- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES — When the UCLA Bruins basketball players reported for their shootaround Monday morning, they were greeted by a surprise visitor at Pauley Pavilion.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the all-time leading scorer in NBA history and a three-time All-American at UCLA, was there taping an interview for a news program, and coach Ben Howland asked him to speak with the team.
The Bruins great talked for about 10 minutes and touched on basketball and the current season, but also stressed the importance of the overall college experience. The players said it served as a reminder of the proud history of UCLA basketball.
“That was a great experience to speak to a legend not only in the game of basketball but in UCLA history,” freshman Kyle Anderson said. “It just goes to show the legacy here at UCLA and the great players who came through here. Just his presence just humbles us and goes to show what we have to go out there and play for.
“We have to keep the tradition going and play our hardest every time we put the UCLA across our chest.”
Howland said he hoped the players would take Abdul-Jabbar’s message to heart, especially when it comes to leaving UCLA as a well-rounded person.
“Here’s a guy that is the greatest player ever, the leading scorer in the history of the league,” Howland said. “He won nine championships between college and the pros, and for him to talk about how important the overall experience is and giving back to the communities when you go home. Take things that you learn in college and help better your own communities where you are from. Those were all important messages.”
Abdul-Jabbar, who went by the name Lew Alcindor while at UCLA, is one of seven UCLA players with a jersey hanging in the rafters at Pauley Pavilion. He and Bill Walton were the first two to have their numbers retired by UCLA. His accomplishments are too numerous to mention, but they are well known even to the current generation of players, who seemed to have taken to heart everything they heard during Monday’s impromptu visit.
“Being around the greatest scorer who ever played is an eye-opening experience, so you try to soak in whatever he says,” center Travis Wear said. “It’s amazing.”