Pac-12 Mount RushmorePosted by AMurawa on February 20th, 2012
The history of this conference is pretty lopsided. UCLA has won 11 national championships while all the other schools in the conference combine for five titles with no other school winning more than one. UCLA has been to 18 Final Fours; Arizona and Utah are a distant second with four appearances. As such, you can expect the faces on the Pac-12 Mount Rushmore to be heavily skewed to the blue and gold. In fact, the argument could be made that the Bruins deserve all four spots on the monument to Pac-12 basketball. But, since the Arizona schools joined the conference in 1978, things have tightened up considerably, as UCLA has only won a single national title since then, appearing in just five Final Fours. Still, this is a monument to the history of the sport, and there is little doubt that you can name the first three names on this list without giving it another moment’s thought; they are icons of the game we love. And really, the fourth spot here seems to be a no-brainer also, although there are some interesting people that finish just off the mountain. To the list:
- John Wooden, Coach, UCLA (1948-75) – As the head coach at UCLA for 27 seasons, the Wizard of Westwood’s teams of the sixties and early seventies have become the gold standard by which other great sports dynasties are judged. There are the ten championships in the course of 12 years, including seven in a row from 1967 to 1973. There are four perfect 30-0 seasons included in that span and a NCAA record 88-game winning streak. Still, aside from all that, Wooden is known not just as a great basketball coach, but as a great teacher. His Pyramid of Success is more of a life lesson than anything specific to basketball and he was known for his inspirational lectures and sayings which apply not only to success in basketball, but success in life.
- Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Center, UCLA (1966-69) – During Alcindor’s three seasons at UCLA, his team won 88 games, lost just two and took home three straight national championships. He was literally a game-changing athlete (the NCAA banned the dunk in 1967 in part due to his dominant use of the shot) who won the National Player of the Year award in both his sophomore and senior seasons (Elvin Hayes won in 1968) and was the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament in all three of his seasons. Alcindor played at a time when freshman were ineligible for varsity competition, but in 1966 Alcindor led the UCLA freshman team to a 75-60 victory over the varsity team in an exhibition to open Pauley Pavilion. More than forty years after he played his final collegiate game, Alcindor is still widely regarded as the greatest college basketball player of all time.
- Bill Walton, Center, UCLA (1971-74) – If Alcindor is the greatest collegiate basketball player ever, his eventual replacement in the post is not far behind. Walton’s three years of collegiate eligibility started off with 88 straight wins (coupled with his record on the freshman team and his high school success, Walton went nearly five years without losing a single game), including a couple of national titles. UCLA’s second championship of the Walton era was sealed by one of the greatest individual efforts in a single game in the history of the sport, when he hit 21 of 22 field goal attempts to score 44 points in the national championship game. However, his UCLA career ended in disappointment, as not only was the Bruins’ 88-game winning streak ended in his senior season, but his team lost to David Thompson’s North Carolina State team in the national semifinal. Still, Walton goes down as one of only two male basketball players to win the Naismith College Player of the Year award three different times.
- Lute Olson, Coach, Arizona (1983-2008) – Prior to the Lute Olson era in Tucson, the Wildcats had made a grand total of three NCAA Tournament appearances. In just his second year at Arizona, however, Olson had them back in the tourney, and it would be 26 years until they were again left out come March. Arizona won 11 conference titles in Olson’s 25 years in the desert and, despite UCLA’s historic dominance, Arizona is now solidly a legitimate “1A” to the Bruins’ “1”. Aside from the success that he brought to the program as a whole, Olson also showed a talent for bringing in, and developing, elite talents to the program. Over the years, Arizona became known as Point Guard U, as a result of wave after wave of elite lead guards, but Olson put player after player into the NBA after a stop in Tucson. While Wooden is unquestionably the cream of a great crop of coaches in the conference, Olson’s accomplishments in the desert deserve mention alongside Wooden.
- Pete Newell, Coach, California, (1954-60) – For six seasons, Newell’s California squad was the toast of the then-Pac-8 conference. Over those years, Newell compiled a 119-44 record, won four consecutive conference titles (1957-60), earned Cal’s lone national title (in 1959) and is perhaps most well known for repeatedly thwarting John Wooden’s UCLA teams. He also coached the 1960 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal. Newell was forced into early retirement from the coaching profession due to stress although he continued to work in and around the game of basketball for the rest of his life including running his “Big Man’s Camp” and working as an NBA scout. While his short run in the conference precludes his inclusion on our monument, his excellence during that span deserves recognition.
- Hank Luisetti, Guard, Stanford (1936-39) – Luisetti may not be a name known by a large number of modern-day college hoops fans, but in his time, he was a legend. He led the NCAA in scoring twice in his career and became the first collegiate player to score more than 50 points in a game, but was perhaps most well-known for his innovation in the early days of basketball, introducing the one-handed shot, by way of prelude to the jumpshot that we know of today.
- Cheryl Miller, Forward, USC (1982-86) – Our Mount Rushmore is a tribute to men’s college basketball in the Pac-12. But, were we to eliminate the gender restriction, Miller would challenge Olson for the final spot on the monument. During her four seasons in Los Angeles, she was named to the All-American team four times, won the Naismith Award three times (joining Walton and Ralph Sampson as the only three-time winners of the award), helped her team win two national titles and won the MOP award in both of those tournaments. Perhaps more impressive still, although Reggie Miller is a future NBA Hall-of-Famer, he will always be known among certain segments of the population as Cheryl’s brother.
Other Mount Rushmores: