Las Vegas man recalls delivering early Wooden success

The Las Vegas man who delivered one of the most miraculous wins in John Wooden’s historic coaching career occasionally takes out an ancient video to prove it.

“The last time was a few years ago for some relatives who wanted to see it,” said Ralph Joeckel, who turns 86 in two weeks.

Joeckel not only played on Wooden’s first UCLA team but he made a shot that helped the Bruins end up in the top 10 rankings for the first time. Joeckel, a Las Vegas resident since 1966, was a junior at UCLA in 1948 when Wooden was hired to turn around the Bruins sagging basketball program.

After UCLA finished 22-7 in Wooden’s first season, Joeckel was a 6-foot-4, 180-pound starting forward on a Bruins team that had to face Washington State College in a best-of-3 playoff between north and south champions in the Pacific Coast Conference (now the Pacific 12 Conference).

With the score tied at 58 in the opening game, Joeckel got a rebound, dribbled a couple times and saw three seconds left on the clock.

“I took a two-handed shot from mid-court that banked in,” Joeckel recalled Tuesday. The video shows the crowd stormed the court and “hoisted me up.”

UCLA won the second game to move on to the NCAA tournament of eight at Kansas City, but lost both tourney games. The Bruins, who had climbed to sixth, finished seventh in the final national rankings.

CCNY won the national title, but UCLA came out of that season knowing the program was on the rise.

“In December of 1949, we played about five games back East, and one of the teams we played was CCNY,” said Joeckel, who left UCLA with an engineering degree and started an engineering firm in Las Vegas that now lands many of the biggest hotel projects in the world.

“We beat them, and the New York papers called it a big upset. After the game, Jackie Robinson was playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers then, and he came down and shook our hands,” Joeckel said.

Before Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, he was a sports sensation at UCLA.

The Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament gets underway today at the MGM Grand Garden. Joeckel said he won’t be attending.

“It’s easier watching it on TV.”

He’s proud the Joeckel name is back in the national news.

“My little brother is a retired minister in Texas. His grandson, Luke Joeckel, was the second overall draft choice two years ago. Jacksonville took him. He played at Texas A&M and protected Johnny Manziel during his Heisman Trophy season.”

Ralph Joeckel’s son, Toby Joeckel, is the senior pastor at the First Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in downtown Las Vegas.


Former Las Vegas “Jersey Boys” cast member Erich Bergen has landed in a CBS drama pilot with Tea Leoni and Bebe Neuwirth. The pilot, titled “Madam Secretary,” follows the life of maverick Secretary of State Elizabeth McGill (Leoni). Her character’s chief of staff is Neuwirth, who has an Emmy and a Tony award. Bergen is cast as the Secretary of State’s young, loyal assistant. Bergen will be seen this summer in director Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys” film. …

We’ve lost track of how many luxury cars boxing champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. has in his car collection. He’s at it again. He showed up at Towbin Motorcars on Friday and purchased a Ferrari 458 Italia and a Bentley Flying Spur. Both cars go for about $250,000 and can top 200 mph. Mayweather, who paid cash, was accompanied by a film crew for the Showtime series “All Access.” …

You know you’ve hit the big time when National Hockey League teams are putting together a video to your hit song. The Colorado Avalanche have teamed up with Las Vegas’ Imagine Dragons for a new version of the Dragons’ “Radioactive” music video. …

Fiesta Rancho staffers are still buzzing about the recent surprise appearance of a Motown legend at the resort’s Club Tequila. Joining Sherry Gordy at her weekly A-List Open Mic night on Thursdays was her father, Berry Gordy, who turns 85 in November. He took photos with fans and chatted with patrons. …

Nancy Lee Grahn, who has played lawyer Alexis Davis of the “General Hospital” cast since 1996, will be hosting a fan event at the Red Rock Resort on Saturday from 2-5 p.m. The winner of the afternoon of contests gets to join Grahn at the GH studio and go through all the actors’ dressing room closets. …

Sunday’s item about country star Brantley Gilbert hanging out at Santa Fe Station last week should have said he recently split with actress Jana Kramer who has been dating Eastwood’s son, model Scott Eastwood.


Canada’s Kaillie Humphries, who repeated as a bobsled Olympic gold medalist in Sochi, Russia, partied with friends at Marquee (Cosmopolitan), dined at Gordon Ramsey Steak (Paris Las Vegas) and attended Blue Man Group (Monte Carlo) on Monday night. Also in town Monday celebrating their gold medal win: members of Canada’s women’s hockey team at Blue Man Group.


“Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that Russia did not invade the Crimean Peninsula. Then what are those tanks — part of a traffic study?” — David Letterman

Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or email him at Find more online at Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke.

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