Abdul-Jabbar gives UCLA a pep talk

LOS ANGELES — The UCLA basketball team stepped onto the floor at the new Pauley Pavilion for a shooting session early Monday and much to their surprise, there stood a legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“I was pretty shocked,” Kyle Anderson said.

The basketball hall of famer and UCLA icon was on campus doing a television interview. Once he was wrapped, head coach Ben Howland asked if he could speak to the team.

In the middle of their shooting, Howland called the players over to the bench where Abdul-Jabbar spoke to them for just under 10 minutes.

He covered a myriad of topics during that time but hardly anything on basketball.

“(He told us) just try to leave your mark,” Travis Wear said. “It may not necessarily be in basketball but whatever you do, try to be the best at it. Try to be the best to your ability whether it’s in the business world (or) it’s your family life, try to be your best.”

Added Shabazz Muhammad: “It’s so hard as an athlete to play basketball and be successful in school and he’s done so much. (He wrote) a book after that. That’s something I’d be really interested in doing because that’s just not only playing basketball, you’re doing other things to help other people out.”

Abdul-Jabbar was always consumed with so much more than just basketball. Growing up, his first love was baseball. Today he’s a best-selling author who’s written eight books. Earlier this year, he was named a cultural ambassador for the United States.

“Here’s a guy that’s arguably the greatest player to ever play the game and the greatest player to ever play here (at UCLA) and yet so much of his experience here at UCLA is about education and his involvement in social issues,” Howland said. “To me, he’s a great example of what our players should be trying to do (with their) overall experience at UCLA.

“He’s obviously highly educated and intelligent. For our players to get a chance to see that and meet him and listen to him talk — he’s such an impressive individual — it was really special.”

Abdul-Jabbar didn’t speak much on basketball other than to tell the team the Bruin faithful is behind them. He reminded them that it’s a long season and despite their 7-3 start to stick together.

As for his career, he told the team he worked hard and left the game with no regrets. There is, however, one thing that he would change about his career, he admitted.

“He was disappointed he lost to USC his senior year,” Wear said. “That’s the only thing he said he would change.”

Abdul-Jabbar’s talk comes slightly ahead of one of the Bruins’ toughest non-conference games of the season. On Tuesday, they’ll host Long Beach State.

The Bruins have played three other Big West Conference schools this season. UCLA was fortunate to get past UC Irvine in an overtime win. Cal Poly made a furious second-half comeback to beat them before Howland’s bunch took care of Cal State Northridge with little resistance.

The 49ers are the favorites to win the Big West for the third consecutive season. Their 4-6 record is a bit deceiving. They lost to North Carolina, at Arizona, at Syracuse and at Ohio State. Long Beach State’s schedule is rated the 11th toughest in the nation.

They’ve also been a bit shorthanded. Junior transfers Keala King (Arizona State), Tony Freeland (DePaul) and Edgar Garibay (Loyola Marymount) have yet to play in a game for the 49ers. The school is waiting on fall semester grades to see if they will be eligible for competition. If they are cleared, they could make their debuts on Tuesday against the Bruins.

Howland says he “fully expects” the players to be cleared by 8 p.m. tipoff.