UCLA Basketball: Three Forgotten

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 7: Hall of Fame players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Rick Barry, MagicJohnson and Bill Walton shake hands with Jamaal Wilkes during the Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on September 7, 2012 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

While UCLA fans were rightly swept up in the enthusiasm of the best and most fun win in football in years, major events in basketball regarding three players occurred that were missed by many fans. I would like to briefly highlight the three "forgotten" players from three very different eras in UCLA basketball, including a new recruit.

First was Jamal Wilkes. "Silk" as Wilkes was nicknamed had waited a long time for his Basketball Hall of Fame induction last Friday night. Silk was never the best player on any team he played but may have set a record for MVPs played with in college or pro starting with Bill Walton, Rick Barry, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Magic Johnson (All of which accompanied Wilkes on stage for his indictment into the Hall of Fame.)

Wilkes was nicknamed silk for his smooth graceful style that led long time Laker announcer Chick Hearn to call his shots "20 foot lay-ups." But he was also a legend as a Bruin, he was none other than Coach John Wooden's favorite player. As Wooden said in John Wooden An American Treasure (the title came from a Wilkes quote):

"And if you considered everything - Athletic, academic, and citizenship skills-Keith Wilkes might have topped them all."

Appropriately in closing his acceptance speech Wilkes quoted Wooden:

"Make each day your masterpiece. You can't do anything about yesterday. It's over. Tomorrow is yet to come, but tomorrow is in large part determined by what you do today. So make today a masterpiece."

The next player was a player of a different era and also inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last Friday: Reggie Miller. Although, Reggie thanked Silk in a great speech as an inspiration for resisting those coaches who tried to change his shot. Reggie's NBA records and accomplishments are well known (all-time 3 point leader when he retired) and even the subject of an ESPN 30 for 30 special. But judging by a recent fanpost I think many have forgotten about Reggie Miller's UCLA accomplishments.

Let me begin by saying unlike Wilkes, Reggie played for in my opinion the two worst coaches in UCLA Basketball history: Larry Farmer and Walt Hazzard. (I rank Lavin as third worst.) I don't want to get into a lengthy discussion of why and I am not discussing their great accomplishments as players but Farmer was a terrible coach. Briefly his first priority was the clothes the players wore on the plane, considered his best friend Sam Gilbert, and was known for getting confused during timeouts. Hazzard for his part on the day he was hired as head coach was not sure if he was head coach or co-coach, once told a future pro after he recruited him when they met that he thought he was black, and talked about his diamond and two defense. (Reggie does thank Walt for life lessons, not basketball.)

Yet, Reggie was the bright light in those dark times. Reggie gave UCLA his all and took advantage of all it had to offer. He included Magic Johnson as one of his Hall of Fame inductors for the time Magic, then a Laker, spent with Reggie at UCLA and for what Magic taught Reggie during those legendary UCLA-pro player pickup games that go on to this day.

Reggie was not a lock for success. In high school he was overshadowed by his basketball playing sister and was considered way too skinny to be more than a jump shooter. (I once heard a UCLA nutritionist tell Reggie he had to "gain weight" and had to eat things other than cheeseburgers).

While I realize that UCLA purists will criticize the team accomplishments Reggie had, it was never Reggie's fault that we did not do more during his time. Reggie led UCLA to an NIT title over a Bob Knight led Indiana team that won the NCAA title the next year and he also led UCLA to the title in the inaugural Pac 10 tournament.

But even rational purists, must admit that Reggie was a joy to watch. He went from a great long range shooter (he initially commented that the NCAA made the then new three-point line too close) to a true scorer, good defender and leader who would take it the hoop and draw fouls.

While there have been other great shooters, I doubt there was a player in history who enjoyed the abuse on the road more. Reggie liked it when fans chanted his sister name "Cheryl Cheryl" or when all the Cal kids put on mock giant ears behind the basket making fun of Reggie's ears. Reggie only played better. Reggie was clutch on the road and wanted the big shot. Especially one game against a team and coach (Digger Phelps' Notre Dame) that defined themselves by beating UCLA. Reggie picked up a loose ball with a few seconds left and drilled the game winner from 27 feet. So those who say Reggie was not great at UCLA could not be more wrong or have forgotten history. For while Reggie did not play on great Bruin teams; he was a great Bruin.

Which brings us to our third forgotten Bruin basketball player this last week Allerik Freeman. Freeman shocked the recruiting establishment when he canceled scheduled visits to Duke and Kansas as soon as he took his visit to UCLA. Freeman saw UCLA and committed. He saw what others have seen before him. While I wait for the CBS online story about "how could Freeman chose UCLA over Duke?!?" I am reminded of Reggie and how great UCLA is regardless of the coach. Freeman is from North Carolina and marks an important milestone in UCLA recruiting which after Anderson, Parker and Adams is now undeniable a national force.

Below are some highlights of hopefully a future great Bruin:

Allerik Freeman Is A SCORING MACHINE | Combo Guard Headed To UCLA (via MeetMeAtTheRim)

Allerik Freeman 2010 - 2011 Highlights (via CoachBBasketball)

So UCLA fans, celebrate football and be optimistic on the future but let's also celebrate two old Bruins and hopefully a future great Bruin.

Go Bruins!

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