Remembering the 1963-64 UCLA Team That Kick-Started John Wooden's NCAA Dynasty

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2014

WESTWOOD, CA - JANUARY 29:  Former coach John Wooden of the UCLA Bruins watches as the Bruins take on the University of California Golden Bears at Pauley Pavilion January 29, 2009 in Westwood, California. UCLA won, 81-66.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

If you want to know where the "Wizard of Westwood" first discovered his magic touch, look no further than the 1963-64 UCLA Bruins.

Before that season, there was no Lew Alcindor. There was no Bill Walton. The thought of John Wooden winning 10 national championships and leading the Bruins to an 88-game winning streak was unthinkable at the time.

But every legend has to start somewhere, and the upward trajectory of Wooden's historic career began with that 1963-64 team.

As the stars on that team attest in the video above, the Bruins entered the year with a ton of talent, yet they only earned recognition as a possible "surprise package" by Sports Illustrated, rather than being regarded as one of the best teams in the country.

One thing UCLA lacked that season was height. Wooden had talented guards like Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich, but what he didn't have was a great big man. As co-captain Jack Hirsch pointed out, the tallest player on the team was 6'5".

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

UCLA assistant Jerry Norman helped devise the zone press defense that served the Bruins and became a staple of Wooden's teams going forward.

Back in 2010, Alex Wolff wrote for Sports Illustrated about how that zone press was so revolutionary at the time:

Opponents would have to advance the ball upcourt by passing it, and human nature being what it is, those passes would eventually become lobs and crosscourts, hurried and careless. UCLA's quick hands, long arms and sprinters' speed would lead to deflections and interceptions, and soon the ball would be headed the other way. The Bruins would score, and the way they'd score, suddenly and as a result of their opponents' turnovers, would sow, as Wooden later put it, "disharmony and disunity."

Led by Hazzard and Goodrich, UCLA went 30-0 that season and won a national title, beating Duke 98-83 in the final.

It was that 1963-64 team that helped set the tone for what would be a decade of dominance in Westwood.