Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Current State of UCLA and UH Programs, Heading into 2005 Post-Season

For the next three weeks or so, the hearts and minds of college basketball fans will, of course, be focused on current events -- namely the post-season tournaments of March Madness -- rather than historical reflections. For this reason, I will be posting very lightly, if at all, on this site during this period.

An encouraging development is that both UCLA and UH appear to have turned their programs in a positive direction, after some difficulties in recent years.

The Bruins, under second-year Coach Ben Howland, will be returning to the NCAA tournament after a couple years' absence.

The Cougars, meanwhile, are also returning to post-season play, as first-year Coach Tom Penders has guided them into the NIT (as I write this, I have learned that UH has lost to Wichita State in the opening round; box score).

I am hoping that UCLA and Houston will play each other in January of 2008 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Game of the Century. The better the Bruin and Cougar programs do in the years leading into '08, the more attractive such a potential match-up would be to TV networks (although I hope UCLA and UH schedule a game on the 40th anniversary, even if there's no national television).

Anyway, things are looking up for the two programs, and let's enjoy the rest of March Madness!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Frosh Game Prelim to GOTC

The Game of the Century occurred, of course, during the era when freshmen were ineligible for varsity play. A separate freshmen team would be fielded and would compete either against other four-year colleges' freshmen teams or against junior colleges.

As a preliminary to the UH-UCLA varsity game, the Cougar freshmen (coached by assistant Harvey Pate) faced off against Tyler Junior College.

Looking at the historical list of all-time starting line-ups in the 1989-90 Cougar media guide (which I picked up during one of my two years at UH), I can see that among the 1967-68 UH freshmen, only Bob Hall later became a starter for the varsity, in 1970-71. One other member of the 1967-68 Cougar frosh later earned a varsity letter, Randy Kight.

Given that a school can only award a few scholarships per year, I would hypothesize that only a small number of freshman players would have been eyed from the outset as potential varsity conributors down the line. The rest presumably would have been walk-ons.

One would think that, had Tyler JC possessed any potential NCAA players, the Astrodome the night of the Game of the Century would have been a superb recruiting ground. Indeed, Tyler's Poo Welch transferred to UH and became a two-year starter for the Cougars (1969-70 and 1970-71). A biographical sketch of Welch can be accessed by clicking here and then, when the page comes up, scrolling down to the bottom.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Parallels of John Wooden and... Lawrence Welk

As part of my continuing research to compile as wide a variety of contemporary and historical documents on the Game of the Century and its participants as possible, I've been focusing on athletic websites, newspapers, and magazines. Today, I discovered a new source, namely academic articles.

A 2004 issue of the Journal of American Studies contains an article by South Dakota State University Emeritus Professor John E. Miller entitled, "Lawrence Welk and John Wooden: Midwestern Small-Town Boys Who Never Left Home" (the article is currently available free, full-text on the web -- click here).

While Welk may not be the first person to come to mind in connection with Coach Wooden, Miller provides a plausible linkage:

The life trajectories of bandleader Lawrence Welk and basketball coach John Wooden provide a case study of cultural continuity, reflecting the efforts of two small town boys from the Midwest to conserve and propagate values with which they were brought up and which to them were time-tested and true. Caught in the media maw of the city that represents the logical culmination of modern, secular, urban culture, they continued to adhere to a set of traditional values and practices that cast them, in the views of some, as throwbacks to an earlier era but which also won for them the respect of legions of admirers and supporters.

The article references the 1968 UCLA-Houston Game of the Century, albeit with a major typo concerning the year:

Most players were willing to go along with Wooden’s program, realizing that what he was doing was for the good of the team and, as time went on, that the team was the most successful one in the history of the game. Some, however, resisted or expressed their dissatisfaction to outsiders. Edgar Lacey quit the team in 1959 after Wooden sat him on the bench during the second half of the famous Houston Astrodome game in which the Elvin Hayes-led Houston team ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak.

The Lacey incident is covered in some detail in Wooden's 1972 book They Call Me Coach. The incident appeared to have both a distal and a promixal cause. The 1967-68 Bruin team returned all five starters from the previous season's NCAA champions, plus two starters from a previous national championship team who had sat out 1966-67 (one of whom was Lacey). With at least seven players thinking they had a good chance (and perhaps even the right) to start, tension was perhaps inevitable.

The specific, direct trigger of Lacey's departure, as noted above, involved the game at the Astrodome. Wooden apparently envisioned a defensive scheme where someone other than center Lew Alcindor would guard Houston's Elvin Hayes, with Big Lew waiting under the basket in case Hayes broke loose. Lacey was assigned to guard Hayes, but, Wooden wrote, Lacey did not guard Hayes as Wooden had instructed. Wooden removed Lacey from the game. When Wooden wanted to put Lacey back in, Lacey seemed dispirited on the bench and did not appear to be following the game. Wooden ended up not re-inserting him. Lacey appeared to take exception to Wooden's characterization in his post-game comments and left the team.

Back to the main topic of Wooden and Welk, the two apparently were good friends:

It is not surprising to discover that the two men admired each other and enjoyed each other’s company. For a number of years, about the only vacation that Wooden and his wife Nell took was to drive down to Welk’s Welcome Inn resort at Escondido and stay for several days. The two men would play some golf, and then their wives would join them for dinner at the Welks’ home. Their cook, Wooden told me, always made the maestro’s favorite meal, chicken and dumplings, and blackberry or cherry cobbler. Famous and well established in Los Angeles, the West Coast’s apotheosis of suburban living, these two small-town boys from the Midwest found in each other kindred spirits. Wooden, longtime deacon at his Christian church, and Welk, pious Catholic layman, remained true to the moral values that had been instilled in them as boys, and all the blandishments of Tinseltown were not enough to dissuade them.

All I can say, in conclusion, is "A Wunnerful, A Wunnerful."

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

L.A. Times Article from Morning After GOTC

I've located a copy of the front page of the Los Angeles Times sports section, as it appeared on Sunday, January 21, 1968. Across the very top of the page, a banner headline entirely in upper-case letters rings out:


Jeff Prugh's lead was as follows:

HOUSTON -- It happened!

Some people said it would never be done. Never! Others muttered maybe -- just maybe it would.

So, just as sure as death and Texas it happened here Saturday night. And the king is dead.

The Bruins' play was characterized as follows:

They were not the crisp team with the thunder-clap offense that had been running the enemy into the floor. They were neither quick nor clever; their fast break looked like somebody sleepwalking -- and they could not weather their coldest shooting night of the season, only 33.6%.

A few paragraphs lower, Prugh, apparently enamored with boxing analogies, noted that:

The Bruins kept jabbing and throwing uppercuts -- catching the Cougars at 65-65 and 69-69 in the final three minutes -- but couldn't connect with a knockout punch.

Below the article on the front of the sports section was a photo of Elvin Hayes shooting a free throw.

I will try to track down the Houston newspaper coverage of the game; it's always fun to compare the different perspectives.