UCLA Bruins in The NBA: What Makes Them Special?


UCLA Basketball is one of the most well established programs in college history. With a track record and series of coaches that is only rivaled by Kentucky and the like, it is easy to see why their pedigree has NBA scouts drooling each and every year. As of today, UCLA has 14 players in the pros. The list is comprised of superstars, all-stars, role players, and even a few scrubs who shall not be pointed out. From top to bottom, it looks like this:

UCLA Bruins
UCLA Bruins /

UCLA Bruins

Travis Wear

Jordan Adams

Kyle Anderson

Zach LaVine

Shabazz Muhammad

Darren Collison

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

Jrue Holiday

Russell Westbrook

Kevin Love

Arron Afflalo

Ryan Hollins

Trevor Ariza

Matt Barnes

With a list like that, it’s not hard to see why they have been able to sustain their success and produce NBA talent. Dating back further, they have produced five NBA players elected to the Naismith Basketball Memorial Hall of Fame. Sharpshooting New York Knicks-killer Reggie Miller played his college ball in Westwood, and so did one of the all time greatest and most difficult to defend big men of all time in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Impressiveness aside, the question remains. What actually makes these guys special? At its core, it comes down to coaching. John Wooden and Larry Brown were coaches who have been elected to the Hall of Fame, but nearly every UCLA Bruin coach has established a critical identity; many programs across the nation lack that.

Impressiveness aside, the question remains. What actually makes these guys special?

John Wooden, as we all know, was not just a guy who knew how to motivate his team and draw up plays. John Wooden may have been the greatest mentor of all time — at the very least he was the best in sports. Leading the UCLA Bruins to 10 of their 11 national titles behind his “Pyramid of Success”, every Bruin to come out of his program knew not only how to win, but how to be a man and play team basketball.

Ben Howland, who was widely criticized towards the tail end of his career for being too stringent, exemplified the necessary rigidness that a coach like him needed to teach great defense. Though Kevin Love might not be a great defender, I think we are all lucky that he didn’t go elsewhere for college — his defensive game could have ended up a whole lot uglier. Every Bruin to leave UCLA during Ben Howland’s era knew what it took to play great defense, some of them showing off their skill set at the next level.

Dec 13, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Steve Alford during the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

With many coaches in between those two, we have made our way to UCLA’s current coach: Steve Alford. Alford is yet to establish his identity as a Bruin coach, but most of them have — so it doesn’t seem likely that he would end up any different.

Considering his record in Westwood thus far, which includes 50 wins to his 23 losses and two Sweet-16 berths, he is seemingly on his way to what could be considered a successful career — and yet fans are hating on him left and right.

This, my friends, is the final reason as to why NBA teams and scouts love to take players from the hardwood of Pauley Pavillion. UCLA Basketball players know how to win and work with the unreasonably high expectations of their fans.

Dec 28, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; General view of exhibit in honor of former UCLA Bruins coach John Wooden at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No coach has ever or will ever live up to the bar that was set by the late and great John Wooden — yet only one has a winning percentage below 50%, indicating success beyond many programs’ wildest dreams. UCLA fans have unreasonably high hopes for everyone in and associated with the program. Every player is expected to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and every coach to be John Wooden.

With a history like this program’s that has carried over into the present and continues to teach young men the importance of lockdown defense, winning, expectation management, and most importantly being a well-rounded and educated young individual, growing into their roles as professionals is not only understandable, but expected.

Next: UCLA Basketball Releases Their Non-Conference Schedule