The college basketball program with the most national championships of all time is UCLA, with 11. The Bruins won 10 national titles in a 12-year span from 1964 through 1975. They added one more title in 1995. Many great players have come and gone through Westwood, including Lonzo Ball, who starred for the Bruins this past season. If you ask LaVar Ball, he’d tell you his boy is one of the best to every suit up for the Bruins. However, we know that that’s an exaggeration as it is with pretty much everything he says. We’ll see if LiAngelo will live up to the hype. He’s joining the UCLA Bruins next season and will try to have a similar impact that his brother had.
At any rate, the two best Bruins of all time are easy to identify. Picking three through five is the harder task. Let’s take a look at the best five Bruins of all time.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor when he played with UCLA)
The man who changed his name after he had entered the NBA (in 1971) is probably the best college basketball player ever. Lew Alcindor, in an age when freshmen were not eligible to play, performed for only three years and not four in college. Those three seasons were as dominant as one could reasonably imagine. Alcindor joined head coach John Wooden to begin UCLA’s run of seven straight national championships from 1967 through 1973. Alcindor won three straight titles from 1967 through 1969, surpassing Bill Russell’s back-to-back championships at the University of San Francisco in 1955 and 1956. Alcindor’s skyhook became the most unblockable, unstoppable non-dunk shot in basketball history. He led UCLA into the Astrodome regular season game against Houston in 1968, which permanently changed college basketball. He, more than any other player, made UCLA the colossus of college basketball and inspired other successors to join Wooden in Los Angeles.
The great successor to Alcindor was Walton, who did not play with Alcindor but arrived at UCLA a year later. Walton is remembered as a center who, had his knees not become injured, would have been among the very best to ever play the sport. Walton was that good in both college and in his early NBA years with the Portland Trail Blazers. Walton did play long enough to win an NBA title with Portland, and before that, he dominated at UCLA. Walton’s greatest claims to fame are that he won 88 straight games with the Bruins and played the best national title game anyone has ever played: 21 of 22 from the field for 44 points against Memphis State in 1973. His excellence surpasses every UCLA player but one: Alcindor.
Before Alcindor hit the scene, Goodrich – who stayed in Los Angeles for a very productive NBA career with the Lakers – powered UCLA and Wooden to their first national title in 1964 to get the ball rolling. Walt Hazzard joined Goodrich in a devastating UCLA backcourt which put Wooden on the map. Goodrich deserves recognition as one of the pioneering figures in UCLA basketball before Alcindor took the program to the next level, and Walton then added to the Wooden legacy.
When Alcindor was no longer on the team and before Walton grew into maturity as a center, other players had to keep the ball rolling at UCLA to preserve the seven-year national championship streak when the 1960s ended and the 1970s began. When UCLA won it all in 1970 and 1971, Wicks formed the heart and soul of UCLA teams which managed to win without an overpowering big man. Those UCLA teams were balanced, and they also had to play very sound defense. Wicks gave Wooden everything he needed and more to knit together those groups. He is an overlooked but supremely important figure in UCLA hoops history.
The man who later became Jamaal Wilkes and – like Goodrich – starred in Los Angeles with the Lakers was a part of Wooden’s final championship team in 1975. UCLA played up-tempo ball that year, even though college basketball did not have a shot clock. Nimble and clever, Wilkes used an effective mid-range game and acute court awareness to do what Wooden needed him to do.
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