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After being spurned by Larry Brown and Jim Valvano, UCLA filled its coaching vacancy by turning to a former assistant who was working nearby and just dying to return to the Bruins.

Unlike Brown, Jim Harrick had no second thoughts about accepting the Bruins' head job Tuesday when Athletic Dirctor Pete Dalis phoned at 7 a.m. and said: "Are you ready to join me in the toughest coaching job in America?"And unlike Valvano, Harrick didn't have to worry about moving his family across the country. He spent the last nine seasons at Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif., just an ocean breeze away from Westwood.

"For Jim Harrick, if you said the Lakers or Celtics wanted a coach, I don't think it would be any more appropriate than the opportunity to be basketball coach at UCLA," Harrick said after agreeing to a 4-year contract.

"I don't think I would have left my position at Pepperdine for any other position except the one here at UCLA."

Harrick, 49, replaces Walt Hazzard, who was fired March 30 after the Bruins concluded a 16-14 season by being eliminated in their opening game of the Pacific-10 Tournament.

Harrick, who led the Waves to a 167-97 record and six post-season berths, received strong recommendations from North Carolina Coach Dean Smith and Louisville coach Denny Crum, under whom Harrick worked during last year's Pan American Games trials.

Harrick took assistant Tony Fuller with him and was to recommend that No. 1 man Tom Asbury take over for him at Pepperdine. The Waves called a 10 a.m. news conference for today to announce the replacement.

The hiring of Harrick ended a frustrating 12-day period in which UCLA courted Valvano of North Carolina State and Brown of NCAA champion Kansas as well as approaching Duke's Mike Krzyzewski in an effort to revive its struggling program.

"I hope they don't look at him as a consolation prize," said guard Pooh Richardson, who met with Harrick for about 20 minutes. "He's a good guy and he knows what he's doing."

Harrick said that throughout the school's negotiations with the other candidates, "I knew where I stood at all times. I appreciate that. In this business so many people play games. Never did I not know where I stood with Pete Dalis."

Brown surprised UCLA officials Friday with his last-minute decision to remain with the Jayhawks. The Bruins were then forced to find a quick replacement because of Wednesday's deadline for signing high school players.

UCLA is among those in the running for highly regarded Don MacLean of Simi Valley High School.