#RespectYourElders: The late John Wooden is considered the greatest NCAA basketball coach of all time. He coached the University of California at Los Angeles’ Bruins for 27 years, brought the team a 620-147 record and was named NCAA’s College Basketball Coach of the Year six times.
Wooden was born in Hall, Indiana in 1910. He grew up on a farm where he had no electricity, milked the cows every morning and tended to other farm chores before starting the school day. Wooden had three brothers who he played basketball with. The four of them used a homemade basketball, a tomato basket as a hoop and their barn as a stadium.
Wooden moved to Martinsville, Indiana where he took the town’s basketball team to the Indiana State championship in 1927. He gained recognition for his talents and joined Purdue’s basketball team the following year. In college, he earned three straight All-American selections and was named college basketball player of the year. As a senior, the Boilermakers went 17-1 and won the Big Ten Championship.
Following his graduation from Purdue, Wooden taught English and coached several sports at high schools in Kentucky and Indiana. During his time at South Bend Central High School, he created his Pyramid of Success. This system identified characteristics and traits that would cultivate a successful individual and narrowed the list to 25 common behaviors in a triangular diagram. Wooden was considered a gentle, humble man who appeared more equipped for a lecture hall than a stadium.
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are,” Wooden once said.
In 1942, Wooden served as a Navy Lieutenant during WWII, but, shortly after, returned to coaching. By 1948, he’d accepted a position to become head coach at UCLA. Wooden taught his players the Pyramid of Success and created an environment where character-building was foundational to athletic and personal growth. His impact at UCLA was nothing short of spectacular.
Throughout the 60s and 70s, the Bruins were the gold standard of college basketball. Wooden’s team had four perfect 30-0 seasons, won 38 straight games in NCAA tournaments, and, from 1967-1973, the “Wizards of Westwood” won seven straight national championships. They were national champions for 10 of his last 12 seasons. Wooden coached incredible players, many of whom went to the NBA, including Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton. Wooden retired after a historic run in 1975.
Wooden received countless awards and accolades following his retirement. They included the Naismith ‘Men’s College Coach of the 20th Century,’ the U. S. Medal of Freedom and was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Wooden Award was established in 1976 to highlight the nation’s top men’s and women’s college basketball players and coaches. With March Madness right around the corner, best of luck to all of the college basketball players competing for the award and honoring the legacy of such a distinguished coach.