Gimme five: Best of the best

Sports columnist Mark Bradley picks his five best players of the UCLA era.

Gail Goodrich

He was the little man on the Bruins’ first two championship teams, both of which were little all around. (How little was Goodrich? Well, his nickname was “Stumpy.”) The 1963-64 UCLA team fed off its zone press and went 30-0 as Goodrich averaged 21.3 points. Its successor, which returned only Goodrich and Keith Erickson as starters, went 28-2 and took a second consecutive title, Goodrich scoring a record 42 points against Michigan in the title game.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Then known as Lew Alcindor, he dominated the collegiate game as no one had before or since. His freshman team — frosh weren’t varsity-eligible then — defeated the UCLA varsity, which was then ranked No. 1 in the country, 75-60 in a game carried on Los Angeles television. In his first varsity game, he scored 56 points. The NCAA sought to limit his domination by outlawing the dunk after the 1966-67 season, which led to the development of his Sky Hook. UCLA’s three-year record with Abdul-Jabbar: 88-2, three NCAA crowns.

Sidney Wicks

The fearsome forward powered the Bruins to two national championships in the interregnum between Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. In the 1970 title game against Jacksonville, Wicks begged coach John Wooden to let him play behind the 7-foot-2 Artis Gilmore and, at 6-8, he blocked five Gilmore shots. In UCLA’s closest NCAA tournament call in its run to seven consecutive titles, Wicks made four free throws in the final 25 seconds to cap a furious rally against Long Beach State in the 1971 West Regional final.

Bill Walton

The second-greatest player in college history, trailing only Abdul-Jabbar, and the case can be made that Walton was the better all-around player. The Bruins went undefeated in both his sophomore and junior seasons, and his performance against Memphis State in the 1973 NCAA title game — he made 21 of 22 shots and scored 44 points — stands as the finest by any collegian ever. Only in its final go-round did the Walton Gang falter, losing four strange games and seeing its championship streak end against North Carolina State.

Jamaal Wilkes

The best second-best player in college basketball annals. Known then as Keith Wilkes (and nicknamed, appropriately, “Silk”), the elegant forward was the understated counterweight to the fiery Walton. Here’s a vintage Wilkes line from UCLA’s narrow victory over Florida State in the 1972 NCAA final — 23 points on 11-of-16 shooting, 10 rebounds. Wooden steadfastly refused to identify any single Bruin as the best he ever coached, but he made a point to describe Wilkes as his “ideal” player.