This is a guest blog post by freelance writer Michael Ellis detailing the 1964 UCLA basketball team, the program’s first to win a national championship.
By Michael Ellis
The photograph, taken in 1962, shows Fred Slaughter grabbing a rebound with the same determination that a falcon seizes its prey. So when Slaughter, the center on John Wooden’s first championship team, died recently, I felt a special loss. But paradoxically, for many of us, Coach remains a guardian of the future.
At 6 feet 5 inches, Slaughter, at center, was one of the two tallest starters on the 1964 team. The other was forward Keith Erickson. Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich were the guards; Jack Hirsch and Erickson were the forwards. Two other players, Kenny Washington and Doug McIntosh, provided vital support off the bench, and the hopes of UCLA rode on the shoulders of seven young men. (The other players were Chuck Darrow, Kim Stewart, Mike Huggins, Vaughn Hoffman, Rich Levin, Kent Graham and Steve Brucker.)
They weren’t inseparable off the court, but they were spokes on the same wheel while on it. The two-two-one zone press, devised by assistant coach Jerry Norman, depended on trust and accountability. Goodrich and Slaughter were the first defenders; Hazzard and Hirsch were next; and Erickson was the safety.
Talking to Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Wolff in 2007, Norman said, “The idea wasn’t to steal the ball….It was to increase tempo.”
Forrest Twogood, Southern Cal’s coach, put it differently: “Have you ever been locked up in a casket for six days? That’s how it feels.”
Most basketball teams play half their games at home; the 1964 team didn’t. “For home games that season,” Wolff wrote, “the Bruins bused to the L.A. Sports Arena, which was virtually on the USC campus; the Long Beach Arena, 25 miles away; and even the gym at a community college in Santa Monica. The Bruins would essentially play 30 road games.”
Fifty-two years later, three voices — those of Wooden, Hazzard and Slaughter — can no longer speak. While all seven players took different paths after leaving UCLA, they were all, to quote Wooden, “the best that they could be” in that magical year, a time when the Athletic Department shared a commitment to excellence and believed the circle should remain unbroken.
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Fred Slaughter: After earning a degree in business administration and an MBA at UCLA, Slaughter, a high school star in Topeka, Kan., (as a sprinter in track and a basketball player), graduated from Columbia University’s Law School. He later became one of the most successful sports agents of his time. Continue reading