Staff writer Alan Shipnuck reports from the NCAA men's
Last Saturday evening, after coaching UCLA to the NCAA crown on
the Bruins' home court at Pauley Pavilion, Al Scates took
inventory of his championship rings. No small task, considering
that Scates had just won his 16th national collegiate title. "I
always wear the most recent one," said the Bruins' 56-year-old
coach, fidgeting with the diamond-encrusted 1995 edition on his
right ring finger. "Several have gone as bar mitzvah gifts. My
dad, son and father-in-law each have one. Four are at
home--maybe only three, I'm not sure. The rest? I have no idea.
"The rings themselves don't mean much," Scates continued,
flashing a gap-toothed grin. "Once you've got enough of them,
UCLA's defeat of Hawaii (15-13, 12-15, 9-15, 17-15, 15-12) was
one of the most satisfying wins of Scates's 34-year career. The
Bruins were playing the unaccustomed role of underdog to a
powerful Rainbows team that had beaten them twice and been
ranked No. 1 for most of the season. But UCLA gutted out a
victory that was testament more to its character than its
talent. And that is testament to Scates, who began his tenure at
UCLA in 1963, when, as a senior middle blocker, he was named
player-coach. "There wasn't much coaching going on back then in
volleyball," says Scates. "I learned more from [UCLA basketball
coach] John Wooden than anyone else. I never talked to him. I
just watched and learned."
Long after his eligibility had expired, Scates competed against
his players in practice, just for the thrill of beating them.
These days he stays on the sidelines, but his players still feed
off his aggressive attitude. "Al likes us to walk into a gym and
have the other team know they have no chance," says Kevin Wong,
a swing hitter on UCLA's 1993 and '95 championship teams. "He
likes to stomp on teams."
It wasn't easy against talented Hawaii, which had brought along
4,000 of its boisterous fans. "This one was special because we
had to work so hard for it," said Scates after the title match.
"Yes, it will feel nice to slip this ring on when it comes. Of
course, who knows what's going to happen to the old one."