Jam’s owners, Stan Ellis, in his private turbo-prop plane. “You have all these people walking up to the game and there must have been several thousand UCLA fans,” Ellis said. “It seemed like everyone was hugging him, taking pictures, having kids take pictures with him. I had no idea of his celebrity.” UCLA coach Ben Howland has welcomed Harrick back to the school, inviting him to a banquet at the Final Four last year. He also spoke at a coaches’ clinic last spring with Howland, Bob Knight, and Bill Self, among others. “It means a lot to me,” said Harrick, who still wears one of his two UCLA championship rings. “When he got the job, he said, `I want to talk to you,’ so we went out to dinner in Beverly Hills and we spent six hours talking about everything. I’m really happy for Ben. I hope he wins a national championship, I really do.” It’s not hard for Harrick to keep tabs on UCLA. He lives in Rancho Santa Margarita in Orange County, where he’s close to his three sons and eight grandchildren. Harrick knows this is the end of the line in coaching. At 68, the appeal of being an NBA assistant or the possibility of being a college head coach has long since passed. At the college level, the fingerprints he has left have made him an untouchable. Inquiries made on his behalf at Pepperdine a year ago and at Long Beach State more recently were rebuffed. “I understand that,” Harrick said. This time of year, he says, is the toughest. “I loved this time of year,” Harrick said, his West Virginia twang coming through. “It’s in your blood. “Oh, it’s fabulous. You miss going to the NCAA Tournament, wooooo! I don’t miss all the things involved – the study table, kids’ grades, recruiting and all that stuff – but I sure miss this time of year. It’s the greatest show on earth. This is what’s it’s all about. Gollll-yyy.” After a few more minutes, he grabs a handful of game tapes, has a quick word with one of his players about playing time, and walks out the door, ready to head into the night. firstname.lastname@example.org (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!