SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
November 30, 1970
Not even the occult can put a finger on the specific point in time when the Bruins of UCLA (see cover) took over the game of college basketball—when they nursed it, rehearsed it and gave out the news. When, in fact, they took it and reduced it to an exact science. A concept, if you will, rather than a contest. However, a fleeting glance at history might reveal that the precise moment probably came sometime after Elvis Presley but before Vietnam, making the dominance of the UCLA program appear at once both younger and older than it really is.
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November 30, 1970

Ucla: Simple, Awesomely Simple

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On campus, reaction to the basketball success is mixed. Some of the zeal for the team has naturally subsided in direct proportion to the boredom caused by winning so regularly. After the first two UCLA national championships, bonfires were fanned in parking lots and sit-in celebrations were staged at the corner of Westwood and Wilshire, but nothing of the sort has occurred lately. With a student enrollment of 29,000, the fact that announcements proclaiming a campus speech by Dan Rowan, a party with "Band, Wine and B.Y.O. Dope (Sorry)" and an intramural contest between "Krud and Dog Puke" have taken the place of basketball advertisements is not surprising. But when it counts—as last March, when the team returned to Los Angeles airport from Maryland with its fourth straight NCAA title—the students are there, 2,000 that time.

The UCLA name does not go unappreciated on foreign fronts, of course. Large-scale paydays for the basketball program in recent years included, during the Alcindor era, two single-game appearances in Madison Square Garden, four Chicago Stadium dates and a colossal gate at the Astrodome in Houston. Athletic Director J. D. Morgan will not release exact figures, but he estimates that the UCLA basketball program brings in as much revenue as do the football teams at many major schools. In the two years that NBC has held the rights to the NCAA tournament UCLA has collected upward of $90,000. Since UCLA's Bruin Classic at Christmastime is only held in alternate years, the team will now be traveling to such tournaments as the Steel Bowl as well as repeating its regular trips to Chicago and Notre Dame, all places where it picks up attractive guarantees.

To maintain a standard of excellence, the school's recruiting system must pay off. Wooden has always insisted that his staff does not spend much time in this endeavor, and it is true that he himself takes little interest in that part of the job. Ninety percent of his players over the years have been from California, most of those from Southern California. Furthermore, Wooden says he has never seen an out-of-state boy play and "we never contact out-of-state players first." Jerry Norman, his former assistant coach and now a Los Angeles stockbroker, disagrees. "Coach tends to forget some of that because he isn't as involved as I was," says Norman. "You have to contact the good ones now or they'll think you're not interested."

The fact remains that, usually, Wooden will not talk to a prospect until the boy makes his first campus visit. The principal element in that first discussion is Wooden's sincere desire that education come before basketball. "I don't want to sell a boy on our school," says Wooden. "The program speaks for itself." The glorious weather and glamorous image of Tinsel Town are intangibles that do not hurt the recruiting program either.

"One thing I remember about his talk with me," says Steve Patterson, the current center, "is that he didn't bad-mouth the other schools. Everybody else said, 'If you don't come with us, above all, don't go to UCLA. It's no fun there.' "

"It takes a lot of guts to tell a recruit he won't start as a sophomore," says Kenny Heitz, a swing man of the Alcindor era and now a student at Harvard Law School. "Most guys sit there and tell you you're the greatest in the history of mankind, 25 a game in your sophomore year, All-Conference. Wooden says, well, if you work hard, you'll be a swing man for me. Wow! It's a challenge all of a sudden."

It is often pointed out that UCLA's success with out-of-state recruits has been limited to black players. The school has never had a white player of star quality from out of state simply because the coaches don't look far away very diligently. They don't have to. Despite the claims of Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, only New York City matches Southern California in high school basketball talent. Wooden does not miss much of the home product. Three years ago he did miss on Paul Westphal, who attended Wooden's own summer camp for four years. Says Westphal, now a junior and a budding superstar at Southern Cal, "It would have been just another championship at UCLA. If we win here, it will be unique. It's more of an achievement to beat Coach Wooden than to win for him."

Upon entering UCLA a young man comes more under the tutelage of assistants Denny Crum and Gary Cunningham for the first year than under Wooden. Both former UCLA players and in their early 30s, the two assistants are the perfect meld—Crum, a fiery, aggressive type who heads up the recruiting program and figures in game strategy; Cunningham, the tall, silent one whose patience is more conducive to the direction of the freshman team and to helping players with their class schedules and study load. When he was there, Norman handled most of this work, endearing him to Bruins both past and present. Almost to a man, they credit him with much of the UCLA success. "The most moving force when I played was Jerry Norman," says Fred Slaughter. "He related to us." Norman's departure two years ago was somewhat surprising but not unrelated to his frustration at not being able to move up. The mandatory retirement age at the university is 67, and Wooden was just 58 at the time. Now any talk of retirement has been delayed due lo the brilliant freshman team, but speculation exists that Wooden's successor will be a name coach rather than one of his former players.

Whenever the change does come, Wooden's devotion to discipline, conditioning and fundamentals will be virtually impossible to match. There is a UCLA Way that is hammered into a new player almost from the very first day. In practice and games a player must acknowledge a good pass from a teammate. If he doesn't do this, he doesn't play. Among Wooden's other "normal expectations," which are presented to each player at the beginning of the season, are: he must never criticize, "nag or razz" a teammate; never be selfish, jealous, envious or egotistical; never "grandstand, loaf, sulk or boast"; never "have reason to be sorry afterward." There are other expressions of the UCLA Way, too.

Shooting: Wooden determines the area from which a player is accurate, and he is restricted to that area. A Henry Bibby, for instance, can shoot from 25 feet but not from 10 feet after a cut inside, where a John Vallely can. Wooden will change a man's form if he either cannot get the shot off or cannot hit it when he does shoot. This can sometimes result in bad feelings—as it did between Wooden and Edgar Lacey, who felt the coach had ruined his game forever by tampering with his shot.

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