Coach Wooden and the Pre-Game Meal
It was Saturday, December 5, 1970 and UCLA was playing its second game of the season, a preseason game against Rice University. The day before, they had beaten Baylor 108-77. Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe, the two All-American forwards, had demonstrated not only why they were national champions the year before, but that UCLA was in shape to win it again.
But when the starting team was announced, Sidney and Curtis were not included. In fact, Coach Wooden didn’t put them in the game until ten minutes were used first half. Why? These were the two best players in the country and Coach Wooden always started his best team.
On the day of every game, home and away, UCLA coaches and players ate pre-game meal together about five hours before game time. The menu never changed: a 16 oz New York steak, baked potato with one TBS butter, peas, fruit cup, Melba toast, and hot tea.
On that particular day, pre-game meal was at 3:00. It was very unusual for anyone to be late to anything, especially this great dinner, but Wicks and Rowe casually strolled in at 3:10, not apologizing but rather greeting everyone as if nothing was wrong. Coach Wooden didn’t say anything.
Fast forward to about twenty minutes before game time when Coach Wooden was addressing the team before it went out to the floor for warmups. As always, he provided the matchups, which means, who was guarding who. Wicks and Rowe were not mentioned.
Twenty one minutes before game time, Coach Wooden told everyone to get into the hallway and prepare to go out to the floor for warmups. Everyone went out except for Sidney and Curtis. Coach asked, “Why are you not going?” I think it was Wicks who arrogantly demanded, “Why are we not starting?” Coach said, “You were ten minutes late for pre-game meal, so you’ll not play the first ten minutes of the game.”
Wicks said, “Well when you call us to send us into the game, we may not go at all.” Coach Wooden replied, “If you don’t go in the game when I call you, you’ll not play another minute for UCLA.”
When ten minutes were gone, Coach looked down the bench and yelled, “Curtis and Sidney: Get in the game!” They sprinted to the scorer’s table. UCLA won the game 124-78 and Coach didn’t have a problem with the two forwards the rest of the season. UCLA repeated as Champion.