Search

IN THE BEGINNING FOR THE FIRST 44 SEASONS, THE STORY OF BASKETBALL AT UCLA WAS ONE OF CHANGE, NOT CHAMPIONSHIPS

April 15, 1995
April 15, 1995

Table of Contents
April 15, 1995

IN THE BEGINNING FOR THE FIRST 44 SEASONS, THE STORY OF BASKETBALL AT UCLA WAS ONE OF CHANGE, NOT CHAMPIONSHIPS

From 1919 to 1963, before coach John Wooden's ``hurry, hurry,
hurry'' offense won any, any, any NCAA championships, UCLA's
basketball team, like the City of Angels itself, was in a
delightful state of flux. It changed nicknames more often than
knickers and played many home games on the road, from Venice to
Long Beach. Against one rival it lost 42 straight games; against
another it yielded but a single point in one half. It had one
coach who was a lawyer, one guard who would become a United
Nations peace activist and one high-scoring forward who was
missing three fingers on one hand.

This is an article from the April 15, 1995 issue

Founded 39 years after USC, the school that would become UCLA had
to play catch-up in basketball, and with a handicap. When the
newly designated Southern Branch of the University of California
assumed the buildings and personnel of Los Angeles State Normal, a
teachers' college on Vermont Avenue, in 1919, the student body
numbered 1,338. Unfortunately, fewer than 200 of those student
bodies were male. Still, Fred W. Cozens, head of the physical-
education department, resourcefully filled out his '19 football
and basketball squads, which were known as the Cubs. After two
years in charge of the cagers -- and a not-so-shabby 20-4 record
in the Southern California Conference -- Cozens handed the reins
to Pierce Works, an attorney in the white-shoe firm of O'Melveny &
Myers who would coach the team as a part-timer for the next 18
seasons.

Known as Caddy for his cadaverous mien, Works worked on the court
as he did in the court. ``He was methodical like a lawyer, a
gentleman, and he knew the game well,'' says guard Sam Balter,
'29. With his Grizzlies, as they were now called, fueled by their
customary pregame meal of poached eggs, toast and tea, Works won
76.5% of his games over his first six seasons. But in 1927-28,
when SBUC became known as UCLA and the team nickname was switched
to Bruins, the school left the SCC for the rugged, nine-team
Pacific Coast Conference. During the next 15 years the Bruins
would finish no higher than third in the PCC's Southern Division;
twice they went 0-12 in league play.

Works did have his moments. He coached not only guard Ralph
Bunche, who as a U.N. diplomat would win the Nobel Peace Prize in
1950, but also UCLA's first All-America in any sport, lefty
forward Dick Linthicum, who shared a spot on the '32 All-America
roster with a Purdue guard named John Wooden. In a game at Cal
during the 1929-30 season, with Cal up 22-11, Works refused to
enter the Bruin locker room at intermission. ``He says if you are
satisfied to make fools of yourself by your poor play, go ahead,''
assistant Wilbur Johns informed the team. The Bruins outscored Cal
15-1 in the second half to win by three.

Johns, who had been a captain for Works in the early '20s,
replaced him as coach in 1939. While at first Johns's record was
little better than his mentor's, Johns did benefit from the
arrival in 1940 of UCLA's first four-sport letterman, Jackie
Robinson, who led the division in scoring for the next two years.
Eventually, Johns's fast-break style made a few breakthroughs. The
first was in 1943, when UCLA snapped its 42-game USC Jinx, riding
Don Barksdale's 18 points to beat the Trojans 42-37. The Bruins
hadn't beaten Southern Cal since 1932, when they did it twice.
The first of those victories was lowlighted by USC coach Sam
Barry's ``stationary offense.'' After taking a 5-2 lead, the
Trojans refused to bring the ball past midcourt; players from both
sides read comic books on the court during the stall. Late in the
game, after a hailstorm of peanuts and pennies, Barry relented,
and UCLA center Bud Rose nailed a bomb for the 19-17 win.

With the Trojans finally unhorsed, the Bruins proceeded to win a
pair of PCC division titles. Bill Putnam, a feisty guard who later
developed into a valued assistant under both Johns and Wooden, led
the team to the 1944-45 Southern Division championship. Two
seasons later, Barksdale, a silky 6 6" ex- serviceman, took UCLA
to division title number two, becoming the first black player to
be named All-America. He would soon break the color barrier on
both the U.S. Olympic basketball and the NBA All-Star teams. ``A
friend of mine, a great guy named Jackie Robinson, explained what
I would have to go through,'' Barksdale would say. ``He was like a
guiding light.''

Barksdale was also inspired by 5 7" teammate Johnny Stanich, who
as a three-year-old had lost the middle, ring and pinkie fingers
of his left hand when a car fell on it during a tire-changing
mishap. As one scribe reasoned, ``It's this mashed left hand that
gives the basketball that odd backspin when Johnny makes his
whip-like, one-handed push shots that are driving the other teams
crazy.''

In 1948 Johns stepped down as coach, but in his new post as
athletic director he set out to lure the coach of Indiana State
Teachers College as his successor. Minnesota attempted to make a
counteroffer to the 38-year-old Wooden, but a snowstorm wiped out
the phone lines. Despite such providence, it's hard to imagine the
Wizard ever choosing to construct his Pyramid of Success in the
UCLA men's gym, where barely 2,400 spectators shouted from pullout
bleachers and diehard fan Alice (Ma) Crandell clanged her cowbell.
Built in 1929, when the school moved from Hollywood to Westwood,
the gym was the aromatic equivalent of a Turkish bath -- hence its
nickname, the B.O. Barn. ``I wanted a better place to play,''
Wooden once said, ``but it didn't displease me that other teams
dreaded to come in.''

When Wooden arrived at UCLA, the team had won 281 games and lost
281. The new coach made an immediate impact, taking a team that
was picked for last and molding it into the first of his four
straight Southern Division champs. In 1950, 6 3" George Stanich,
Johnny's high-jumping brother, became Wooden's first All-America
and UCLA won its first outright PCC title. In the playoff against
Northern Division winner Washington State, Bruin Ralph (Specs)
Joeckel, a bespectacled forward, snatched a rebound, squinted and,
with three seconds left, squeezed off a shot from half-court to
snap a 58-all tie. That heave helped secure UCLA's first NCAA
tournament appearance, a 73-59 loss to Bradley in Kansas City.

As the Bruins accrued division titles and attracted fans, the B.O.
Barn drew the scrutiny of the fire and the health departments. The
gym was abandoned in 1955, and for the next decade, until Pauley
Pavilion opened, Wooden and Co. traipsed far and wide, playing
home dates in a Hollywood exhibit hall, a high school, two junior
colleges and the downtown Sports Arena. With John Moore at
forward, Don Bragg at guard and 6 5" Willie Naulls (or, as he
proclaimed himself, Wonderful Willie! Naulls) at center, UCLA
could afford to barnstorm.

But formidable as they were then, the Bruins were never the toast
of the coast. In 1955 Oregon State behemoth Swede Halbrook stopped
them in the PCC tournament; in '56 shot-swatting Bill Russell and
San Francisco swept the Bruins aside en route to their second
national crown. (The West Regional consolation game that year did
provide UCLA with its first NCAA tournament win, a 94-70 rout of
Seattle.) Then, at the end of the decade, Cal emerged as the
country's preeminent power, not that the Bruins were in position
to do much about it. The NCAA had placed them on three years'
probation in 1956 after ruling that UCLA football players had
received under-the-table payments. Three other PCC schools were
also charged, and the conference disbanded in 1959.

After Wooden hit his nadir -- a 14-12 record in 1959-60 -- the
Bruins began to regroup in the new Athletic Association of Western
Universities, the forerunner of the Pac-10. Driven by guard John
Green, who was sensational in the '62 league playoffs, UCLA
reached its first Final Four at Louisville, falling to Cincinnati
72-70 in the semifinals. The following season Walt Hazzard's
Bruins fell in the first round to Arizona State.

But UCLA's next 38 tournament games would end differently.
Suddenly, with a press called the Glue Factory and a lineup of
Lilliputians, a revamped teachers' college was on the crest of
basketball glory.

B/W PHOTO: HY PESKIN The mid-'50s were the era of barnstorming Bruins like Naulls (33), whose predecessors on the floor and on the bench included (clockwise from far left) Cozens, Works, Linthicum, Barksdale, Johns and Putnam.[Willie Naulls jumping for ball against opponent]B/W PHOTO:ASUCLA [Fred W. Cozens]B/W PHOTO:ASUCLA [Pierce Works]B/W PHOTO:ASUCLA [Dick Linthicum]B/W PHOTO:ASUCLA [Don Barksdale]B/W PHOTO: UPI/BETTMANN [Wilbur Johns]B/W PHOTO: ASUCLA [Bill Putnam]B/W PHOTO: ASUCLA Even with the streaking Naulls (33), leaping Moore and steady Bragg, the nomadic Bruins couldn't move to No. 1. [Willie Naulls dribbling basketball]B/W PHOTO: UPI/BETTMANN [John Moore leaping over Don Bragg]B/W PHOTO: PAUL SCHUTZER/LIFE Wooden's troops fought battles with USF from California to New York's Madison Square Garden (left). [UCLA and University of San Francisco playing game in MadisonSquare Garden' B/W PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON [John Wooden speaking to player]