UCLA Basketball -- Wooden, Part 3: Jerry Norman, the Zone Press and the Perfect Season

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Norman first played on John Wooden's third team at UCLA in the 1950-51 season. The Army vets and straight-laced students from strict upbringings were already gone by this time, and Wooden had to deal with a new, more free-spirited type of player, and Norman was first leader of the new group. Norman was a nonconformist, and resisted Wooden's discipline. Wooden booted him off the team for two weeks that season, but with a teammate's intervention, Norman came back and towed the line for the rest of his UCLA career. Wooden, in the end, respected his spirit and intellect.

After graduating, Norman spent three and a half years in the Navy. He came back to coach at West Covina High School where Wooden's brother was principal. Norman came over to UCLA as freshman basketball coach in 1958, and was promoted to assistant coach of the varsity team in 1959.

By that time, the Bruins had fallen on hard times. There were several reasons. First, the whole university sports program, including basketball, had been put on three year probation due to a payment scandal involving the football team. Second, Wooden disdained recruiting - especially outside of Los Angeles, and the city was still very spread out, and not an inner city hot bed of basketball talent. If anything, in sunny LA, students were more interested in outdoor sports. Finally, during the Pete Newell era, California dominated the PCC and its successor leagues. California won a national championship before Wooden won his first non-consolation NCAA tournament game.

Norman observed Newell closely. Newell's style was the opposite of Wooden's. Newell focused on defense, controlled tempo mainly through slowing play down, scouted the opposition and adapted accordingly. Newell has been credited with the idea "overplaying" on defense - not just guarding a player's favorite hand, but getting into the passing lanes, and bodily blocking a player from dribbling in his favored direction. Meanwhile, Wooden focused on offense, and didn't have many plays. Like today's motion, triangle and other read-and-react offenses, Wooden's high post offense had a few options for each player depending on the situation - but few set plays.

Norman's early goals were to recruit more aggressively and to beat Newell at his own game. Newell, however, succumbed to the pressure, and retired early. One thing UCLA had going for it was that it was thought of as the place to go for West Coast African Americans. It was the school of Jackie Robinson, Don Barksdale, the first black NBA All-Star, and Rafer Johnson, the Olympian who also played on the basketball team.

UCLA's basketball fortunes were about to change. Walt Hazzard, spotted by ex-Wooden player Willie Naulls on a trip to Philadelphia with the New York Knicks, joined the Bruins in 1960. In 1962, the Bruins lost in the NCAA semifinals to eventual champion Cincinnati, 72-70, on a controversial offensive foul call on Hazzard.

For the 1962-63 season, Wooden had a lineup of Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Keith Erickson, Fred Slaughter and Jack Hirsch. Slaughter was the center at 6'5", and Hirsch was the second tallest player at 6'3'. After a good season, UCLA lost badly to ASU in the Western Regionals. Wooden tried a full court press, man-to-man, but it was easily broken by ASU's fast ball handlers. Wooden had used the press during the season, but not for a whole game, and usually when the Bruins were behind.

Norman and Wooden talked about a trapping zone press over the spring and summer. Wooden had used a zone press as a high school coach in Indiana and at Indiana State. He dropped the idea after that because he thought UCLA was a notch above it, and the PCC was a walk-up league with enough height to break a press and then score once at the other end. Now, however, Wooden had a talented team, but without the height to win the ultimate prize.

Norman persisted. He wanted to use a zone press for the entire game. The zone would enable two-on-one trapping along the sidelines. The idea was to force less dribbling and more passing. More passing meant more steals, and more steals meant more fast breaks. That said, the goal wasn't necessarily to steal, but to control the tempo. Norman remembered the lesson from Newell, except in this case, controlling tempo to your team's strengths meant speeding play up.

Center Fred Slaughter would play up front in the 2-2-1 zone along with Goodrich to give the opposing point guard a hard time, and then the second line composed of the better athletes like Hazzard, would go for the steal.

Wooden played devil's advocate, questioning Norman's strategy and tactics, but he eventually agreed - after all, Wooden liked his team, but did not think he could beat a quality, bigger team.

During the six weeks of practice before the start of the 1963-64 season, the Bruins ran themselves ragged practicing the zone and repeating conditioning drills including running up and down the three sets of stairs in the Men's Gym.

Going in to the season, the Bruins were unranked. They unveiled the zone press in their first game against BYU in the Sports Arena. In a blow-out, they set the school single game scoring record, 113-71. Later, in the Los Angeles Basketball Classic, UCLA defeated third-ranked Michigan, 98-80 in front of 14,241 in the Sports Arena. At halftime of the first conference game, Wooden informed the team that top ranked Kentucky had lost. UCLA would be the next number one.

Wooden was UPI's Coach of the Year for the first time, and Walt Hazzard was an All American. UCLA beat favorite Duke, 98-83, even out-rebounding the much bigger Duke, 51-44, to win their first NCAA Championship.

It was only the third perfect season in NCAA history. The Bruins went 30-0.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.

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