Who Was John Wooden?
John Wooden was an All-American guard at Purdue University. After stints as a high school coach and teacher, he took over as head basketball coach at UCLA in 1948 and led the Bruins to a record 10 national championships. The first person to be inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and coach, Wooden died in Los Angeles on June 4, 2010.
Early Life and College Career
Basketball coach John Robert Wooden was born on October 14, 1910, in Martinsville, Indiana, to parents Hugh and Roxie Wooden. His upbringing on a farm in Centerton with no electricity and little money instilled a strong work ethic, but Wooden also found time for fun by playing basketball in a barn with his three brothers.
In 1925, Wooden and his family moved back to Martinsville, where he met the love of his life, Nellie Riley. He also became a star basketball player at Martinsville High School, leading the team to the Indiana State championship in 1927.
Wooden earned three straight All-America selections as a guard at Purdue University and was named team captain as a junior. He graduated with honors and a degree in English after winning the College Basketball Player of the Year Award and Purdue was voted national champions in 1932.
Early Teaching and Coaching Career
Wooden was offered $5,000 to join a barnstorming tour with the New York Celtics after graduating, but instead married Riley and settled in as an English teacher and coach of multiple athletic teams at Dayton High School in Kentucky. In his first year, the basketball team went 6-11; it would be the only losing season of his coaching career.
In 1934, Wooden returned to Indiana to teach English and coach basketball, baseball and tennis at South Bend Central High School. During this time, he formulated the principles of his seminal "Pyramid of Success," teaching model, aiming to inspire his students and teams to derive the most from their potential.
After serving as a Navy lieutenant during World War II, Wooden became the athletic director, as well as the coach for the basketball and baseball teams at Indiana State Teachers College in 1946. His basketball teams won back-to-back Indiana Collegiate Conference titles and notched an impressive 44-15 record over two seasons.
Wooden took over as basketball coach for the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1948, hardly a sought after position given that the team lacked a proper playing arena and facilities. But the former college champion instilled some much-needed discipline into his players, forbidding them from cursing and criticizing each other, and UCLA won three Pacific Coast Conference titles in his first eight seasons.
Wooden was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1960, but his impact on the game was far from finished. He led UCLA to a perfect 30-0 record and the national championship in 1963-64—which earned him Coach of the Year honors—and then oversaw a second championship the following season.
Beginning in the 1966-67 season, the Bruins embarked on the most dominant run in college basketball history. They won seven straight championships with Lew Alcindor—later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—and then Bill Walton anchoring the center position, gaining three undefeated seasons along the way. Wooden was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame again in 1973 for his remarkable coaching accomplishments, making him the first person to be honored as a player and coach.
UCLA's record 88-game winning streak and string of championships ended in 1974, but the team rebounded the following year to give Wooden one more title before his retirement. "The Wizard of Westwood" ended his 29-year college head coaching career with a 664-162 record and an amazing .804 winning percentage, as well a record 10 national championships.
Post Coaching Career and Legacy
Wooden remained an influential figure on the sidelines of the game even after losing Riley to cancer in 1985. He received the Reagan Distinguished American Award in 1995 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003, and co-wrote multiple books with Steve Jamison after turning 90.
Wooden was admitted to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on May 26, 2010, and died of natural causes on June 4, four months shy of his 100th birthday. He was survived by his two children, seven grandchildren, and thousands of former players, coaches and friends who took the great teacher's life lessons to heart.
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