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. Read the rest of this entry »