Tuesday, June 8, 2010

John Wooden: 1910-2010

I can't let my blog go without acknowledging the passing of John Wooden. In late grade school I started following college basketball, as I become interested in playing basketball about that time. I quickly learned about UCLA. Their press became famous, and then they recruited Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), who was an incredible player. This only made them better.

College games on television were relatively rare in those days, but if they played, I wanted to see it. When Iowa had its great team in 1970, the Hawks stumbled in the first round, but UCLA, without Alcindor and before Walton, still won the NCAA. (I'd liked to have seen the Hawks take a turn at the Bruins; UCLA defeated Jacksonville in the Finals, the team that eliminated the Hawks in the first round.) At that time I had no appreciation of the man on the bench, but since then I've learned a lot more about him, and like very many of his players, have come to a much deeper appreciation of his talents, values, and skills. He was a high school English teacher turned college coach, and he always continued to think of himself as a teacher. You can read articles from the NYT here and here and here.

BTW, the game that Drake played against UCLA in 1969 in the semi-finals was a great game. The Bulldogs had their finest hour then.

One final note: In The Talent Code, the authors describe a couple of UCLA profs who decided to observe Wooden to learn about his methods. They had been jocks, so they came to practice expecting lots of whistles, exhortations, and scrimmages. Instead, they found a quiet man who would explain exactly what he wanted to his players exactly what he wanted them to do, then he'd watch them, and then he'd correct the flaws to get the result he wanted. Each drill was carefully prepared and executed. No yelling, no ranting, just teaching.