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Awesomely Simple

So hello folks. Once again welcome to BN 2.0. Please make sure to read through Trei and the SBN team's welcome post below. I personally love the "FanShots" section of the new site which now allows anyone to instantly post videos, pictures, links/short posts etc without having to deal with 200 word requirement. So have at it.

Meanwhile, I will kick off my first post on the home page with a little flashback:

Only UCLA remains, such a tower in the game that not even the three most publicized college stars of all time have been able to make a mark on its preeminence. Bill Bradley of Princeton and Pete Maravich of LSU came to fame in years of UCLA championships and were forced into bit parts. Even Lew Alcindor, who was of the program and thus had no chance to overcome it from the outside, never quite seemed larger than the whole.

Perhaps, in retrospect, this is because the coach, John Wooden, won before Alcindor and has now won after him. But it is much more than that, too. The UCLA system--Wooden's system--is founded on the simple basics of conditioning, fundamentals and teamwork, which, admirable qualities though they may be, are only goals elsewhere. At UCLA they are necessities.

The all-encompassing authority of the team in recent years has tended to becloud the fact that only since 1962 has UCLA been much of a factor in the national college picture. Wooden came to the Westwood campus in 1948 from Indiana State, and in his first year of major college coaching transformed what was considered to be a last-place team into a running, hustling outfit that never seemed to tire as it won 22 games and the championship of the Pacific Coast Conference's southern division. Right away Wooden was offered the head coaching position at his alma mater, Purdue, where he had been an All-America for three years in the 1930s. He graciously declined.

A few years later, after winning a couple of league titles with his zippety-whirl style of play, he was again approached by Purdue as well as other Big Ten schools. At the time Wooden was anticipating the emergence of Willie Naulls, a development that would make him a contender for the national championship. Again he remained at UCLA. Bill Russell and San Francisco halted Wood-en's drive to the top at that time, and Pete Newell's disciplined, defense-oriented teams at California stopped him later. After three trips to the Western Regional in 12 years and only one victory in a consolation game to show for it, UCLA and John Wooden entered the 1960s with speed, quickness, a fast break and a grand reputation, which, with a dime, got the coach a cup of coffee down at Hollis Johnson's fountain.

Then, in 1962, UCLA won in the West and made it to the national semifinals in Louisville only to meet a Cincinnati team that had won the championship the year before and was to win again that weekend. The Bruins kept the game close and went into the last minute tied, holding the ball for a final shot that would win the game. With time running out, an inexperienced sophomore named Walt Hazzard was called for a charging foul. Cincinnati gained possession, and the Bearcats--not the Bruins--got the final shot and the victory. To this day Wooden believes that had UCLA held onto the ball and made the shot, his team would have beaten Ohio State and an injured Lucas in the finals and won its first championship.

In the latter part of the next season another good UCLA team that was to lose in the regionals (to Arizona State) came upon a little number known as the zone press, and everything began to draw together. When the same men returned in 1963-64--Hazzard and Gail Goodrich at the guards, Fred Slaughter at center, Keith Erickson and Jack Hirsch at the forwards--this is what followed

Well what followed were the Banners no. 1 (64), 2 (65), 3 (67), 4 (68), 5 (69), 6 (70) and 4 more under Coach John R. Wooden. Yeap. Those grafs are from an article by Curry Kirkpatrick entitled "Ucla: Simple, Awesomly Simple", that was published in the Sports Illustrated issued dated November 20, 1970. It is currently available on SI Vault.

And it is a must read for every alum and students of UCLA who follow our basketball program. The article is full of so many nuggets including this that will crack you up:

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."

Yeah, that really worked out for him. I guess those guys have been working at "gap closing" for 38 years.

What was really interesting to me were these excerpts re. Coach Wooden's relationship with his players and his reputation of being someone who always wanted to be in control:

Wooden's most recent crisis had nothing to do with race. It came at the UCLA basketball dinner last spring when, in his farewell speech, Bill Seibert, a little-used reserve forward, bitterly attacked the UCLA system as harboring "double standards," "unequal treatment" for starters and substitutes, and a "lack of communication" between the players and the coaching staff. Seibert articulated what many players in the past had felt but not said. During the speech he was shouted down and booed by alumni, but at its conclusion he received a standing ovation from his teammates. Wooden handled what was an immensely difficult situation in his usual composed manner. In truth, he was hurt more than anyone knew. In the days to follow, the team held several meetings on its own to discuss how to improve conditions. Wooden summoned individual players and requested that, if they felt as Seibert had, they leave the team.

Following this, some starters went to Wooden and asked him to stop "harassing" their fellow players, or they (the starters) would quit. The coach told one player that he himself would resign if pressured with any ultimatums from the team. "The whole thing got out of hand," says one prominent Bruin. "We told him we didn't want to challenge him. We just wanted the right to get up and say something if things were going badly. I told him we came to UCLA because we wanted him to coach basketball, not coach our private lives. He had been trying to divide us and harass us. Wooden has always said we were students first and players next. But he never considered what the ramifications of that are--that as a basketball coach, he can't control our identities."

In the end, Wooden met with the team as a unit, and Sidney Wicks, the star, spoke for everyone. "You shouldn't feel threatened by this," he said. "We're here as a team and you taught us that."

As for Seibert, here is how the story ended:

To Wooden's credit, he has never defended either himself or his system by pointing to all of those national championships. "Winning isn't the most important thing," he says. He also has maintained closer relationships with his players after they have departed UCLA and are past what one player calls "the emotional chaos" of the player-coach association. Alcindor, for example, has since apologized for some of his remarks about Wooden, and just last month appeared quite by surprise for a private dinner party at the Bel Air Country Club to celebrate his former coach's 60th birthday. Seibert, too, has made his peace with Wooden--just before he left for Australia and a coaching and teaching position that Wooden had obtained for him.

"Insensitive?" the coach asks. "I don't think so. All I want to know is, have I been fair? Not have I been right, because I know I haven't always been. But have I been fair? I think I have. I always remember to do my best, and I have peace of mind."

Well I will let alums such as Class of 66 and Fox 71 fill us in lot more on those Glory days. But what really struck me about the Seibert story is that it reminded me of some of the stuff that often comes up in talk radio and on the message boards about Coach Howland being too controlling and often too demanding from his players. I am not sure if it was possible to trust in Coach Howland any more than I already do. But reading that article, only reconfirms what I have thought since the day Coach Howland arrived in Westwood. As he is taking back UCLA to where it belongs, once again he is making everything for our program "awesomely simple."

Again make sure to read the entire piece. As I said above, it is a MUST READ for every alum, students of UCLA and the millions of fans who follow the greatest program in the history of this game.