New UCLA Book Is Out, and so Are the Bruins
SPORTS books are often published to take advantage of the sport or event of the moment. Not surprisingly, then, a book on UCLA basketball arrived in the office just as the National Collegiate Athletic Association men's tournament got under way late last week. Its arrival was ill-timed in one sense: The defending national champions had lost only the night before in a huge first-round upset to Princeton. On the other hand, the title - "They Shoot Coaches, Don't They?: UCLA and the NCAA Since John Wooden" (Macmillan) - made it sound prophetically downbeat.
Author Mark Heisler chronicles the history and parade of coaches that have followed the glorious era of John Wooden, who coached the Bruins to 10 titles in 12 years, beginning in 1964.
Heisler observes that the NCAA tournament was a cult phenomenon when Wooden began his run, but "was on its way to today's mass audience" by his retirement in 1975.
"There wasn't much proportion left in Westwood, [Calif.]" after Wooden's departure, former center Bill Walton is quoted as saying.
Coach Jim Harrick returned the Bruins to the top of the college basketball heap last year. They had the misfortune, however, to play a school with known giant-killer potential in this year's first round.
Because of its exceptional offensive patience, Princeton can be an exasperating opponent for teams more accustomed to up-tempo basketball. Every basket looms larger than normal in games against the low-scoring Ivy Leaguers, whose respected coach Pete Carril announced that he was retiring at the end of this, his 30th season at the school. Fittingly, it was a popular Carril move - the backdoor play - that produced the winning basket in Princeton's 43-41 victory. The Tigers were eliminated in their next game, losing to Mississippi State, 63-41.
Besides Princeton's upset of UCLA, perhaps the most striking development of the tournament's first weekend was the poor showing of the Big Ten Conference. All five conference participants - Purdue, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and Penn State - lost in either the first or second round.
Purdue, the Big Ten champion, barely escaped lightly regarded Western Carolina in the opener and then lost to Georgia. Big Ten teams were shut out of the "Sweet 16" round of the championship for the second straight year.
What's holding the league back? Michigan, of course, was a major power in recent years with its Fab Five teams, but early departures by the team's star players were a setback. At Indiana, coach Bob Knight may be struggling to recruit the blue-chippers he needs. The Magic Johnson years are a distant memory at Michigan State. And the proliferation of televised games has made many players realize that there are many good places to play outside the big-time conferences.
THE Denver Nuggets, struggling to make the National Basketball Association playoffs, certainly didn't need the major distraction Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's refusal to stand for the national anthem caused last week. But his case probably caused many Americans to rethink their views of the anthem, what it means, and what kind of behavior is appropriate when it's played.
Many spectators do not share Abdul-Rauf's personal, Islam-derived view that it is inappropriate to salute nationalistic ideology. Nonetheless, sports crowds often treat the playing of the anthem as a formality best rushed through in order to get on with the game. Even in Baltimore, the birthplace of Francis Scott Key's "The Star-Spangled Banner," Oriole baseball fans like to playfully accentuate the "Os" (for Orioles) within its lyrics.
Abdul-Rauf was briefly suspended without pay by the NBA for his actions. He said he didn't believe in standing for the anthem despite the fact that other Muslims in the NBA do. The issue was resolved when Abdul-Rauf said he would stand but pray during the anthem. The playing of the anthem became a sports tradition during World War II.
Touching other bases
Pop quiz: In the history of the modern Olympics, the Games were once held unofficially. Can you name the year, place, or circumstance? (Answer at end.)
Trivia nugget: American college hockey is celebrating its centennial. The first game between United States colleges occurred in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University, which has no varsity program today, played a 2-2 draw with visiting Yale University on Feb. 1, 1896.
Quiz answer: The 1906 interim Games were held in Athens. The idea was to hold them regularly between Olympics.