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It's a Family Affair

The Vandeweghes

By Michelle D. Healy

For the Vandeweghes, sporting events are family affairs. When one member of the family is participating, the others are always on hand, a personal cheering section.

But when Tauna Vandeweghe took fourth place overall at this year's Superstars competition in Key Biscayne, her parents and younger brother and sister looking on, one of her biggest fans was missing.

Just this once, older brother Kiki, had an excuse: the former swimmer now works as an NBA forward; and his employers, the Denver Nuggets, needed him.

Although they began their athletic careers in the California age-group swimming ranks, both of the elder Vandeweghe children have mastered new sports in recent years--Tauna has announced that this will be her last swim meet and that she plans to play volleyball in her final year at UCLA.

While Kiki garnered national acclaim last year when he led the UCLA Bruins into the final of the NCAA Basketball Championship which UCLA lost, 59-54 to Louisville, his swimming achievements are still respected. In 1969, when he and his sister were swimming for Santa Monica Swim Club, the young sprinter set what is now the oldest-standing age-group record with a 31.70 for the boys' 10-and-under 50-meter butterfly.

It was at Santa Monica that the Vandeweghes met the first of many UCLA coaches who have enjoyed the luxury of coaching a member of their talented and hardworking family. The Vandeweghes' postive experiences under the tutelage of Bob Horn, a Santa Monica coach who also directed the Bruin water polo program, gave UCLA the inside track when Kiki and Tauna reached recruiting age.

In the early 1970s the family switched to Culver City Swim Club and continued to excel. After a couple of years, Kiki, who was almost ready for Palisades High School, decided to switch sports.

"I left swimming for several reasons. One of them was the limited number of scholarships available in the sport. I decided early it was my own responsibility to pay for college, and I thought a basketball scholarship might allow me to do that. My parents encouraged us to do our very best in our chosen sport, so rather than become just so-so at both. I decided to concentrate on basketball." Vandeweghe said recently from his Denver apartment.

As Kiki eased himself out of swimming, his sister accelerated her climb to the top of the sport. Deciding he wanted first-class coaching for his daughter closer to the family home in West Los Angeles. Tauna's father found exactly what he was looking for right across the street from the Vandeweghe home, on the UCLA campus. It was 1975, and the Bruin Athletic Department had just lured George Haines away from the highly successful Santa Clara Swim Club. Besides taking on the UCLA men's swim team. Haines consented to accepting Tauna, a female, high-school backstroker.

"Looking back, I now realize what a tremendous opportunity that was. Swimming for George Haines is terrific enough in its own right, but add to that the chance to work out with a men's collegiate team when you're still in high school and you have an unbeatable experience," she said recently.

After winning the 100-yard backstroke at the 1975 Indoor Nationals. Tauna demanded workouts with Haines and finally earned a trip to Montreal for the 1976 Olympics. Qualifying second behind Linda Jezek for the U.S. squad. Vandeweghe was the fifth seed: but inexperience on the international scene caught up with her and she missed making the finals.

After setting an American record with a 56.4 in the preliminaries at the 1977 Indoor Nationals. Vandeweghe relaxed her pace a little during her first couple of years at UCLA.

Sports payed off for the Vandeweghe family, with Kiki earning a basketball and Tauna a swimming scholarship.

Last year, while Kiki played in his final and most successful season of collegiate basketball, Tauna took a year off from school to prepare for the Olympics. After moving to Philadelphia to swim once again with Haines, who by then had gone to Foxcatcher Swim Club, she saw her year go down the drain when the U.S. decided to boycott the Moscow games.

"The Olympic boycott left a bad taste in my mouth. I decided to hang it up after the Nationals last summer. Unfortunately, the UCLA's women's team lost some key recruits and when the coach asked me to swim. I thought I owed it to the program," Tauna said.

A stranger set of circumstances called her older brother out of his own premature retirement. When the NBA's Dallas Mavericks began to show interest in him, the UCLA forward advised the expansion team officials that he was not interested in playing professionally but was intent on going to law school. Convinced that Vandeweghe was their man, the Mavericks accepted the challenge, drafting him in the first round.

"Certainly I was flattered to be chosen so early and I felt that I owed them the courtesy of hearing their offer. Even if pro basketball had been my first choice. I never would have accepted their offer--it wasn't even in the ballpark. This coupled with my desire to go to law school caused me to turn down the contract and that led to the subsequent breakdown in communications." Kiki recalled.

But before applying to law school, Kiki needed one final quarter for his degree in economics; a conscientious student, Vandeweghe had lost a quarter when he had played basketball in China on a U.S. diplomatic mission.

Last December, while nearing the end of his final quarter, and no longer juggling academics with a heavy practice schedule, Kiki was ready to breeze through exams when he got the news that Dallas had traded him to Denver for future draft choices. Hours later he was on a plane to the mile-high city, and that night he played his first game in the pros against the Dallas Mavericks.

"I was pleased with Denver's first offer and signed immediately. Playing your way into shape isn't the best way to start off in the NBA, but it worked out okay. I enjoyed playing for the Nuggets and I'm looking forward to a better start, next year," he said.

Refusing to abandon his law school plans, Kiki plans to take his finals and pick up his undergraduate degree in the upcoming months. Ideally, he'd like to begin law school next year in the off season.

Pro basketball and rigorous courses seldom mix, but Kiki has one of the NBA's most educated alumni as an example: His father, Ernie, who is now a prominent Southern California pediatrician, paid for his Columbia Medical School education playing guard for the New York Knicks.

Although Tauna has only one year of eligibility left at UCLA, she will definitely play volleyball next year and has no intention of leaving the sports scene entirely.

"I'd like very much to get into sports broadcasting in the future. In fact, I think that it would be great to broadcast some of my brother's games. Perhaps I could do color with my father doing the play by play," she mused.

It looks like sports will remain a family affair for the Vandeweghes.

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