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12.10.2012

A Decade After the Dynasty



In any great dynasty there are familiar points of reference -- certain names or incidents or images that mark the reign of each ruler long after the dynasty has passed into history. So it is with the long line of UCLA basketball kings. There was Lew-CLA and the Walton Gang and the Wizard of Westwood. Alcindor's sky hook and Shackleford's corner jumper and the full-court zone press. Hazzard and Goodrich. Wicks and Rowe.

There were the title-game performances -- Bill Walton's 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting against Memphis State and Gail Goodrich's 42 against Michigan. And always, there on the sidelines with a rolled-up program and the look of an English lit professor, was Coach John Wooden.

But it has been a decade since the dynasty -- 10 years since the Bruins last won an NCAA championship. Though the reference points may remain clear in the memory, time can blur the details, and to fully appreciate the magnitude of UCLA's achievement, you need the details. If you're impressed by Georgetown's drive for a second consecutive title, consider:

* UCLA won 10 of 12 NCAA titles under Wooden from 1964 through '75, including seven in a row from 1967 through '73. The only years the Bruins were stopped were 1966, when they missed the tournament with an 18-8 record and Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) won the title, and 1974, when they lost in the semifinals to eventual champion North Carolina State in double overtime.

* The Bruins compiled the longest winning streak in college basketball history -- 88 games -- from January 1971 to January 1974.

* No team has won consecutive titles since UCLA won its seventh in a row in 1973, and only four teams other than the Bruins have won as many as two in a row.

"As the years go by, you tend to forget all the records and the exact numbers, even here where there are reminders of those days all over the place," said Sidney Wicks, a volunteer assistant coach at UCLA and a starting forward on the '70 and '71 teams. "But every now and again someone will mention them to you, and it hits you all over again. I think to myself, 'I was a part of that.' Then I walk around the rest of the day with a smile on my face and my chest stuck out."

For others, such as Steve Patterson -- the UCLA center who bridged the two-year gap between the Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton eras -- the memories remain vivid.

"I graduated, played in the pros, gave up playing basketball, went on to other things, and then came back to the game, but never, never did I forget about what we did at UCLA. It's always right there in your mind," said Patterson, an assistant coach at Arizona State. "How can you forget when you're part of a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment? It's the kind of string you're never going to see again.

"Unless, of course," he added, "they figure out a way to clone John Wooden."

THE COMMON GROUND

It always comes back to Wooden. His former players have gone on to widely disparate careers -- law, clergy, acting, coaching -- but Wooden is their common ground.

"It wasn't like everyone loved and worshiped Coach Wooden," said Lynn Shackleford, a starter at forward from 1967 through '69. "But somehow, all these years later, I find myself repeating to other people the things he said to me or thinking to myself, 'What would Coach Wooden have said or done in this situation?' When people ask me how UCLA managed to win all the time, sometimes I just say 'Wooden.' He's the best answer."

John Wooden is 74 now. He lives in the San Fernando Valley, where he practices "the fine art of relaxation" and amuses himself with "an occasional call from someone who wants to consult me on some matter of earth-shaking importance, like who's going to be in the Final Four."

Wooden won't call himself the best reason for UCLA's unmatched success, but he will suggest that he is the one from which all other reasons flow. Most of the memorable sports dynasties -- the New York Yankees, Boston Celtics, Montreal Canadiens -- ruled over a professional sport and had many of their best players for their entire careers; Wooden never had a player for more than three years. The only thing the 10 championship teams had in common was their coach, and Wooden doesn't hesitate to remind you of that fact.

"I'm proud of the fact that I won championships with different types of teams. We won three with Jabbar and two with Bill Walton, but those were only five of the 10," Wooden said. "We won in 1964 without a starter taller than 6-5. We won in 1970 and 1971 without a dominating center (Patterson) and we won in 1975 with a pair of guards (Andre McCarter and Pete Trgovich) a lot of people thought would be our downfall. If I'm to be remembered as a great coach, I think it should be because I won with so many different types of teams.

"The only time I really think about the championship years are those times when someone asks me why we managed to win all the time, as though there is some mysterious secret that only I know. Sometimes people take that 'Wizard of Westwood' malarkey a bit too seriously."

Some of the reasons for UCLA's success were far from mysterious. They were named Alcindor, Walton, Wilkes, Hazzard, Goodrich, Wicks, Rowe, Allen, Bibby and Johnson. The Bruins had at least one consensus All-American in each of their championship years except 1970.

But UCLA didn't win simply by grabbing all the top talent. Bruin championship teams include starters such as Kenny Heitz, Freddie Goss, Mike Lynn, Kenny Booker and Trgovich -- good players, but far from great.

"We always had excellent talent, but we didn't always have the best talent," said Goodrich. "I don't think Coach Wooden really wanted a team full of great players, anyway. Too many stars, and you find yourself losing control. Coach Wooden himself will tell you that control was one thing he had to have."

PLAYERS REBEL

Wooden acknowledges that some of the players rebelled at the tight reins.

"I was brought up believing in discipline, in control, and I demanded those things when I coached," Wooden said. "Some of my players didn't care for that approach, but I didn't expect them to. They were young, and the young naturally rebel against discipline. They didn't have to like it, but they did have to accept it, or at least adapt to it, if they wanted to play for me."

Even with Wooden's stern hand, the Bruins weren't always angels. Forward Mike Lynn was suspended from the team in 1967 when he was convicted of using a stolen credit card. Guard Lucius Allen was arrested for possession of marijuana on May 27, 1967 and again on the same date a year later. Walton, a self-described radical, was arrested in 1973 when he stretched himself across the middle of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles as part of a demonstration against the Vietnam war. He was eventually placed on two years conditional probation by the university.

"There was a lot of turmoil at UCLA, and I guess I was involved in a lot of it," said Walton, now a center for the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA. "Coach Wooden and I didn't see eye to eye on a lot of issues, but I don't think either one of us ever lost respect for the other. He respected me as a player and as an intelligent human being who could think for myself, which is more than you can say for a lot of coaches."

Said Wooden: "I didn't treat all the players alike. I sought to give them the treatment they earned, deserved or responded to. I can't say I liked them all equally. There were some I wouldn't let date my daughter, for example. Nor did all the players like each other. There is no way to have harmony all the time. Yet all that can and should be forgotten on the floor. You can still have an excellent team from players who don't particularly care for each other, or for the coach."

As their domination of college basketball grew, so did the pressure the Bruins had to withstand.

"The expectations were so high that we could seldom satisfy people," Shackleford said. "Maybe that's one reason why we were never close and didn't really stay in touch. Everybody was just relieved that it was all over. People ask me if anything like UCLA will ever happen again. I tell them that maybe it would be best if it didn't."

DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES

If any school is to duplicate UCLA's domination of college basketball, it will do so under significantly different circumstances.

"I don't think you'll ever see another UCLA," said CBS analyst Billy Packer. "There are more schools with legitimate programs than there ever have been before."

As the number of programs have grown, so has the NCAA tournament. There were 24 teams in the tournament in 1964, the year UCLA won its first title, and 32 teams in 1975, when the Bruins won their last. This year there are 64. UCLA had to win only four tournament games to win the championship until 1975, when it had to win five. This year's champion will win six.

Still, Wooden believes a repeat of UCLA's success is possible. "It happened once, it can happen again," he said. "Although I'm not predicting Georgetown will become a dynasty, it has the ingredients: An established winning tradition, a coach who has a well-recognized system so that players know what they're getting into before they come, a knack for recruiting big men and a reputation that will attract not only the best players from their area, but the best players across the country. That probably means Georgetown will almost always be in the running for the title, and when you're in the running, there's always the chance that you will win your share, or more than your share."

SCHOLARSHIP LIMITS

No team will be able to build the stockpiles of talent that the Bruins regularly compiled before several rule changes were instituted in the early '70s. Until 1971, when the NCAA limited the number of scholarship players per school to 15, there was no limit on the number of scholarships a school could offer.

The first seven of UCLA's title teams also benefitted from the old rule that kept freshman from playing on the varsity, a restriction that was lifted in 1972. In 1966 UCLA had a freshman team, which included Abdul-Jabbar, Allen, Shackleford and Kenny Heitz, that defeated the varsity, 75-60.

"Today, at least some of those freshman would have gone to a school where they had a chance of playing varsity immediately, or they would have gone to UCLA and forced some upperclassman to the bench, who might have gotten unhappy and transferred," Packer said.

Players turning professional before their college eligibility expires is another factor. Because the NBA rule went into effect in 1972, Abdul-Jabbar never had an opportunity to turn pro early, and Walton turned down his chance.

"Keeping your players is becoming as much of an art as recruiting them," Wooden said.

Those factors seem to indicate college basketball will never see another dynasty of UCLA-like proportions, which Packer believes would be for the best.

"It's no coincidence that college basketball has been more popular than ever the last 10 years, when there has been no one dominant team," he said. "UCLA's dynasty is something to be admired and something for every program to aspire to, but it's better for the game when everyone can really feel they have a legitimate chance at the title."

Wooden agrees. "It's nice to be able to look back on the time when UCLA was the king," he said. "But I think it's healthy to change rulers once in a while."

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