|ESPN.com: Men's College Basketball Nation||[Print without images]|
|John Wooden worked to keep his players away from UCLA booster Sam Gilbert.|
In short, as amazing as it may sound, it’s possible to recruit about as well as Wooden-era UCLA and not win ten titles in 12 years. Far more extreme than the talent Wooden had at his disposal was the success he achieved with that talent in a sport where championships are awarded to the winner of a single-elimination tournament.
Some have sought to explain that success after-the-fact by saying simply, “Sam Gilbert.” I recommend starting instead with, “Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton, and no three-point line.” A quarter-century after the three-point shot’s debut, it’s hard for us to have a proper conception of just how dominant Alcindor, Walton, and their ilk could be in the sport as it was then constituted. [...]
By violating eligibility rules that had long been in place, a generation of Bruin players did cheat, and thus a goodly number of their championships would have been vacated had the NCAA been endowed with both perfect knowledge and the political courage to confront a program led by an esteemed legend like Wooden. At the same time I doubt that non-amateur UCLA truly gained any tangible advantage over their opponents expressly because Sam Gilbert had showered gifts on players who didn’t know who he was until they arrived in Westwood. Gilbert made Wooden’s teams ineligible, not better.