Passing: UCLA players look not for the man but for a spot on the man—his shoulder, his extended arm. Also, to avoid blindside fouling, they screen spots on the floor instead of opponents.
Rebounding: Wooden teaches his men to 1) assume any shot will be missed; 2) get their hands up the moment any shot is taken; and 3) step in front of the opponent and go for the ball. "Blocking out is negative rebounding," he says. "We charge the ball."
In addition to everything else, the Bruins are constantly running. All conditioning drills are competitive, and UCLA teams work just as hard on fundamentals during the last week of a season as in the first. Wooden still preserves the practice plan for each day that he has coached at UCLA and he brings to the daily sessions a three-by-five-inch card with notations of what to do each minute in order that he not forget. "His cards," mutters one current player. "He drives me crazy with his damn cards."
Despite their perpetual moaning, UCLA players know they are ready after a week of seemingly endless drills. "They are ready for the pros, too." says Mike Warren of the '67 and '68 champions. "That's why UCLA guys get through rookie camp so easily. They've got the fundamentals down. If a man wants to play pro ball, there's only one man to play for in college—Wooden."
"Wooden is not the game coach everybody thinks he is," says Jack Hirsch from the 1963-64 team. "He doesn't have to be. He's so good during the week he sits back, relaxes and has fun watching the game." Wooden puts little credence in scouting reports. "If we do what we have learned correctly," he says, "it doesn't matter who the opponent is or what he does. UCLA will win."
Erickson, now a Los Angeles Laker, remembers playing Minnesota and being burned time and again by one particular player. "This guy is jumping through the moon and putting the ball up from everywhere and Coach Wooden never mentions anything about him," says Erickson. "When he jumps over me a couple of times, I realize this is a great player. You got it? We have no scouting report on Lou Hudson."
It is most definitely man's nature that a dedication to perfection in one area brings one up short in another. While Wooden places much faith in team principles and pays steadfast attention to "doing one's best," he sometimes fails, according to his players, in the man-to-man relationships desired, nay demanded, by present-day student standards. "He associates with his players just as much as he wants to or has to," says Slaughter, now a special assistant to UCLA Chancellor Charles Young, "and that's where it stops. I think he probably should get more involved with other aspects of a player's psyche. Perhaps if he were more active in this regard, some of these complaints would not exist."
UCLA has always had a reputation as an ideal spot for the black athlete, but various comments by recent graduates, Alcindor among them, have indicated this might not be the case. Though many of Wooden's publicized differences have been with black players, it is hardly fair to attribute all of them to color. Lacey resigned from the team after the famous game in the Astrodome in 1968 because Wooden would not publicly retract a statement he had made to the effect that he had not put Lacey back into the game because the player indicated he did not want to return. Wooden will not be quoted on the matter, but a player who sat next to Lacey on the bench that night insists Lacey shook off Wooden's motions to reenter the game. Another player on the same bench says Wooden's reaction "was the worst thing he could possibly do to a guy like Edgar." Although most observers say Lacey was not the same player after a knee injury following his sophomore year, the man himself still believes he was mistreated throughout his career. If, in fact, race never seemed a surface factor in the case, some other background is revealing.
When Lacey, a legend of the L.A. playgrounds, was originally recruited by UCLA, he told Slaughter, also a black, that he wanted to average 35 points a game. Slaughter, a big scorer himself in high school who had sacrificed his points when he joined the varsity, told Lacey UCLA was not the place for him. Later, Slaughter was called in by Wooden and threatened with the loss of his scholarship if he ever tried to "de-recruit" anyone again. For the rest of his time at the school, including two postgraduate years, Slaughter was not asked to help with the program in any way. When he attempted to become the graduate assistant coach for the freshmen, a position traditionally held by former UCLA players, Slaughter was passed over and the job went to Jay Carty of Oregon State. "I tried to tell Lacey the way it was," says Slaughter today. "But it fell on deaf ears. Then the coaching staff thought I was sabotaging them. There is no 'perfect' place for the black athlete, but if a black kid wants to get his game together for the pros, this is the best place to come. Coach Wooden is a product of his experience and background and he relates to the black as well as his background lets him. That's better than most."
Warren, who is now in movie and television acting, does not feel so tolerant. "His relationships with blacks have no meaning," says Warren of Wooden. "The coaching staff was seriously interested only in us playing, studying and keeping out of trouble. Our individual progress in terms of maturing as black men was of no concern. It's all superficial, the same kind of dialogue every day."