Hard to quibble with these four choices

Originally Published: April 27, 2006
By Jay Bilas | Special to ESPN.com
To reduce hundreds of coaches in the history of college basketball to just four faces to be chiseled into the side of a mountain seems like pure folly.

When Mount Rushmore was conceived in 1923 to be carved into the Black Hills of South Dakota as a monument to American history, there had been just 29 presidents. Since the game was invented by James Naismith in 1891 as an indoor "athletic distraction," there have been eight head coaches for the Jayhawks alone, including Phog Allen, Larry Brown, Roy Williams, and two Jayhawks players -- Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp -- who later went on to distinguished coaching careers worthy of inclusion on that mountain in South Dakota. Ironically, Naismith is the only head coach in Kansas history to sport a losing overall record.

When you factor in that there are several other institutions that have comparable reputations and are similarly rich in hardwood tradition, such as Indiana, St. John's, Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina and Duke, you see the difficulty in reducing the number to just four. If we were to undertake this exercise in 1923, it would be a much simpler task, and the field would be much smaller and more manageable.

It seems a no-brainer to put Naismith on the mountain, for he invented the very game that we honor by this monument. However, Naismith does not make my pre-ESPN era lineup of four. While I do not claim to know as much about baseball as I believe I know about basketball, I would not put Abner Doubleday on a baseball Mount Rushmore, and the same principle applies for college basketball.

Naismith supporters can take some solace in the fact that I also left off the likes of Allen, Lou Carnesecca of St. John's, Clarence "Bighouse" Gaines of Winston-Salem State, Everett Case of North Carolina State, Fred Taylor of Ohio State, Harry Litwack of Temple, Vic Bubas of Duke, Frank McGuire of North Carolina and South Carolina, Nat Holman of CCNY, Clair Bee of Rider and LIU, Piggy Lambert of Purdue, Jack Hartman of Kansas State, Ralph Miller of Iowa and Oregon State, Al McGuire of Marquette, Ray Meyer of DePaul, Phil Woolpert of San Francisco, Bob Boyd of USC, Don Haskins of UTEP, Jud Heathcote of Michigan State, and Marv Harshman of Washington.

To get it down to four, I went not just with the four coaches with the most wins or national championships, I decided to go with the four that I consider to be the most influential and best coaches. While I recognize that reasonable basketball minds can differ, and the four of another basketball observer can be just as good as mine, I don't believe that anyone's list could be any better than this one.

John Wooden, UCLA The inclusion of Wooden is a no-brainer. He won 10 national championships in 12 years at UCLA, and won with very different teams. Critics -- and there are few -- will say that Wooden won with Alcindor and Walton, and won in an age when you only played four NCAA Tournament games and stayed in your own region.

John Wooden
AP PhotoThe Wizard coached two of the greatest college centers ever.

Well, providing my most thoughtful and intellectual response to that position, I say that is a bunch of bull. Wooden won two titles (in 1964 and '65) before Alcindor ever showed up on campus, and won with Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich instead of the behemoth centers he had in Alcindor and Walton. He also won between the two fine centers with Steve Patterson, Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe, and played a different style and game. Similarly, when Walton took his act to the NBA, Wooden continued on winning with David Meyers, Richard Washington and Marques Johnson up front, and stopped winning only because he retired.

On the region front, if West Coast basketball was so much weaker than East Coast basketball, how come none of the East Coast powerhouses could clip the Bruins in the Final Four? Oh, and I believe that UCLA could have handled a 16th seed and the No. 8 vs. No. 9 winner in any given year.

Wooden was an innovator with his use of full-court pressure, and he is one of the sage voices in the game's history and one of its finest gentlemen. Wooden is also the first man to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player and a coach, with both honors coming on the collegiate level.

His is the first face on my Mount Rushmore.

Henry Iba, Oklahoma State Henry Iba was the first man to win back-to-back NCAA championships in 1945 and 1946, and is a legend among legends in coaching. Referred to as "Mr. Iba," he was a true innovator in man-to-man defensive principles and was the only man to coach three Olympic teams and two gold-medal-winning teams in Olympic play.

While many will remember Iba simply as having coached the 1972 Olympic team that was cheated out of its gold medal in a loss to the Soviet Union in Munich, Iba was one of the true greats of the game. He won 767 games before retiring. Bob Knight once said of Iba, "Of all the shadows cast in the game, his was the longest."

Henry Iba is the second face on my Mount Rushmore.

Adolph Rupp, Kentucky
Rupp played and studied the game under Allen at the University of Kansas, where the inventor of the game once coached, and went on to win four national championships at Kentucky -- second only to Wooden's 10.

Adolph Rupp
UK AthleticsRupp established Kentucky as one of the nation's elite programs.

During his time as the man in the brown suit, Rupp went 879-190, winning more than 82 percent of his games. In addition to the four national titles, Rupp won an NIT championship when the NIT was just as prestigious as the NCAA title is today, and he won 27 SEC championships.

When he retired, Rupp was the all-time winningest coach in basketball history, a mark that was later passed by fellow Jayhawks player Dean Smith. Rupp was the co-coach of the 1948 Olympic team, which featured the five best players from his Kentucky team.

Some might argue that because of the perceptions of Rupp's reputation stemming from the 1966 NCAA championship game loss to Texas Western and the policies of the SEC and Kentucky in the segregated South during his coaching career that Rupp should be kept off of this monument. While I am sensitive to that position, I disagree with it. Rupp's accomplishments and ability level demands that he be included here.

Adolph Rupp is the third face on my Mount Rushmore.

Pete Newell, California Newell is every bit the giant in the game that Wooden, Iba and Rupp are, despite the fact that he did not coach as long. Newell is perhaps the finest teacher in the game's history, and is one of the finest basketball minds ever. He coached at the University of San Francisco, winning the NIT championship in 1949, and at Michigan State, before making his biggest splash as the coach at California, where he led the Golden Bears to back-to-back NCAA championship game appearances. Newell won the NCAA title in 1959 and fell to Jerry Lucas' Ohio State Buckeyes in 1960.

In 1960, Newell coached the United States to the Olympic gold medal, which was believed to be the greatest amateur team in history, with Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Walt Bellamy.

After leaving college coaching, Newell served as general manager for the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers, and still is one of the most respected clinicians, authors and consultants in the game. Newell still conducts his annual Big Man Camp, which has set the standard for footwork and fundamentals.

I have had the pleasure of knowing Newell since I was in high school in Los Angeles, and the game has not known a finer coach or gentleman.

Pete Newell is the fourth and final face on my Mount Rushmore.

Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to Insider.


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