God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.
(after Reinhold Niebuhr)
Like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, college basketball cannot change the past, the present or the future. UCLA defeated Louisville 96-77 and Florida State 81-76. The Bruins won the national championship. So it goes.
It went like always in the Los Angeles Sports Arena last week when UCLA came face to face with three challengers from the South and proceeded to win the NCAA title almost as quickly as you can say hush puppy. The Bruins won their sixth championship in a row, their eighth in the last nine years and, on the final day that they drove ol' Dixie down, Bill Walton (see cover) was not even at his best.
He was good enough. Walton led the tournament in points (57), rebounds (41), blocked shots, time-outs and, distressingly, moans. It was this final, perhaps sophomoric, tendency to complain too much that marred an otherwise perfect conclusion to his wondrous rookie season as the college game's Player of the Year.
From the beginning it was a tournament of crosscurrents, transmigrations, in-laws and, some said, outlaws. The Florida State coach was from the city of Louisville; the Louisville coach from UCLA. A UCLA guard, Tommy Curtis, was recruited out of Tallahassee while two Florida State players were from Louisville, two others from North Carolina. The Tar Heels did not have anybody from any of the others' places, and during the one horrifying half of basketball that meant their downfall, a UCLA fan sent them on their way back to nowhere with "Hey, what league are you guys from? Hunger?"
For those partial to drama, intrigue and the Gospel according to St. Luke (15:11-32), the neatest clash of the week involved the return of the prodigal Crum to Los Angeles. Denny Crum, the former assistant to UCLA Coach John Wooden, had departed Westwood for Louisville and already he had made it back to do battle with his old mentor.
A native of Southern California, Crum had many friends in L.A., but his quick tongue and cocksure nature had earned him enemies, too. Also, his sudden success with an inherited team of good veterans raised jealous hackles in the coaching fraternity. " Denny's a climber," said one. "He's done a fine job, yes, but he moved to a great situation. He's probably put in for the Cincinnati coaching job already so he can get back to the finals next year."
One journalist reported that Crum and Wooden were not all that friendly; that after their celebrated argument on the bench during the finals at Houston last year, the two had a falling-out; that Crum was exiled to Louisville rather than leaving of his own accord.
It is true that Wooden and Crum often disagreed, and the two are vastly dissimilar in life-styles and personalities. Wooden once told student Crum: "Denny, you're the world's greatest cardplayer...from nose to chin." But their differences ended there, and both seemed delighted that the other had reached the tournament semifinals.
"I'm tickled Denny's here," said Wooden. "It's just too bad one of us has to lose."