In a crowded Southern California landscape, the LBSU basketball program has always struggled to be counted among the “big boys” of UCLA and USC. But for a six-year stretch in the early ‘70s, LBSU was grabbing the top recruits in the country and butting heads with John Wooden, the most decorated coach in college basketball history.
This is the first in a three-part series looking at the time when talk of basketball dominated Long Beach. The next two parts will be posted on d49erspecial.com this week. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from past and present Daily 49er interviews.
The final days of the 1967-68 season were a letdown for what was then known as the California State College of Long Beach basketball team. A team that had been tied or in first place all season long fell to fourth place in the span of a week. That month, Randy Sandefur, who had just taken over men’s basketball that season, took a position coaching the volleyball team.
On March 9, 1968, the 49ers announced future Hall of Famer Jerry Tarkanian as the new coach of the team. Tark “the Shark” was coming off a two-year stint coaching at Pasadena City College and was already known for unconventional recruiting tactics. Tark targeted many of the Junior College players and broke the unwritten rule that said teams needed to start at least three white players.
In his first year as the Cal State Long Beach coach, Jerry Tarkanian coached the team to a 9-1 conference record to win the CCAA championship. Overall the team finished with a 23-3 record, missing out on a bid to the NCAA tournament, not deemed worthy to the selection committee.
Tark returned the next year with one of the top recruits in the country, All-American Ed Ratleff out of Ohio. He started the season on the Long Beach State freshman team, but registered 71 points in his debut. Ratleff, who averaged an astonishing 39.7 points and 25.4 rebounds, would join a program on the rise in all areas, with the team selling out games and moving eight home games to the Long Beach Arena.
The 1969-70 season saw the 49ers finish with a 24-5 record. LBSU got its first ever bid to the NCAA tournament and dispatched of Weber State 92-73 to set up a showdown with UCLA and legendary coach John Wooden. LBSU entered the game with a 19 game winning streak. LBSU would go on to lose 84-65.
While the 1969-70 team lost big to UCLA, the returning players would go on to face Wooden’s Bruins in the next two NCAA tournaments. On Wednesday, d49erspecial.com will cover Ratleff’s introduction into this budding rivalry and LBSU’s climb up the Associated Press rankings.