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He Made His Point : John Wooden Says Alcindor Could Have Put Scoring Records Out of Reach, but Lew Chose to Win Those Three NCAA Titles Instead

February 06, 1992|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don MacLean, who needs only 45 points to do so, will soon replace Lew Alcindor as UCLA's scoring leader.

But Alcindor's legacy as perhaps the most dominant player in college basketball history will remain.

Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, could have put his scoring records out of reach if he had been so inclined, former UCLA coach John Wooden said this week.

He could have scored more points, Wooden said, than the all-time leader, Pete Maravich, who averaged 44.2 points per game during three seasons at Louisiana State.

But Alcindor, who led the Bruins to three consecutive NCAA championships before graduating in 1969, was not interested in scoring records, Wooden said.

"I talked to him once and said, 'I'm sure that we could devise an offense to make you the all-time leading scorer in college history, but if we do that, we're not going to win national championships,' " Wooden said. "And--I'll never forget it--he said, 'Coach, you know I wouldn't want that.' "

Three years ago, when Sean Elliott of Arizona was on the verge of eclipsing his Pacific 10 Conference scoring record, Abdul-Jabbar told the Tucson Citizen that he was unaware that he had even established such a record.

Of Elliott, he said: "I don't believe I even know who he is. I don't know anything about him and I haven't followed his career at all. I really wasn't aware that any of this was going on."

Aside from his own disinclination, several other factors worked against Alcindor producing gaudier scoring numbers:

--Because freshmen were not eligible to play on the varsity during his time at UCLA, Alcindor played three seasons, averaging 26.4 points in 88 games.

MacLean, who scored a freshman-record 577 points after graduating from Simi Valley High, has played in 110 games at UCLA. And, unless he scores a career high in tonight's game against Washington at Pauley Pavilion, he won't break Alcindor's record before Saturday, when UCLA plays host to Washington State.

MacLean is averaging 20.7 points, second on UCLA's all-time list, and needs 275 points to replace Elliott as the Pac-10's scoring leader.

--Because UCLA won many of its games so handily, Alcindor often was removed early, although not always as early as Wooden might have liked.

"I sometimes played him longer than I wanted to, to be honest with you, (because of) the other players," Wooden said. "Some of the other players that didn't get in (until games were decided), they wanted to play with Alcindor.

"They felt that, with him not in there, they wouldn't be able to show what they could do as much as the players who played when he was in there, and it was true. I could understand that."

UCLA was 88-2 with Alcindor, who missed two games during his junior season because of an eye injury, winning its games by an average of almost 25 points.

--Because no shot clock required them to do otherwise, several teams held the ball against UCLA.

However, during the only game in which Alcindor did not score at least 10 points, it wasn't because of an opponent's stall.

After missing three days of practice because of a throat infection in the week before a game in his senior season, Alcindor played only 17 minutes against Houston, scoring eight points in a 100-64 victory at Pauley Pavilion.

Alcindor, who made four of seven shots, might have played longer if not for a miscommunication between himself and Wooden early in the second half.

"I felt pretty good," he told reporters after the game, "but one time I pointed to myself, to let the coach know it was my fault that (Houston center Ken) Spain had scored a basket. I guess he thought it meant I wanted to come out, but it was a mistaken signal."

--Although he developed a low-post offense for Alcindor, scrapping his high-post set, Wooden strived for a balanced attack.

"I was never interested in (individual) scoring records," Wooden said. "It isn't often that a great scorer plays on a championship team. Only once in the history of the NCAA (in 1952, when Clyde Lovellette of Kansas did it) has the nation's leading scorer played on a championship team. . . .

"As I explained to (Alcindor) in working out the offense we were going to use, it was designed to help others, too," Wooden said. "(Opponents) were going to have to float to help (on) him, and as soon as they did that, it freed other players to get closer shots than they would ordinarily."

--In Alcindor's last two seasons, dunking was not allowed in college basketball.

Alcindor believed that the rule was enacted to slow him, but Wooden said it was adopted after several Houston players bent a rim while dunking during warm-ups before a game against UCLA in the NCAA tournament in 1967.

Whatever the reason, the rule did nothing but make Alcindor more of an offensive threat, Wooden said, forcing him to develop other shots.

--Alcindor made 62.8% of his free throws. From the field, he shot 63.9%.

Alcindor scored 56 points in his varsity debut, making 23 of 32 shots in a 105-90 victory over USC at Pauley Pavilion.

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