Tyus Edney comes home to UCLA
LOS ANGELES -- The blue polo shirt suits him. A nice update to the jersey that always seemed too big for his slender frame.
If Tyus Edney has gained a pound in 15 years you wouldn't know it. The newest member of Ben Howland's coaching staff has a few stray bits of gray atop his head now, but he's still lean and baby-faced, like the jet-propelled point guard who led the UCLA Bruins to their 11th national title in 1995.
"It maybe seems like four or five years ago," Edney jokes. "Definitely not 15 years.
"What's weird is, the whole campus has changed. All the stuff they were building back when I was here has been built. It's like a new campus."
He came back to Westwood last fall, looking for inspiration and direction. His time as a player was finally over after 14 satisfying seasons as a professional.
He'd gotten his shot in the NBA. Actually, he'd gotten several shots over four seasons with the Sacramento Kings, Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. But in Europe, Edney was a star, leading his teams to some of the most important championships on the continent and winning MVP awards.
In Italy, he played for Mike D'Antoni's greatest teams at Benetton Treviso. In Greece, he played for Olympiakos. In Lithuania, he helped his team win the Euroleague Championship. In Rome, he lived steps away from St. Peters.
It was a wonderful life and career. But when it was all over, Edney didn't fight it. He'd seen the world, learned four languages and filled two passports. He came home to the States with a bride from Italy and had a son.
He could still pass for a college sophomore but he felt like a 37-year-old. There's a time and a season for a man to live out of a suitcase and rent a new apartment every year, and Edney had outgrown that time.
Coaching had been in the back of his mind for four or five years. He thought it would be a natural transition from being a point guard. Fortunately, so did Howland.
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Two weeks ago, after an extended courtship, Howland hired Edney as UCLA's director of basketball operations. He's replacing Joe Hillock, who is leaving to become the head coach at high school basketball powerhouse Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, Calif.
"I'm just getting acclimated now, getting everything set up," Edney said recently. "Going to meetings, seeing what needs to be done, meeting with the administration and getting to know people."
He said this like he actually might be introducing himself to people, even though most everyone on campus already knows who he is.
Fifteen years ago Edney became a legend in 4.8 seconds.
His game-winning, coast-to-coast layup in the second round of the NCAA tournament propelled the Bruins to the last of their 11 national titles and is still one of the most electric, unforgettable moments in school history.
He's done a lot since those 4.8 seconds of glory, but in these parts that's the play that will forever define him.
"It's fun how people remember," Edney said. "How they'll come up and ask me about it. I think it just reflects what a special year that was.
"At the time, I had no idea how big it was. After we won, everything was such a whirlwind that you don't even realize what's going on," he said. "Now is more when I realize what we did. The more time that passed, the more I kind of realized what we accomplished that year."
Most of the players from that championship team have finished either their careers or are winding them down. Like Edney, most of of the big names -- Charles O'Bannon, Toby Bailey, George Zidek -- had most of their success overseas.
They're all still a little too young to come back to campus regularly and sit in the stands for games. Most of the alumni at UCLA games are from earlier eras.
"I think maybe later on you'll see people coming back more," Edney said. "A lot of the guys are still playing somewhere, so it's hard to come back.
"But hopefully with me being here we will bring some of the guys back around, the guys from our era. I've already gotten texts from all my teammates since this came up. We were a close team then and we all still try and keep in touch."
He speaks with the wisdom of a man who has been around and seen more of the world than most, like a man who should be wearing polo shirts and passing on the things he's learned to younger players.
"I'm excited," Edney said. "This just feels like a natural fit after what I've done and the experiences I've had."Ramona Shelburne is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosangeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.