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SI Vault: 1975 article on Wooden's last NCAA Final Four

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  • SI Vault: 1975 article on Wooden's last NCAA Final Four

    It being that time of year, I wanted to look back on my biggest heartbreak as a young sports fan, the year UCLA beat Louisville in the NCAA semis and Kentucky in the final. A nice article about that Final Four, which was John Wooden's last hurrah with UCLA:

    http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/ ... /index.htm

    ""It will be sad if he loses," said retired Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp, "but he's got enough of those darn trophies. Johnny's in against me tonight."

  • #2
    I remember first paying attention to College BB in about 1964 or so, UCLA's first or second NCAA champ, then they were not in for the freshman year of the Alcindor super-group (the freshmen beat the defending NCAA champion Varsity in their first game together.

    Best dynasty because of JW.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by 26mi235
      I remember first paying attention to College BB in about 1964 or so, UCLA's first or second NCAA champ, then they were not in for the freshman year of the Alcindor super-group (the freshmen beat the defending NCAA champion Varsity in their first game together.

      Best dynasty because of JW.
      I well remember 1964, they beat my Dukesters... I was a junior that year and frat bros with 2 of the starters. UCLA was undefeated, but had no one over 6'5 " ! They won and deservedly so, first in a long string, aka known as 1964,65, 1967-73, 1975. And would they have won in 1966 if Alcindor could have played? Probably yes. And they should have won their SemiFinal against NC State in 1974.. they had a 6 point lead or thereabouts in OT, and did not take the air out of the ball... No shot clock then. NC State then beat Marquette in the final.

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      • #4
        Can you imagine an undefeated team from a major conference being the underdog in the Final, but they were. Hard to know if the freshmen, added to the remaining veterans, would have been good enough for another run but those freshmen were unbelievable. The one thing it might have done is give other teams one more year to try to figure Alcindor out, but I do not think that mattered, the only game he lost was the one he had to play against Houston with the scratched eye - the only game in his college career he shot under 50%.

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        • #5
          Wooden was a little before my time, but can anyone justify why he was such a good coach. I always look at the time before scholarship limitations with a grain of salt. It seemed like UCLA in that era had about 30 of the best players in the nation on full scholarship at any one time. Similar things can be said about other coaches in football, like Bear Bryant or Woody Hayes or others.

          But was Wooden a truly great coach or did he just have the resources to get so much of the top talent in the US that he could pretty much steamroll any other college team in the nation. I've never really seen a definitive explanation of why he was so great, other than his teams won all the time.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by mcgato
            Wooden was a little before my time, but can anyone justify why he was such a good coach. I always look at the time before scholarship limitations with a grain of salt. It seemed like UCLA in that era had about 30 of the best players in the nation on full scholarship at any one time. Similar things can be said about other coaches in football, like Bear Bryant or Woody Hayes or others.

            But was Wooden a truly great coach or did he just have the resources to get so much of the top talent in the US that he could pretty much steamroll any other college team in the nation. I've never really seen a definitive explanation of why he was so great, other than his teams won all the time.
            Wooden won 10 National Championships in 12 years - period. And you only had about 15 scholarship players, not 30. It was a little different than Alabama under Bear Bryant. He also coached four undefeated seasons - no other coach has had more than one.

            Still, there were a lot of rumors about UCLA in that era and one of their boosters, Sam Gilbert, who supposedly kept the players very well healed during their time at UCLA.

            From 1986-94, Mike Krzyzewski took Duke to 7 Final Fours in 9 years, and was heralded as the next great thing in coaching - with some justification. But compare that to winning 10 NCAA titles in 12 years. I don't care who you had on the team or how they were paid off. They weren't the only school doing that. Maryland on the east coast in the mid-70s had just about as much talent as UCLA and couldn't even get to the NCAA Tournament - in that era you had to win the ACC Tournament to qualify and they never did.

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            • #7
              Wooden established himself as a great coach in the early sixties. A Final Four spot, and then two consecutive championships with (as previously mentioned) no player over 6'5". Those teams played an aggressive pressure defense that lead to fast-break opportunities and seemed to set the stage for the modern era of college hoops. Wooden's teams were so quick that they made bigger teams look as if they were playing in slow motion.

              Once Westwood became the destination of choice for glamour recruits Wooden continued to hone his coaching ideas and managed (most of the time) to channel a lot of big egos into the common goal of winning. In truth, with a few breaks, or if Freshmen had been varsity eligible, UCLA could have won all of those tourneys from '62 (when they lost to eventual champion Cinncinnati 70-72) through '75.

              Wooden had his flaws but, yeah, he was a great coach. GOAT by any measurable criteria.

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              • #8
                One characteristic that I remember hearing was that he wanted to players to play on an 'even keel'. Doing so missed the highs, they were often good enough, and diminished the 'lows', which avoided defeats. UCLA was not a basketball power when he arrived, I do not think, he built it. He did a pretty good job of getting his stars to graduate and to tow the line.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by mcgato
                  Wooden was a little before my time, but can anyone justify why he was such a good coach. I always look at the time before scholarship limitations with a grain of salt. It seemed like UCLA in that era had about 30 of the best players in the nation on full scholarship at any one time. Similar things can be said about other coaches in football, like Bear Bryant or Woody Hayes or others.

                  But was Wooden a truly great coach or did he just have the resources to get so much of the top talent in the US that he could pretty much steamroll any other college team in the nation. I've never really seen a definitive explanation of why he was so great, other than his teams won all the time.
                  Holy Bejeezus,
                  Even if I weren't a UCLA alum, I would almost take umbrage at such a line of questioning. None of my words can describe the sheer greatness of that man. I truly believe he transcends basketball, indeed even sports, and is truly a GREAT human on the same level as a Ghandi, a George Washington, a Martin Luther King et. al.

                  It'd be better if you read some of his well-written books, such as "They Call Me Coach". He was such a great human, a great teacher and someone who instilled in his young charges the confidence, character and tenacity to succeed at the highest levels with greatest honor. To this day, all his former players, assistants and acquaintances revere him, and speak of how much they owe their success as whole people to him.
                  Here is a link to get you started:
                  http://www.amazon.com/s/002-8556853-778 ... lla-search

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                  • #10
                    If Wooden is truly the GOAT, how come his first 10-15 years of teams at UCLA were nothing to write home about?

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                    • #11
                      Success does breed success (which is why he kept winning after he got traction), but you can also see his legacy in the number of fantastic coaches who developed on his staff. He was a terrific coach and teacher.

                      15 scholarships? Pretty high number if you ask me. I think it is around 10 (with 2 walk-ons dressing out). Except for JC schools which can allow 25 scholarships for basketball. No kidding.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by gh
                        If Wooden is truly the GOAT, how come his first 10-15 years of teams at UCLA were nothing to write home about?
                        Even having grown up in KY (The Baron, Adolph Rupp) and gone to school at UNC (Dean Smith), I'd have to grudgingly give the GOAT nod to the Wizard of Westwood. Any other candidates? Bobby Knight? Phog Allen? Coach K? Hank Iba? I think Wooden is the best.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by gh
                          If Wooden is truly the GOAT, how come his first 10-15 years of teams at UCLA were nothing to write home about?
                          Wooden faced a formidable challenge in Westwood [when he took over a near-dormant program in 1948]. The program was hindered by the lack of an on-campus arena, and for Wooden's first three years the Bruins played in their tiny practice facility before fire codes forced the games to be moved. For the next 14 seasons, UCLA's "home" games were played at the likes of Santa Monica City College and Venice High School.

                          Still, Wooden found ways to win. UCLA went 22-7 in his first season. The next year, the Bruins were 24-7, and Wooden was in his first NCAA Tournament.
                          http://espn.go.com/classic/biography/s/Wooden_John.html

                          Folks must remember that the UCLA of the 40s and 50s was not near the sporting juggernaut it is today [that goes for T&F as well]. There was almost no tradition, very little resources for athletics and woeful facilities. Despite all that, Wooden took his little crew of gutty little Bruins to the NCAA tourney 5 times before finally breaking through and winning it all. In his first 14 seasons, with off-campus HS gyms as their "home", he won 8 conference titles and had a very good record of 285 - 125.

                          By the 60s, there were more resources and facilities -- including Pauley Pavilion -- and the results speak for themselves. In all sports.

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