Catching up with UCLA stars from the epic years

first_imgThe three national championships he won as a basketball player for John Wooden at UCLA were on his r sum , but as a footnote, way down at the bottom. Over the years, though, Nielsen has realized just how special those championship years in Westwood were. “Now, when I think back on what we accomplished, it just amazes me,” said Nielsen, who is now the director of secondary education for the Las Virgenes Unified School District. “What we did is never going to be done again. … As you get older, you realize that more and more; it becomes more meaningful.” As UCLA tries for another national championship today in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament, Nielsen and other stars of the past – Mike Warren, Lucius Allen, Andy Hill and Lynn Shackelford – shared the stories of where they are now and the impact Bruin basketball has had on their lives. Nielsen may not have been aware of it at the time, but the lessons he learned at UCLA always have guided him. JIM NIELSEN, 1967 ‘When I think back … it just amazes me’ Jim Nielsen didn’t always get it. Some days, he even tried to hide it for fear people would get the wrong idea. “You know, the jock thing,” Nielsen said. “There’s that stigma about being a jock, so I downplayed it.” He was an educator, and a good one at that. He earned a reputation for taking on problem schools and turning them around and that’s what he wanted to be recognized for. After college, the former Grant High of Van Nuys star jumped into coaching, taking a job at his alma mater’s rival, Van Nuys High, and guiding the team from 1973 to 1983. From there, he got into education. He was an assistant principal at Camarillo and Rio Mesa High of Oxnard and a principal at Channel Islands High, Oxnard High and Frontier High, the district’s continuation school. All along, he was viewed as a guy who could turn around a tough school. “Coach Wooden always stressed the importance of creating a sense of team and family, and that’s what I always tried to do at each school community,” he said. “I use the things he talked about in his Pyramid of Success every day. I’ve always fallen back on those teachings.” Every year, Nielsen meets with his former teammates and players from different eras at UCLA basketball reunions. Some were stars, others bench-warmers. They’ve gone in every direction imaginable since their championship days. There are best-selling authors, golf pros, high-powered lawyers, even a car salesman. But somehow, they always find something to talk about. And most often, that subject is Wooden and the lessons he taught them about life. “Those four years were a great basketball lesson, but they were also a great life lesson,” said Kenny Heitz, a star on the 1967-69 teams who went on to Harvard Law School and is now a successful attorney at Irell & Manella law firm in Los Angeles. “An awful lot carries over into whatever endeavors you go into and a lot of coaches’ little aphorisms end up becoming rules you live by.” LUCIUS ALLEN, 1967-68 ‘It all kicked in’ Every once in a while – no, actually more than once in a while, if he’s really being honest – Lucius Allen can’t believe the words coming out of his mouth. “I start saying something to my kids and all that stuff, all the `be quick but don’t hurry, do not mistake activity for achievement’ stuff, just starts rolling off my tongue,” said Allen, who works as a pharmaceutical salesman in Los Angeles and coaches his son Geoffrey’s AAU basketball team. “I feel like a clone or something.” Forty years ago, that thought would have shocked him. Allen and coach Wooden didn’t always see eye to eye. “He was more concerned with making me an All-American person and I was more concerned with being an All-American player,” Allen jokes. But sometime in his late 20s, midway through his NBA career and about the time he was beginning his own family, it all clicked for him. Now, as coach of the A Place Called Home AAU team that features freshman phenom Dwayne Polee Jr., he finds himself sounding a lot like his old coach. “I started applying it to my life,” Allen said. “I know I gave Coach Wooden some gray hairs when I was playing. And he remembers everything. … But he got his point across. It all kicked in.” – Ramona Shelburne ANDY HILL, 1970-72 ‘The things Coach Wooden had taught me guided all of my success’ To say Andy Hill played on three national championship teams is a bit of an exaggeration. He spent most of those years sitting on the bench as Henry Bibby’s backup and, boy, doesn’t he know it. For 25 years, Hill was mad about it. He held it against Wooden. While working his way up the corporate ladder to become head of CBS Productions, he even tried to downplay his ties to UCLA basketball. Then, about 11 years ago, he realized he had it all wrong. His stomach sank; his heart ached. As hard as it was to admit, Coach Wooden had been right. “Basically, I realized I didn’t play because Henry Bibby was better than me. Not a lot better. But enough better. It wasn’t personal. And I’d spent all these years thinking it was,” Hill said. “And, I realized that the things Coach Wooden had taught me had guided all of my success in business.” Hill called Wooden to reconcile. He wasn’t even sure the coach would remember him, much less want to take his call. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Since then, the two have become great friends. In 2001, he co-authored the best-selling book on Wooden’s teachings, “Be Quick But Don’t Hurry.” “When I was pitching the book, I had to come up with a log line. So I told people it was `The One-Minute Manager’ meets `Tuesdays with Morrie’ with a happy ending,” Hill said. “My advice to people is not to wait until Tuesday to meet Morrie.” – Ramona Shelburne ED O’BANNON, 1992-95 ‘I pride myself on that’ O’Bannon had a spectacular senior season in 1995, but he saved his best work for the championship game. O’Bannon scored 30 points and added 17 rebounds against Arkansas and was named the Final Four’s MVP. Now, he’s standing tall on the showroom floor of a Las Vegas car dealership. O’Bannon is selling cars, but is being groomed for management. “I like it,” O’Bannon said. “I’m getting the chance to learn the business from the ground floor. I really get a chance to do something I’d never thought I would do. A lot of people don’t know how to buy a car or sell it.” O’Bannon was a dominant center in college, but he’s not a pushy salesman. Many people recognize him and are surprised by his easy demeanor. “I’ve had plenty of people say, `Hey, I wouldn’t have bought this car or I wouldn’t have come back to this dealership if not for you or the way you are,”‘ O’Bannon said. “I pride myself on that.” – Jill Painter LYNN SHACKLEFORD, 1967-69 ‘People want to talk about it’ Want to talk UCLA basketball? Just head out to the Roger Dunn Golf Shop in Thousand Oaks and find Lynn Shackelford. “I have a name tag that says, `Lynn’ on it and people are like, `Your last name’s not Shackelford, is it?’ I’m old and I’m tall, so I guess that’s how they know,” he joked. “I’m amazed that after 40 years, people still remember us and our teams. But all the time, people want to talk about it.” The sharp-shooting, left-handed forward from Burroughs High in Burbank is still closely connected to UCLA. He keeps in touch with Wooden and his former teammates, supports the current team and is a regular at UCLA basketball reunions. Shackelford owned Sinaloa, a par-3 golf course in Simi Valley, for 11 years before moving over to the Roger Dunn shop. Before that, he worked as an announcer on Lakers broadcasts and in finance for the American Golf Corp. “Back when I was at American Golf, we’d be putting together proposals and we’d always be worried about what the competition was doing,” Shackelford remembered. “And I’d be thinking of what Coach Wooden always said: `We only do the best we can; we don’t focus on the other team.”‘ – Ramona Shelburne PETE TRGOVIC, 1972-75 ‘This year’s group of kids understood’ Pete Trgovic came to UCLA as a bit of a hot-dog from East Chicago High in Indiana and it took a while for Wooden to fit “Pistol Pete’s” scorer’s mentality into his system. By the end of his time at UCLA, though, Trgovic was known as one of the best defensive guards in the country. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Trgovic became a coach and recently pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season, leading his alma mater, East Chicago, to an 87-83 upset of North Central High of Indianapolis in the Indiana Class 4-A state championship. “Coach Wooden always spoke about character winning games, and that’s what this year’s group of kids understood,” Trgovich told reporters after the game. With the win, Trgovic became one of only two people to win an Indiana state championship as both a player and a coach and an NCAA championship. – Ramona Shelburne MIKE WARREN, 1966-68 ‘Obviously, I love the guy’ Mike Warren earned a supporting role in UCLA’s system as a guard. He played with Lew Alcindor – now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – but still earned All-American honors. Warren, who lives in Woodland Hills, earned a starring role later in life as Officer Bobby Hill on the television series “Hill Street Blues,” and recently had a role on “Crossing Jordan.” Warren, who recently turned 60, wants to produce as well. His son, Cash Warren, is a producer. Mike Warren is hoping to do a film on Wooden’s life. “Obviously, I love the guy,” Warren said of his former coach. “I wanted to be involved in something like that, and I’m interested in producing. I think he’s a great human being. I want to bring information to the screen that maybe people don’t know about. I don’t want to be one of those filmmakers that does a hack job for the sake of doing something controversial.” Warren would do the film in conjunction with writer/producer John Wilder, a UCLA grad, and Steve Jamison, who has co-authored seven books with Wooden. – Jill Painter GEORGE ZIDEK, 1992-95 ‘You need to be at the right place at the right time’ The “Big Czech” from Prague quickly learned the English language and many new customs at UCLA. His experience, both on and off the court, is something he still treasures. Zidek and his wife have two children, Jan, 6, and Martin, 4. Zidek loved Los Angeles, but returned to Prague so his children could live near family. Zidek played three years in the NBA, with Charlotte, Denver and Seattle, and then overseas. He’s now an assistant general manager with a basketball club in the Czech Republic. He also helps his family manage real-estate investments. He believes Tyus Edney’s mad dash down the court and ensuing last-second shot over Missouri in the Sweet 16 in 1995 changed his life. “It tells me how much his one play had influenced my career,” Zidek wrote in an e-mail. “Had he not made the shot, I would not have been drafted in the first round of the draft, wouldn’t have a three-year NBA r sum , probably wouldn’t have played with Tyus in Lithuania during the lockout and thus not winning the Euro League title. It’s a domino effect. That tells you in sports that you need to be at the right place at the right time, maybe more than in other areas of life.” – Jill Painter160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img