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|Opinion, published March 2000, realdawg.com
Marching Towards Madness?
What do John Wooden (UCLA, 1948-1975, 626-149) and Bob Bender, Washingtons mens basketball coach, have in common? Answer: At approximately the same points in their coaching careers, neither had won an NCAA championship, and both of their teams were about to enter new, on-campus basketball facilities. In Woodens case, the new facility was Pauley Pavilion, which opened in June of 1965. In Benders case, it involves the $40 million remodeling of 72-year old Edmundson Pavilion, which is in its 11th month of an 18-month renovation project.
During Pauley Pavilions construction and after it was opened, Wooden won 10 out of 12 NCAA championships (1964-1975), winning 149 out of the 151 games played at Pauley Pavilion. Of course, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton had something to say about Woodens performance at Pauley, but would they have gone to UCLA without Pauley Pavilion in place? During their run at Pauley Pavilion, the team of Wooden and Lewis, as Wooden affectionately called Alcindor, literally took the slam-dunk out of college basketball--until the NCAA figured out a way to lower the basket for everyone else.
As for the Dawgs and their digs, they have won more mens basketball games in Edmundson Pavilion, which is temporarily out of commission due to construction, than any other university has won in its current arena, Pauley Pavilion included.
This season may be a fender bender for the 10-19 Huskies, but its not a train wreck as some are calling it. And its certainly no reason to panic and switch head coaches. Playing musical chairs with head basketball coaches is a good way to install mediocrity on a permanent basis. Just ask Bruin fans about the long line of coaches who followed the Wizard of Westwood. Okay, so Bob Bender is hardly the Magician at Montlake, but pre-Pauley, John Wooden could barely pull a rabbit out of a hat, let alone conjure up an NCAA championship or two.
The Dawgs had six consecutive losing seasons before Bender turned things around, taking the Dawgs to the NIT two seasons in a row, his third and fourth seasons at Washington. In his fifth season at Washington, Bender led the Huskies to the Big Dance in 1998, their first appearance at that event since 1986, and they fell one basket short of reaching the Elite Eight, losing to Connecticut 75-74. After the 1997/98 season, Virginia and Texas courted Bender for their head coaching jobs.
The remodeling of Hec Ed, along with the building of the new athletic facilities, should be the ticket Bender needs for another dance with the Sweet Sixteen. One bad season doesnt turn a good coach into a permanent wallflower. Lets give Bender a chance to show what he can do with the proper facilities in place. The fact that C.J. Massingale and Curtis Allen, both out of Tacoma, have signed letters of intent with the Huskies may be a portent of things to come.
Will the Dawgs new digs morph the beleaguered Bender into the Magician at Montlake? Probably not, but they could turn a slimy frog, as a few fickle fans are calling him, into a handsome prince once more. Lets support the Dawgs in their new environs, and howl like heck for the Huskies. In a couple of years, I look for the Huskies join the rest of the gang who celebrate that event called March Madness. Beware the Ides of March--and you too, Brutusfor March madness is upon us.