Just for the record, UCLA has Lew Alcindor, which is almost enough right there. It also has Lynn Shackelford, who hits long, high-arcing jump shots when defenses collapse on Lew; Lucius Allen, who averaged 16 points as a sophomore; Ken Heitz, a defensive specialist who also can score, and Mike Warren, the quick, expert ball handler. And a good 6'8" sophomore, Steve Patterson. And a fine coach, Johnny Wooden, and a beautiful campus arena. And all the tea in China. It adds up to another NCAA title, which will be the Bruins' (and Wooden's) fourth in five years.
But, just as if some billionaire died and left his fortune to J. Paul Getty, basketball's richest is getting even richer. Back after missing a year are two exceptional players—6'6" Edgar Lacey, who had a knee injury, and 6'7" Mike Lynn, who was disciplined for being a naughty boy. Lacey was on the 1965 NCAA all-tournament team and led the Bruins in rebounding. Knowing he would have to battle Heitz, Shackelford and Lynn for a starting job, he has been working on his outside jump shot and on defense, which was not his forte. Lynn, who would be tough in the twin post with Lew, led the team in scoring and rebounding two years ago.
This is easily the finest collection of talent ever assembled at one school. "We're a great college team," says Wooden. "But we're going to meet a number of good college teams. One of them may have a great night when we're only good. Then we may be in trouble."
The Bruins open at Purdue, Wooden's old school. They play Houston in the Astrodome and meet Boston College and Holy Cross in Madison Square Garden. However, their toughest games (meaning those with less than 20-point victory margins) are likely to be right in their own Pacific Eight, against tall Washington State.
Coach Marv Harshman's Cougars, hidden away in the wilds along the Washington-Idaho border, would be favored to win in many other conferences, mainly because of 6'9½" Jim McKean from Tacoma. McKean is a good shooter, but he gets so emaciated by the end of the season that he has to relay the ball to the hoop by messenger. Last season he started at 215 pounds and faded away to 189. If the rabid fans in tiny Bohler Gymnasium yelled too loudly, he had trouble keeping his feet. This year, fortunately, Harshman seems to have the material to give McKean lots of rest.
Randy Stoll, a bulky 6'7" forward, decided to join Anaheim of the ABA rather than play his senior year in Pullman, but WSU still has 6'8" Ted Wierman, a 235-pound honor student from Yakima. Wierman was an all-state football player in high school and used his muscles last season to be one of the league's best rebounders. Forward Blaine Ellis, 6'7", may lose his job to 6'6" sophomore Gary Elliot from Sandpoint, Idaho, who scored well as a freshman. Little Guard Ray Stein blanked UCLA's Lucius Allen in one game last season, and his backcourt running mate, Lenny Allen, is quick and expert on the fast break.
Washington State will be competing in one of the better holiday tournaments, the Far West Classic in Portland, Ore., against North Carolina, Princeton, Oregon State and Utah, among others. Right after that, on January 5, comes the trip to UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins go to Pullman late in February and, if Wooden's wonders are ever going to be ambushed, that could be the time and place.
USC, which used a stall to force UCLA into a scary overtime last season, has all its starters back and one of the best freshman teams in the school's history to scrimmage against. It is a pity that Coach Bob Boyd had to start building up his alma mater's basketball program the same year Alcindor joined the varsity over in Westwood. In desperation, Boyd rounded up a flock of JC players, the best of whom was 6'7" Bill Hewitt, a dangerous man on offense, with his jump shot and quickness. Hewitt started his career by scoring 39 off Big Lew (and giving up 56), but other AAWU teams gave him trouble by using zone defenses. They discovered that he likes to dribble before shooting, and the zones tangled him up.
Boyd has fast, accurate-shooting guards in Steve Jennings and newcomer Mack Calvin, a JC transfer who should get more playing time than the other backcourt veterans. Center Ron Taylor, who has grown to 7'1", has also improved his mobility. "We want Ron aware of his potential," says Boyd, "and we're beginning to see some results. He worked hard all summer on shooting, moves, skipping rope and muscular development. He's greatly improved. The question to be answered is if it's enough to match that giant across town."
Boyd believes Alcindor is "the best player in the United States, and I don't mean just among the amateurs. Put Lew on any one of three or four clubs in the AAWU and it would be the team to beat. It might even be unbeaten." And with that UCLA bunch....