Juggling Final Four with final exams
The Bruins will play in the regional semifinals on Thursday.
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Getting to the Final Four is on the mind of every UCLA player this week. So are other kinds of finals -- sociology, history, communications.
In the ultimate case of awkward timing, the Bruins are juggling winter quarter finals while preparing for Thursday's NCAA tournament regional semifinal against Gonzaga in Oakland.
"You know how hard it is during finals to get your mind right because you're so exhausted from studying," coach Ben Howland said. "At practice, I'm sure guys are going to have a little mental fatigue from staying up all night cramming."
Quarters not semesters
UCLA and several of the other Pac-10 schools are on the 10-week quarter system, while many of the nation's other major conferences are semester schools.
Freshman Alfred Aboya, a Cameroon native, might be the happiest guy on the team. After slogging through writing research papers on studying abroad and comparative literature, he was done with his finals Tuesday.
"I won't have any concern about anything but the game," said Aboya, who wants to major in international relations with the idea of being a diplomat or president of his African country.
Freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, also from Cameroon, prefers the solitary nature of taking finals on the road over the coughing, sneezing and buzzing cell phones in a classroom.
Being able to balance books and basketball is an ongoing challenge.
"It's very hard because you've got to concentrate on the final and you got to study," Mbah a Moute said. "At the same time, I need to clear my mind and think about the game."
Riding herd on the Bruins' classroom fortunes is academic coordinator Kenny Donaldson. His duties include making sure players go to class (he pays surprise visits), do homework, stay eligible and eventually graduate.
"What people don't understand is they're up usually from 7 or 8 in the morning, in order to go to class and study, until maybe 12 at night," he said. "Their free time is so limited."
Starting Wednesday in Oakland, Donaldson will set up a room at the team hotel, with separate tables for each player taking an exam. No talking is allowed, either.
He tries to closely mimic campus classroom conditions, finding out ahead of time whether players can refer to notes or reference materials, and how much time they are allowed.
"I'm in there for all three hours making sure nothing is going on, no electronic devices," Donaldson said.
Some professors insist an exam be given on the road at the same time it is in Westwood, which can affect the timing of the team's practice schedule.
In other cases, a player might take the test before his classmates on campus, so a professor will change the questions to avoid the temptation of anyone talking about what was on the test.
"Most of the time, the professors, even if they don't really understand how the tournament works, they're more than accommodating," said Donaldson, who often overnights the tests back to professors.
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