Kentucky v. UCLA: Thoughts Before Tonight's NCAA Finals

Andy Lyons /Allsport

Has anyone squandered more in terms of reputation, momentum and status than UCLA and its men's basketball team?

Kentucky plays tonight and if they win it will be their ninth national championship in men's basketball. UCLA has 11.

Sadly, when you look at their program under John Calipari and ours under Steve Alford/Dan Guerrero one can only wonder how long it will be until Kentucky catches up and passes UCLA as the school with the most national basketball championships.

It makes me wonder the following: Has any school squandered and wasted more opportunity, talent, momentum and reputation than UCLA and its men's basketball program. As I write this, Kentucky has those eight titles and they won them with five different coaches. (Can you name them? ... (drums fingers on table) ... Rupp, Hall, Pitino, Smith and Calipari) It could be nine in a few hours. UCLA has eleven titles under two coaches, John Wooden's ten and Jim Harrick's sole title in 1995.

It's unbelievable when you think about it. In 1975, UCLA had won its 10 title in 12 years. There was no program even close, Bruin fans complained when the wins weren't by double-digits. Then J.D. Morgan spurned Coach Wooden's obvious successor (Denny Crum), hired Gene Bartow and the program immediately started rolling downhill. Okay, it is unfair to expect any coach to do what Coach Wooden did. But he gifted his successors with a program synonymous with winning. Even if they didn't win at the same pace he did -- and no one could -- they had a huge head start towards sustaining a program that would be, at least, perennially in the Top Ten and competitive for national titles most, if not every, season.

Somehow, we blew it. Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham couldn't hack the pressure. Larry Brown took us to a Final Four, but was never one to stick around anyplace too long. Former Wooden players, Larry Farmer and Walt Hazzard were weak attempts to recapture past glories, Jim Harrick, for all his faults, was actually on the verge of bringing the team back to semi-prominence as he won the '95 title and was poised for a great '97 season when he was fired for a series of minor transgressions. Well, we showed Harrick, promoting his incompetent assistant who finally cratered the program and was fired after the team's first losing season in two and a half generations.

Ben Howland again came close to restoring the program to elite status. But his personality precluded consistent success. Needless to say his boss, athletic director Dan Guerrero just sat back and let the program implode instead of helping Howland as the latter's originally coaching staff disappeared.

At best, we're now a decent, occasionally good, program with almost no connection to the Wooden era. We're coached by a person from Coach Wooden's home state who couldn't be more different than Coach Wooden if he came from a outer space.

It's sad.

And, I ask you, has any school/team squandered more than UCLA and its men's basketball team has?

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