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Following UCLA spirit, men’s tennis works to build its own pyramid of success

Coach Billy Martin of UCLA men’s tennis watches pre-match warmups. In a dual-match season hindered by a key injury and up-and-down performances, Martin has continued to lead the Bruins. (Anika Chakrabarti/Photo editor)

By Alexsia Drulias

April 13, 2023 12:01 p.m.

The Pyramid of Success has stood for three-quarters of a century.

Despite the age, it is anything except old news for the Bruins.

In 1948, UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden created a structure that highlighted the 25 most crucial character traits to achieve success. Intended to be implemented by his own basketball players and incite a turnaround for the Bruins’ trajectory, Wooden’s pyramid was adopted wholeheartedly by the greater UCLA community.

The pyramid is physically located on the wall of the John Wooden Center, but the traits themselves can be found on and off the courts of the Los Angeles Tennis Center.

UCLA men’s tennis has been dealt a difficult hand this season, most recently suffering its first losing streak against California and then-No. 24 Stanford last weekend. Leading up to that point, the Bruins had traded wins and losses in the previous eight matches.

With their No. 1 singles player, sophomore Alexander Hoogmartens, out since early February, the team was forced to make a major shift with even greater implications.

Redshirt senior Patrick Zahraj leads the team’s pre-match ritual chants, but his experience as the eldest and only senior on the team is more clear in his mentality. Zahraj’s typical home would be the No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 singles position, but he has migrated to court one since Hoogmartens’ leave, forcing him to regularly play against top-ranked opponents. Zahraj made it known that he doesn’t prepare any differently for these trials and drew on the UCLA brand.

“One of Coach Wooden’s blocks on the pyramid says to not be distracted by surroundings and be the same constantly, no matter who we are up against,” Zahraj said. “That’s something that we all praise – Do our same routines, prepare the best way we can, and have confidence.”

He demonstrates his intentness, alertness and initiative, which are all finely detailed qualities on Wooden’s geometrical roadmap to success. Zahraj also helps the lively freshmen strike a balance between self-control and enthusiasm, checking off two more blocks on the pyramid.

“Keeping (the freshmen) more present in the moment rather than needing to hype them up – our freshmen this year are more than hyped,” said Zahraj.

The enthusiasm that emanates from the freshmen comes in handy for their frequent three-set battles, which ultimately speaks to the quintessential trait at the peak of the pyramid. “Be at your best when your best is needed” and “enjoyment of a difficult challenge” are Wooden’s two components of competitive greatness.

The freshmen, either knowingly or unknowingly, are constantly sharpening their own sets of traits, which coach Billy Martin attributes to their attitude.

“The younger guys are really motivating all of us,” Martin said. “You can tell these guys are really excited about the matches. It’s not new to (the older guys). We’re not having the greatest of years so far. The freshmen don’t want to be denied – I love that attitude, quite honestly.”

Keeping a team motivated during an unmotivating year takes a special kind of forward-looking mentality. Martin’s years of experience are useful in knowing how to press through a difficult season, connecting with Wooden’s definitions of integrity, sincerity and fight.

“You’ve got to think of it as a new day,” Martin said. “We’ve been unfortunate with a few of our top guys (in) the lineup, so we’ve got to be scrappy and hungry and try to earn every win we can. So far this year, we’ve done that.”

Martin is the longest-tenured active head coach at UCLA, now in his 30th year in the position. So it’s no surprise that one highly acclaimed coach has the same foundational teachings as another.

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Alexsia Drulias
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