Two Santa Barbara sports icons — football’s Alex Mack and basketball’s Jamaal Wilkes — are getting recognized for past exploits now that the coronavirus pandemic has pressed the pause button to athletic competition.
Mack, an 11-year veteran with the Atlanta Falcons, was selected this week by the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame to their All-Decade Team for the 2010s. Wilkes, meanwhile, was a star on the 1973 UCLA basketball team that was crowned on Tuesday as the best collegiate squad of all time in online balloting conducted by Yahoo Sports.
Mack, an offensive center who graduated from San Marcos High in 2004, has been selected to six Pro Bowls since his selection by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He was traded to the Falcons in 2016 and played that season in Super Bowl LI. Atlanta lost in overtime to the New England Patriots.
Leading up to that game, Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said that, “Every play in every game means the world to Mack, that’s something he naturally has. He was the exact same way in Cleveland, even when things weren’t going good.”
Mack was told during his freshman year at San Marcos that the odds of playing after high school were remote.
“I never planned on football being my career,” he said. “Coach (Bob) Archer gave us statistics in how improbable it’d be for any of us to ever make it to college football.
“Then he gave us the statistics of making it from there to the NFL. He told us how rare it is for anyone to get that far.”
Mack, who graduated from Cal with a degree in legal studies, has started 165 games in the NFL and hasn’t missed a contest since 2014.
He was elected last month to serve a two-year term as treasurer of the NFL Players Association, which hopes to ratify a new, 10-year collective bargaining agreement with NFL owners.
Wilkes, a graduate of Santa Barbara High who was selected as the 1970 CIF-Southern Section Player of the Year, helped UCLA win a record 88 consecutive games and two NCAA titles. The Bruins’ 1973 team beat Michael Jordan’s 1982 North Carolina team in a fictional all-time championship game which was part of Yahoo’s “Best Team Ever Bracket Series”
The Bruins cruised through the fictional bracket, beating such teams as Hakeem Olajuwon’s 1983 Houston squad and Carmelo Anthony’s 2003 Syracuse squad in the online voting. UCLA won 69 percent of the votes in the title game against North Carolina.
The Bruins beat Memphis State 87-66 in the real-life, 1973 NCAA championship game. Bill Walton scored 44 points while making a record 21-of-22 shots. Wilkes, a two-time First-Team All-American, added 16 points and seven rebounds in that contest. He averaged 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds for the 1972-73 season.
Wilkes, a 6-foot, 6½-inch forward, was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012. UCLA coach John Wooden often described him as the most “ideal collegiate basketball player,” citing his all-around playing abilities, character, and scholarly achievement as a three-time Academic All-American.
He played 12 seasons of professional basketball and made three NBA All-Star teams. He also won the league’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1975 while helping the Golden State Warriors win the NBA championship. He won three more titles with the Los Angeles Lakers before retiring in 1986.
Wilkes, however, once described his experience at UCLA as his best in the game “because of the unique situation … We won 88 games in a row … and playing with coach Wooden there was incredible.”