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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Legendary coach Wooden dies at 99

'Wizard of Westwood' won 10 NCAA titles at UCLA

LOS ANGELES (AP) John Wooden, college basketball's gentlemanly Wizard of Westwood who built one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports at UCLA and became one of the most revered coaches ever, has died. He was 99.

News photo
Iconic figure: John Wooden won 10 NCAA championships as the coach of UCLA and once led his team to 88 consecutive victories. He died Friday in Los Angeles at the age of 99. AP PHOTO

The university said Wooden died Friday night of natural causes at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized since May 26.

Jim Wooden and Nancy Muehlhausen issued a statement shortly after their father died, saying, "He has been, and always will be, the guiding light for our family.

"The love, guidance and support he has given us will never be forgotten. Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he has gone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love and cherish."

They thanked well-wishers for their thoughts and prayers and asked for privacy.

With his signature rolled-up game program in hand, Wooden led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships, including an unmatched streak of seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.

Over 27 years, he won 620 games, including 88 straight during one historic stretch, and coached many of the game's greatest players such as Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor — later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

"It's kind of hard to talk about Coach Wooden simply, because he was a complex man. But he taught in a very simple way. He just used sports as a means to teach us how to apply ourselves to any situation," Abdul-Jabbar said in a statement released through UCLA.

"He set quite an example. He was more like a parent than a coach. He really was a very selfless and giving human being, but he was a disciplinarian. We learned all about those aspects of life that most kids want to skip over. He wouldn't let us do that."

Wooden was a groundbreaking trendsetter who demanded his players be in great condition so they could play an up-tempo style not well-known on the West Coast at the time.

But Wooden's legacy extended well beyond that.

He was the master of the simple one- or two-sentence homily, instructive little messages best presented in his famous "Pyramid of Success," which remains must-read material, not only for fellow coaches but for anyone in a leadership position in American business.

He taught the team game and had only three hard-and-fast rules — no profanity, tardiness or criticizing fellow teammates. Layered beneath that seeming simplicity, though, were a slew of life lessons — primers on everything from how to put on your socks correctly to how to maintain poise: "Not being thrown off stride in how you behave or what you believe because of outside events."

"What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player," was one of Wooden's key messages.

"There will never be another John Wooden," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "This loss will be felt by individuals from all parts of society. He was not only the greatest coach in the history of any sport but he was an exceptional individual that transcended the sporting world. His enduring legacy as a role model is one we should all strive to emulate."

Wooden began his career as a teacher during the Great Depression and was still teaching others long past retirement. He remained a fixture at UCLA games played on a court named after him and his late wife, Nell, and celebrated his 99th birthday with a book he coauthored on how to live life and raise children.

Asked in a 2008 interview the secret to his long life, Wooden replied: "Not being afraid of death and having peace within yourself. All of life is peaks and valleys. Don't let the peaks get too high and the valleys too low."

Born Oct. 14, 1910, near Martinsville, Ind., on a farm that didn't have electricity or indoor plumbing, Wooden's life revolved around sports from the time his father built a baseball diamond among his wheat, corn and alfalfa. Baseball was his favorite sport, but there was also a basketball hoop nailed in a hayloft. Wooden played there countless hours with his brother, Maurice, using any kind of ball they could find.

He led Martinsville High School to the Indiana state basketball championship in 1927 before heading to Purdue, where he was All-America from 1930-32. The Boilermakers were national champions his senior season, and Wooden, nicknamed "the Indiana Rubber Man" for his dives on the hardcourt, was college basketball's player of the year.

But it wasn't until he headed west to Southern California that Wooden really made his mark on the game.

Wooden guided the Bruins to seven consecutive titles from 1967 through 1973 and a record 88-game winning streak in the early 1970s. From the time of his first title following the 1963-64 season through the 10th in 1974-75, Wooden's Bruins were 330-19, including four 30-0 seasons.

Wooden would coach 27 years at UCLA, finishing with a record of 620-147. He won 47 NCAA tournament games. His overall mark as a college coach was 885-203, an .813 winning percentage that remains unequaled.

But his legacy as a coach will always be framed by two streaks — the seven straight national titles UCLA won beginning in 1967 and the 88-game winning streak that came to an end Jan. 19, 1974, when Notre Dame beat the Bruins 71-70.

After he enjoyed great success at UCLA, the Los Angeles Lakers reportedly offered Wooden their head coaching job at a salary 10 times what he was making, but he refused.



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