Through a Winning Coach's Eyes

Three of the game's greats say what they'll watch for in the national college finals

FROM 1948 to '75, basketball coach John Wooden led the University of California at Los Angeles to an unprecedented string of conference and national titles. The key word is ``string'': UCLA won the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship 10 times in Wooden's last 12 years as coach. In the 1970-'71 season, his teams began an 88-game winning streak. His teams were the last to win back-to-back national titles, a feat that may only be equaled this weekend by Jerry Tarkanian's squad at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Here are excerpts from a recent Monitor interview with Mr. Wooden, now retired:

What does the experienced coach, scout, player watch for in a game, things that the average viewer may not?

The average fan tends to glue on the ball.... [But] sometimes receiving the ball at a certain location doesn't mean anything, because it's not where you can do anything positive. So, it's the people working away from the ball, offensively and defensively, who the experienced person knowledgeable about the game will pay attention to.

Is there something a viewer can watch a coach doing or not doing properly in a game?

No, because no outsider knows his own material as well as a coach. And every fan, even if it's his own team, sees [players] only in games. The coach sees them every day in practice. He knows more about what they are capable of doing than the average fan, though the fan won't admit that.

How might a team adjust its style of play in a ``final four'' tournament game?

It shouldn't be any different from a normal season game. But the media make it different by putting so much emphasis on it.

We won our conference a lot - you had to, then, to get into the tournament. But we didn't fare well in the early tournaments. I think that was my fault. I worked them too hard, and kept thinking I had to put in new things - forgetting the things that got us there in the first place. I kept trying to add, when I should have just kept perfecting and refining the things that we had already done.

Is the turning point in a big game more obvious or less obvious than TV commentators would have viewers believe?

The turning point in a big game is the preparation that has been done beforehand. There is no ``great strategy.'' Coaches try to make you feel there is a great strategy toward the end of game. They might say something and it works and everyone says ``that's great strategy.'' But they forget that that same thing was done before and didn't work.

What excites you when watching a game?

I like to see a good team play. The spectacular dunk doesn't do a thing for me. I think that should only be worth one point. Making a three-point basket from 19 feet., 9 inches, doesn't do anything for me. But to see a player pass or cut without the ball, suddenly get into position to receive a pass, see a good screen-and-roll play, and have the other player get the ball to him in the right place at the right time - those are the things that give me great pleasure.

To see a man get a rebound and see him as he is looking to get the outlet pass ready for a fast break. I've seen a lot of defensive rebounders who could never get the ball out for the fast break. I've seen others, like Bill Walton who, as soon as the ball is in his hands, he knows where the first, second, and third outlets are. In order. These things really thrill me.

You must like watching [Los Angeles Laker] Magic Johnson.

Yes and no. I'd much rather watch [Utah Jazz guard John] Stockton. Stockton does the same things without the flair. I think Magic is great, no question, maybe more valuable that Stockton. But for the sheer playing of the game ... I would rather watch Stockton. Magic, with great size [6 ft., 9 in.] can do much that Stockton [6 ft., 1 in.] can't, of course.

[Larry] Bird of Boston, I love to watch him - so many things he is doing without the ball. Here is a player who can't run or jump like many of them in the game, but he is one of the better rebounders and one of the best passers in the game. He doesn't handle the ball as much as a point guard, but he is always seeing and anticipating. He is a great team defensive player as well. Great team player - he causes the others to alter their passes and change a little. He may tip the ball to someo ne who then gets credit for the interception.

UNLV (34-0) will play Duke University (30-7) on Saturday in a semifinal match at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. North Carolina (29-5) will play Kansas (26-7) in the other semifinal game that day. The winners will meet for the championship April 1.

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