Friday, January 22, 2010

School Daze

The University of North Carolina and UCLA both boast storied basketball programs. It is doubtless that generations of Tar Heels and Bruins fans have sat in dark, beery taverns and bickered about which school produced better players.

Well, on a midsummer’s night in 1987, distinguished alumni from those proud schools gathered at Pauley Pavilion for a friendly battle to benefit charity. John Wooden, rolled-up program in hand, would man the sideline again and match coaching wits with Dean Smith. The two legends first squared off in the 1968 NCAA championship game, when Lew Alcindor and the Bruins cruised to a 78-55 dismantling of the Tar Heels.

Each team’s roster for the game exceeded 20 players, spanning several decades, including players from that ’68 game. ABC would broadcast the game with the surreal announcing crew of Dick Vitale, Keith Jackson and Cheryl Miller.

Here were the starting lineups:

For UNC, recent graduate Kenny Smith shared the backcourt with Tommy Kearns, who played on UNC’s 1957 title team, Charlie Scott held down the middle and James Worthy teamed with his former Lakers teammate Bob McAdoo at the forward spots. Smith must have seen something in practice that week to give Kearns the starting nod over Michael Jordan.

Wooden’s starters featured three wing players in Reggie Miller, Walt Hazzard (then UCLA’s actual head coach) and Lucius Allen with Kiki Vandeweghe and Curtis Rowe anchoring the front line.

Sounds promising, eh? Maybe the argument for collegiate hoops supremacy would finally be settled.

Well, fans had to have known that the results would be disappointing. McAdoo, then past his NBA prime and toiling in Italy, rejected Vandeweghe's stumbling shot on the first possession. Kearns, who had a sip of coffee in the NBA in 1958, air-mailed his first shot. The first 20-foot hook shot was attempted a few minutes later.

Waves of substitutions came every few minutes, probably to avoid any potential medical pitfalls that may arise with 1971 NIT MVP Bill Chamberlain trying to run a fast break with a young Kenny “The Jet.” Carolina fans got to achieve a dream by seeing Jordan share the court with Phil Ford, but the results were probably messier than they anticipated.

It’s a sad commentary that, in a game featuring many NBA players, the highlights included UNC’s Lennie Rosenbluth, 30 years since that ’57 championship season, nailing three long, sweeping hooks in the first half.

Otherwise, the spectators who half-filled Pauley Pavilion were treated to Hazzard barely squeezing into his uniform and UCLA’s Denny Miller, replete with a salt-and-pepper beard, pulling up for a 35-foot set shot.

Ford, whose demons chased him from the NBA a few years earlier, played with an angry mien for a charity game, and several times went after the Bruins’ Rod Foster with a comically physical full-court press.

The newer generation finished off the last few minutes, with Jordan, Worthy, Smith, Joe Wolf and Matt Doherty dominating a UCLA team led by Miller, Jack Haley and Stuart Gray.

The final score was 116-111, if that matters to anyone. The big victory was that no player went into cardiac arrest; the only injury being a sprained ankle suffered by UCLA’s Greg Lee.

These alumni games barely exist anymore, at least at the high-major level. But perhaps that is a good thing. Players stay forever young in memories, and reality would only get in the way of a good barroom debate.

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