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Apodaca: Let's pause and recall the influence of Jerry Norman

March 21, 2014|By Patrice Apodaca

With the NCAA tournament underway, it's worth remembering that March Madness hasn't always been around to turn us into a nation of obsessed college basketball fans.

Back in more provincial times, one man contributed as much as anyone to raising the profile of college hoops. But outside of the most knowledgeable basketball insiders, his role has largely gone overlooked.

Perhaps that will change with the recent publication of "In the Shadow of a Legend," which chronicles the story of Jerry Norman, John Wooden's assistant coach during UCLA's first four championship seasons.

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Norman, author Steve Bisheff contends, was arguably the greatest assistant coach of all time. He was Wooden's chief recruiter and a visionary strategist whose contributions reverberated long after he departed the basketball arena.

"The passing years have conspired to slowly rub away the image of this fierce competitor who could be, and probably should be, remembered as the most important college assistant coach in the history of the sport," Bisheff writes.

Norman's story is also of particular interest to Daily Pilot readers because of his local ties. Bisheff is a veteran sports journalist from Irvine. Norman's daughter, my friend Sherry Stinehart, lives in Corona del Mar. Most significantly, all proceeds from the book go to a pediatric cancer charity favored by John Vallely of Newport Beach, who attended Corona del Mar High School and Orange Coast College before playing for UCLA.

The idea for the book was brought to Norman by his old buddy, former UCLA player Eddie Sheldrake, who convinced the unassuming onetime coach that his story would not detract from Wooden's legendary stature.

Now 84, Norman, who lives in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles, played for UCLA in the late 1940s and became Wooden's assistant in 1957.

"It was so different in those days," Norman said in a phone interview last week. "There was not a lot of revenue or money. Television changed the whole thing."

"In the Shadow of a Legend" illustrates how the outgoing and charismatic Norman was the perfect counterpoint to Wooden's discipline and reserve. He was instrumental in taking UCLA's recruitment efforts nationwide to sign top players, including Walt Hazzard, Lucius Allen and the biggest catch of all, Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

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