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The Magic Of Those Four Letters

Let’s stay on the topic of UCLA basketball and zero in on an alumni of a team, which doesn’t get the attention of their counterparts in Pauley. I am talking about our women’s basketball program, which I am sure is going to be all fired up next season with a new head coach in charge.

Well this week there was a story in the LA Times that should provide some inspiration for Caldwell's team. The LA Times profiled Anita Ortega, a member of the last women’s team that brought us a national championship (our only one in this sport) at UCLA. In some ways Anita channeled Coach Wooden by applying the lessons she learned on the court to life off the court, enabling her to succeed (like many other Bruin athletes) after UCLA:

Invaluable lessons can be learned on a basketball court.

So says LAPD Capt. Anita Ortega, a national championship-winning former UCLA point guard who believes that it was through basketball that she developed the leadership skills and self-assuredness needed to command the largest division in the nation's third-largest city police force.

"Athletics in general prepared me for this," Ortega, 50, says during an interview in her downtown office, an inviting space decorated with framed jerseys and trophies. "I didn't have many problems getting acclimated to law enforcement."

Anita described how athletics provided her an outlet while she grew up and enabled her to "change her life" through her success at UCLA: 

Sports provided an outlet -- though, as Ortega notes, "Where I grew up, we didn't have tennis courts, swimming pools or golf courses."

Instead, she found basketball at Toberman Park, playing with a group of guys that gave her a chance and, she says, still holds a special place in her heart. "Why I gave it a shot," she says of the game that changed her life, "I don't know."

Whatever the reason, she excelled at it, helping Los Angeles High reach the City final in 1975 before walking on at UCLA, where a year earlier Ann Meyers had become the first Bruins woman awarded a basketball scholarship.

Ortega was a four-year starter for the Bruins, who won a national title in her junior year and also reached the Final Four when she was a senior. In the 1978 victory over Maryland at Pauley Pavilion that gave UCLA the Assn. for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women championship, Ortega was the Bruins' leading scorer.

"She played a big role in the success of that team, and she embraced it," says former coach Billie Moore, whose arrival at UCLA in 1977 set the stage for the championship season. "When the pressure's highest, she's at her best." 

Thanks again to Anita’s 6th grade teacher for introducing her to those four letters:

Just like all of our other student athletes, she was a winner before she got to Westwood, shined representing that uniform, and now setting yet another winning example for thousands of other present and future Bruins in this Nation.