By Jim O’Neal
John Wooden had an extraordinary basketball career prior to his days as coach at UCLA. He was a three-time All-State player in high school as his team won the state championship for three consecutive years. He went on to play at Purdue, where he was the first player ever to be a three-time consensus All-American.
Later, he would become the first person to be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach (Lenny Wilkins, Bill Sharman and Tommy Heinsohn now share this distinction).
Wooden went to UCLA in 1948 and took over the head coaching duties. During his tenure, he guided the Bruins to 10 National Championships, including seven in a row. At one stage, they won 88 straight games and in four separate seasons they were 30-0.
In 1964, UCLA sailed through the regular season without a defeat and wound up on top of both the AP and UPI polls. However, in the prior six seasons, not a single team that ranked No. 1 had won the championship.
The Final Four match-up was in Kansas City and featured Duke, Michigan, Kansas State and UCLA … all blue-chip contenders.
UCLA beat KS, and Duke had a surprisingly easy win over a Michigan team that featured the great Cazzie Russell and Bill Buntin.
In the championship game, the Duke Blue Devils hoped their height advantage and high-scoring machine (they were averaging 93 points per game) would be enough to counter the unique UCLA full-court press.
The Bruins were at their best, their fastest and most accurate, ringing up 50 points in the first half and another 48 in the second. Duke was never in the game, losing badly 98-83.
UCLA would win all the marbles again in 1965 and then return in 1967 to start a remarkable seven-year National Championship streak. They set records that will never be broken.
On and off the court, John Wooden was simply the best … ever.
Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].