" Bruins" is in star-gold letters across his chest, the number "25" is on the front and back of his uniform, and the look of southern California vivifies his face. His eyes twinkle. His teeth show bright whenever he breaks into a smile. He wears his basketball drawers slung a little low, over legs that are slightly bowed. He really has brown hair, but people think of it as blond. They remember it as blond because all these kids in southern California are blond and this one is the embodiment of southern California. Maybe his hair is darker because of the smog.
This is Gail Goodrich of North Hollywood, the All-America, the high scorer of the champion UCLA team—and he does not look the part. As a matter of fact, what he looks like is the kid in the war movie who thinks maybe he will be shaving soon, though everybody else knows he will get killed in the next-to-last reel.
At 6 feet 1, Goodrich is also a bit short for All-America casting, and some people say he is All-America simply because he is the best-known player and the highest scorer (23.3) on the team that is defending champion and very possibly will win again. It is more likely that UCLA is what it is because of Goodrich's talent. He plays a lot taller than he is.
Goodrich, a left-hander, is UCLA's only outstanding shooter. Kenny Washington, the top sub, can be a phenomenal shot, but he is erratic. Goodrich is hitting at a 54% pace, which is almost 10 percentage points better than anyone else on the squad. Other members of the team could slump for a night and UCLA would still win, but if Goodrich were off target UCLA would certainly be beaten. He is not, however, the typical small gunner type. Indeed, most of his points come from inside. Goodrich moves in under the basket almost every time after he has brought the ball upcourt. He moves a lot, with the outstanding and rare ability to work well without the ball. Underneath, he bounces on the balls of his feet, ready to cut out for a pass or maneuver for a rebound, though it looks as if he is just doing all that jumping up and down to see over the heads of the bigger people all around him.
Despite his limited height, Goodrich has a real instinct for the rebound. He seems to anticipate the fluke bounces and be in the right spot to scoop up balls and toss them in for those "garbage" baskets. He also has quick hands, and many of his rebounds are actually balls he has swiped from bigger opponents, after they have brought the ball down to Goodrich's level.
Goodrich grew late. He was 5 feet 4 and 99 pounds as a high school sophomore; by the time he led L.A. Poly to the Los Angeles city championship as a senior, he had shot up to 5 feet 9 and 135. UCLA Coach John Wooden had been the only coach interested in Goodrich, so when Southern Cal entered the recruiting lists late it did not have a chance, even though Gail's father had been a star guard at USC.
Goodrich led the UCLA frosh to a 20-0 record, but as a sophomore he was moody and depressed, chiefly because Wooden used him as a 6-foot forward, a position he did not enjoy. He admits now, however, that the experience he had as a forward helps him greatly when he takes the man guarding him inside. With All-America Walt Hazzard on the team last year, Goodrich's skill as a ball handler was almost overlooked. This year it is plentifully evident. He dribbles the ball so low that it looks as if he is rolling it along. Goodrich's jumper adds an inch or two to his height; he gets his hands very high over his head before he releases the ball. At UCLA, defense is a team affair, and none of the players—even Goodrich—is particularly outstanding in this department once the team's tough zone press breaks down.
Gail Goodrich is a dedicated and complete college player, and he is a winner. The kid who looks like the all-American boy is a true All-America athlete. You would almost swear that he also is a blond.