June 9, 2006

UCLA's O'Bannon has no regrets about career


They were virtually impossible to stop during their college basketball careers.

And they occasionally proved nearly as difficult to track down afterward.

The international nature of basketball can make it hard to find some of the elite college stars and familiar names of the last generation. If they didn't go on to long NBA careers, they often left the United States in order to continue playing overseas.

But the Rivals.com staff still managed to find several notable players of the past whose names remained in their school's record books long after they left campus.

Many of the stars are former conference players of the year who delivered big performances in the regular season. Others had their brightest moments in the NCAA Tournament.

Now they're ready to relive their college memories while illuminating us on what they're doing now.

Ed O'Bannon, UCLA
Name: Ed O'Bannon
Age: 33
Residence: Las Vegas
Claim to fame: Came back from a serious knee injury early in his career to lead UCLA to the 1995 national championship. Selected as the most outstanding player of the 1995 Final Four. Chosen as the Pac-10 co-player of the year and the winner of the John Wooden Award that goes to the nation's most outstanding player. Collected 30 points and 17 rebounds as UCLA defeated Arkansas 89-78 in the NCAA final. Chosen as a third-team All-American in 1994 and received honorable mention All-America consideration in 1993. Played alongside his younger brother, Charles O'Bannon. Had his No. 31 jersey retired by UCLA.

How often he's reminded about his college career: "Honestly, once a day at least. They probably say about four or five things. One was the fact that our team played well, and they talk about how good our team was. Another thing they talk about is my brother and I, our combination. They also talk about the run we had in the NCAA Tournament, especially when Tyus (Edney) made the layup against Missouri (a buzzer-beater that gave the Bruins a 75-74 victory in the second round). That's actually one of the biggest things we talk about. And they also talk about this past Bruins team that just went and played in the national championship game this year. They want to get my thoughts on that team."

Memories of his college career and the championship season: "Originally I was going to go to UNLV. The NCAA came down with their sanctions and put them on probation, and I ended up deciding to go to UCLA. For one thing, it was in my back yard. And I really liked the coaching staff they had and the campus. You can't beat the UCLA basketball tradition. I really wanted to add to the tradition, I guess, and be a part of what Bruins basketball is all about.

"It was a great experience (playing with my brother). It was somewhat old hat for us because we'd been doing it all our lives up to that point. Charles and I are very close. It kind of put a period on our playing careers together.

"There was no second place for us. The only reason why we played that season was to win a national championship. Most teams in the country go in wanting to win their league or get an NCAA bid or make it past the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. For us, it was all about winning the national championship. There wasn't any second place. That's kind of how we entered the season. It's tough to be in an environment at UCLA and not win. We just felt we'd put in our time. We'd worked hard all offseason and during the season. Why can't we win? We're as good as every team who was winning the championship. Why not us? We kind of said, 'Hey, it's our turn. We've got to go out and take it.'

"We were pretty confident (against Missouri). I don't think you can not be confident in a situation like that and win. We felt we deserved to win the game. Even though we didn't play as well as we wanted to, we'd put in our work. We'd put in all our preparation. We felt we deserved to win the game. We weren't going to stop until we did. Our emotions were very high. We were extremely positive. We felt we could win it. There was no doubt in our minds that we were going to win the game absolutely no doubt. Guys came to the bench during the timeout (before Edney's layup) wanting the ball. Guys who weren't in the game wanted to check into the game. We were excited. We knew we were going to win. It was just a matter of who was going to shoot the ball. It was an unbelievable experience. You see it all the time on TV. To actually be a part of one of the best games ever played in the NCAA Tournament was for me personally and for the team a dream come true. When they show (memorable tournament) games every year, they show our game. It's a great feeling, to be a part of it.

"We weren't going to lose anymore (after escaping Missouri). In fact, we felt none of our games were even going to be in question. We felt like we were going to win every game and win them pretty decisively. It's easy to say 11 years later, but quite honestly, that's how we felt.

"It felt good (to win the title). It felt great. I had a pretty good game, but everybody did. Charles played well and played extremely good defense. We had a freshman Toby Bailey who played out of his mind. George (Zidek), our center, he held (Arkansas star) Corliss Williamson to a good game, not a great game. It was fortunate for us and helped us win. The only thing I feel bad about I wouldn't say it's a regret because I had nothing to do with it but our team leader, Tyus Edney, didn't get a chance to play in that game. He's the one who got us there. But at the same time, we were happy with the win. Yeah, my numbers were good, but everybody's numbers were good. We were clicking on all cylinders that night. (Edney) sprained his wrist pretty badly in the semifinals against Oklahoma State. He tried to play and played like three minutes in the beginning of the game, but he couldn't go anymore. Cameron Dollar came in and did an excellent job of holding the team together.

"It's indescribable, to be honest with you. During that time, you kind of start thinking of all the work you put in leading up to the game. I'm talking about years of work. You think of how many people said you weren't going to be able to do it, how many teams you beat. All that kind of comes to a head with about a minute or so left in the game. The emotions start. Your adrenaline just pumps like never before. It's kind of a surreal experience. You almost feel like it's a dream. I'll tell you what, there is no drug in the world that can make you feel the way we felt. There's not enough money to buy that feeling. It's hard to explain, but it's a great experience. I'll never forget it. Hopefully, my kids and everyone else who works hard at their profession can feel the feelings I had that night.''

Pro career: The New Jersey Nets selected O'Bannon with the ninth overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft. O'Bannon played one full season with the Nets, then went to the Dallas Mavericks midway through his second NBA season. He was released by the Orlando Magic during the 1997 preseason.

O'Bannon averaged 5.0 points and 2.5 rebounds per game in two NBA seasons.

After leaving the NBA, O'Bannon continued his basketball career in Europe. He played in Italy, Spain and Greece before spending his final three seasons in Poland.

"In my NBA career, I didn't play as well as I wanted to,'' O'Bannon said. "I didn't put the ball in the hole. I didn't play as good defense as I could have and should have. As a result, I ended up getting cut from the Orlando Magic. That's really just kind of how it goes.

"Then I went overseas and played pretty good basketball. It was a great experience. My oldest son, Aaron, got a chance to go to school over there. My family got a chance to see a lot of the world, most of the world. We actually got paid for it. Most people pay to see what we got to see. That was a great experience. I wouldn't trade it.

"Things just worked out the way they're supposed to work out. Early on, if you asked me (about regrets), I'd have all kinds of excuses for you. Now that I've grown up and my life has changed, I don't regret it. I'm happy where I am. I love my life now. I love what I'm doing. I wouldn't trade it. It was a great experience. I got a chance to play with and against the best competition in the world. I got a chance to play against Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson (in pickup games while at UCLA), Shaquille O'Neal, a bunch of guys who are the best players ever."

What he's doing now: "I'm a salesman at Findlay Toyota (in the Las Vegas area). Ask any of our salesmen here, and nobody grew up wanting to be a car salesman, me included. But it's something I kind of fell into. It's something I'm trying to perfect, as anyone here is. I'm here. This is what I do. I'm going to be as professional as possible and do the best that I can.

"It's something I enjoy. Everybody has bad days, and it is a grind. The hours are like no other. But at the same time, you get out of it what you put into it. I'm working hard trying to perfect this. Hopefully I'll be able to own one of these dealerships someday.

"People get out of their car, pull up and see that I'm tall. Then, when they get out of the car and I'm standing next to them, they really think that I'm in the wrong profession. They think I should be playing ball. At one time I was, but times change. Professions change. People change. Here I am."



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