Our College Basketball Issue last year featured an article on how to beat the zone press, the defensive tactic that seemed to be taking over the game. Sure enough, somebody beat it. No team that used the zone press got to the championship round of the NCAAs later in the season. This year (page 71) we present the best available opinions on how to beat the good big man. However, after studying the problem ourselves and taking a long look at Lew Alcindor and his UCLA team, we are betting on the good big man to prevail.
Not only do we expect a good big man—or two, or three, or four—to be at the finals in Louisville on March 24, but we also expect the zone press to be there. As Coach John Wooden of UCLA reveals in our scouting reports on the nation's best teams, UCLA will continue to use the press, and Big Lew will play a vital role in its deployment against rival offenses.
Alcindor's appearance on our cover marks one of the rare times that a sophomore athlete has received such recognition. Though he has yet to play his first game in varsity competition, we believe he is the sport's most important college performer. Crowds of coaches attended his games with the UCLA Brubabes last season, and all came away as impressed as we are.
The story about Lew that begins on page 40 has special interest because it is the result of the first interview granted to any sportswriter. In high school in New York and as a UCLA freshman he had turned down all requests. Actually, the photographer who took the cover portrait, Neil Leifer, was the first journalist to arrange a meeting with Alcindor. That took place at a studio in New York when Lew was home on vacation last spring. Leifer found Alcindor to be one of the most inquisitive subjects that he has ever photographed. Lew was so interested in every aspect of the camera work that soon he was functioning as photographer's assistant as well as subject. He posed for nearly four hours, and Leifer calls him "the most cooperative athlete I have ever worked with."
Lew was equally responsive with Associate Editor Frank Deford, who met with him this fall. "He is very articulate," Deford says, "and he expands on his answers, even when he doesn't particularly like the question. Though he is not enthusiastic about being interviewed, he is so polite and expresses himself so well that he should always have a very good relationship with the press."
Opposing players and coaches, then, are the only ones with a Lew Alcindor problem. And they know it. When we polled coaches for their thoughts on the subject, Abe Lemons of Oklahoma said he'd be glad to diagram a couple of ways to stop Lew. He whipped out a piece of paper and drew:
Oh, well, Abe, UCLA has Lew Alcindor, but Oklahoma City has Miss America. Win a few, lose a few.