Bruin fans call him the Jewish Jordan. The Freshman Phenom. The Future of UCLA Basketball. Those are high expectations to place on an 18-year-old curly haired kid from the Valley; but the kid doesn't think so. Freshman point guard Jordan Farmar welcomes the challenge. Actually, he thrives on it.
"I didn't want to be in just another top 10 basketball factory that shuffled players in and out," said Farmar, who led Taft High School to its first L.A. city championship in 2004.
The 6-foot-2, 170-pound McDonald's All-American chose UCLA after Coach Ben Howland told him he saw the Bruins winning and Farmar leading.
"I wanted something I could change. I wanted to develop, have something I could remember, and know that I worked hard to help this program out and get it on the right track," Farmar said with a confident smile.
In the least, this determined Bruin has pointed the program in the right direction. In 27 starts, he has averaged 13.5 points, 34.2 minutes and scored a career high 27 points against Arizona
"I hate to lose at anything. I hate to not be successful. So if I'm out there on the court, I want my team to win, and I will play to the best of my abilities," said Farmar, who was named Pac 10 Player of the Week, UCLA/Met RX Player of the Week, The Sporting News' midpoint National Freshman of the Year and ESPN's Dick Vitale's midseason Diaper Dandy.
Farmar's strong performance shaped the Bruins' success this season. Last year, they finished with an 11-16, 7-11 (overall, Pac 10) record. This year, they're sporting 18-9, 11-7. For the past two years, the 11-time national champions failed to make the NCAA Tournament. This year, they're in strong contention for a bracket berth.
"Our goal this year is to get to the [NCAA] tournament. Once we're there, it's just competition. Anybody can do anything," said Farmar, who also looks to win this weekend's Pac 10 Tournament.
While Farmar's talent is notable, his work ethic is remarkable.
"I learned at a young age, and took to heart that when you're sitting down resting, there's someone else taking jump shots, lifting weights, doing something to improve," said Farmar, a business economy major with 3.1 grade point average.
He inherited his competitive drive from his father and mentor, Damon Farmar, who played football and baseball at University High and baseball in the minor leagues. The younger Farmar spent countless hours in his father's clubhouses, hanging out with his father's teammates, watching his father play.
"I've been around success in sports my whole life," Farmar said. "My father is a professional athlete. I don't want to be any different. I don't want to hear you're not as good or athletic or talented as your father," said Farmar.
Farmar's parents divorced when he was young. His mother, Melinda Kolani, and stepfather, Yehuda Kolani, raised Farmar in a Jewish home, took him to Israel and sponsored his Temple Judea bar mitzvah. Farmar doesn't consider himself observant, but identifies himself as part of the Jewish people.
"That is part of me, of who I am," said the 2004 Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame High School Athlete of the Year. "People are watching the game, the way I carry myself on and off the court, and I know that all reflects on my community and my people."
That Farmar knows his actions contribute to something greater than personal success is apparent on the court. As this season progressed, Farmar settled into his leadership role, adjusted his attitude and altered his actions. He worked on staying positive and recognizing that every play, possession and game is a new challenge.
"I'll play smart; I won't get any unnecessary fouls, and I'll contribute," Farmar said. "I've started to listen more to Coach Howland and be more coachable. And as our relationship improves, the team's play improves."
Farmar looks young, but doesn't play like it and often doesn't act like it. He's composed, articulate and respectful. He seems unfazed by the pressure placed on him to resurrect Bruin basketball.
He seems comfortable with a responsibility that would panic most adults. But in a moment, the Van Nuys teenager reveals that he deals with the same issues as any other kid from the Valley.
"My mother and father wouldn't speak if it wasn't for me," he said. "To see them at my games, sitting right next to each other, cheering for the same cause, just forgetting about all the other stuff that's gone along, knowing they love me and are there to be supportive -- that makes me feel better than anything."
Jordan Farmar and the UCLA Bruins play in this weekend's Pac 10 Conference Tournament at Staples Center and are waiting to hear if they make the NCAA Tournament.
Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at email@example.com.