The legend of the Jacksonville Dolphins grew all through the season. This was the college basketball team with not one but two 7-footers, and a fine scorer out of the funny papers named Rex Morgan. It was the team with no training rules and a young coach, Joe Williams, who scribbled scouting reports on the backs of envelopes, the team that stopped off in Hawaii and New Orleans for a little relaxation while running up a 23-1 record.
Jacksonville's good times were supposed to end in the NCAA tournament's toughest regional round, the Mideast, but the experts reckoned without Joe Williams' white, double-breasted, lucky sportcoat. For his 36th birthday his players gave him a gift certificate and he bought the coat because he thought "Artis would like it," and what 7'2" Artis Gilmore likes, Joe likes. Besides, as one friend pointed out, if the Dolphins were losing, Joe could always back up into the stands with that jacket and pretend he was a peanut vendor.
Between Artis and the jacket, Jacksonville beat Western Kentucky, Iowa and Kentucky in the regionals, got by St. Bonaventure in the semifinals (the Bonnies played without their injured star, Bob Lanier) and last Saturday found itself at College Park, Md. in the NCAA finals. There the jacket and Artis ran out of magic. The reason—of course, as always, inevitably—was UCLA. In a game marked by the extraordinary talents of Sidney Wicks, the Bruins beat the Dolphins 80-69 for their fourth title in a row and their sixth in seven years.
Yes, out of the 225 teams eligible for the championship, it was UCLA once again, without Lew Alcindor this time, but still with the best-looking uniforms and pompon girls, the best team and the best coach, John Robert Wooden, 23 years older than Joe Williams.
"My wife Nell was saying before the season started that maybe this year we could go back to the coaches' convent on and the Nationals and just relax," said Wooden. "Without any pressure at all. It didn't turn out that way, but of course I didn't really want it to."
If Nell didn't get to relax, at least she will have more bric-a-brac to put in the little museum she has set up in the Woodens' apartment in Santa Monica. This season John was named Coach of the Year by AP, UPI, the Coaches' Association and the basketball writers, not to mention Joe Williams, and those plaques will have to be squeezed in among umpteen Coach of the Year awards from past years and trophies proclaiming him California Father of the Year and King of the Morgan County Fall Foliage Festival.
The pressure wasn't really all that severe, either. UCLA beat Cal State Long Beach by 23 and Utah State by 22 in the West Regional. Then, after Jacksonville's flat, unimpressive win over crippled St. Bonaventure last Thursday night, UCLA had to get through what was supposed to be a difficult semifinal against New Mexico State. The previous two years the Aggies had been in the West Regional and were eliminated by UCLA. This year they got smart or lucky and de-toured to the Nationals by way of the Midwest Regional, hoping for a chance to get up some steam. "It's a grudge thing with us," said Guard Jimmy Collins. "I feel we've got our momentum going now, so maybe it's our turn to win."
It wasn't. Collins shot nicely (28 points) but his team stood around too much and the Aggie front line only matched the size but not the quickness of UCLA's 6'8" Wicks, 6'9" Steve Patterson and 6'6" Curtis Rowe. The Bruins won 93-77.
"You get a complex after a while," said the frustrated Aggie coach, Lou Henson. Asked about the Bruins' alleged mystique, Jacksonville's Williams said, "If anybody has a mystique, it's Coach Wooden." Even today, Henson and Williams could comfort themselves a little by noting that Wooden's teams lost nine of their first 12 NCAA tournament games. As recently as 1963 Arizona State beat the Bruins by 14 points. Of course, they haven't lost many since.
Last Friday was a day of rest and rumor: Artis Gilmore earned $75 a day as a Jacksonville playground instructor last summer (true); UCLA is going to get that tall white kid out of San Diego, Bill Walton (probably true). It was also a day for Coach Lefty Driesell of the host University of Maryland (whose ambition it is to make his school "the UCLA of the East") to announce-the signing of two New York City high-school stars. Lefty's press conference upstaged the team workouts at Cole Field House, workouts that illustrated some of the differences in philosophy between Wooden and Williams. Jacksonville was supposed to have the floor from 3 to 4 in the afternoon and its players straggled in late. Then they put on their Harlem Globetrotter warmup routine, which Joe allowed them to work up themselves. The Bruins sat in the front row and watched with amusement, Patterson saying facetiously, "Greatest thing I ever saw."