John Wooden: College Basketball's Guardian Angel

Angie MeyerContributor IIJune 9, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 13:  Former UCLA college basketball coach John Wooden looks on during the John R. Wooden Classic match between the UCLA Bruins and the De Paul Blue Demons at Honda Center on December 13, 2008 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Friday night silenced the world of basketball as a beacon of light dimmed in the world of NCAA magic. The country was notified of the passing of the best coach to ever mentor the game of college basketball.

John Wooden. To basketball fans across the country, he was more then a coach; he was a metaphor for the game and an inspiration of well being. He touched basketball fans both near and far, and it's been said that if you followed all of Wooden's lessons in basketball and applied them to life, you'd have no choice but to succeed.

John Wooden was born in 1910 in the small town of Hall, Indiana. A standout player in the game of hoops, even as a boy, he led his high school team to the state championships three years in a row.

This three-time all-state player had offers from across the country to play at the next level. He accepted one near his family, at Purdue University.

John Wooden began college in 1928. He took the Boilermakers to the 1932 National Championship, and he was named All-Big Ten and All-Midwestern MVP during his tenure. Wooden's nickname in college was "Rubber Man," and he was known to be a deadly force to be reckoned with while on the hardwood.

After graduating from Purdue in 1932, with a degree in English, Wooden went on to play professional basketball for the Indianapolis Kautskys. In addition to his play, he coached at the local high school. However, despite his professional success, it was coaching rather then playing that really fueled him to achieve.

Wooden joined the Navy in 1942 and served for nearly three years before returning to the sport. John Wooden's win-loss record while coaching at the high school level was an astonishing 218-42. These were the years that paved his wide road to greatness.

Just as his own personal career progressed, so did his coaching hierarchy. John Wooden was asked to serve as head coach and athletic director at Indiana Teachers College (now Indiana State University).

During his second year with the University, he was invited to take his team to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (NAIB) National Tournament. However, Wooden declined on account of the NAIB's policy that banned African-American players. John Wooden, who had an African-American player standout player on the team, refused to allow his boys to play in the tournament that exhibited racism.

In 1948, the cause was won. John Wooden coached his team to the state final. He would lose that game; however, that moment would mark history as one of his most memorable in his lifetime.

John Wooden was the first coach ever to bring an African-American man to the state tournament. The achievement would later earn him induction into the Indiana State University Hall of Fame.

John Wooden was earning outstanding national attention for his coaching merits. It wasn't long before other schools came knocking—two of which were the University of Minnesota and UCLA. Wooden would opt for the latter, moving west to the shining stage of Los Angeles.

UCLA players, fans, and associates will always recognize Wooden as "The Wizard of Westwood." He re-invented the "instant turnaround," meaning he was singlehandedly able to turn around a previously failing team. Wooden took a UCLA team from a 12-13 losing season and turned it around in one year with a 22-7 record.

Each year his winning numbers increased, and before an eight-clap-UCLA-chant was cheered, he had taken the team to their fourth straight Southern Divisional Championship.

In 1956, John Wooden gave UCLA an amazing gift. He led the team to its first undefeated season in the PCC conference (now Pac-10) with 17 straight wins and gave them the golden ticket...bringing them to the "Big Dance."

The "Wizard of Westwood" won his team 620 games, had 28 straight wins in the NCAA tournament, 98 straight home wins at home court, and brought his team to a record winning streak of 88 games. To say he earned "Coach of the Year" would be an understatement.

Wooden was named coach of the year a whopping six times. In his 27 years at UCLA, he held absolute immortality on the hardwood. John Wooden was inducted into the NCAA Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

There are two entities that John Wooden credited his success to. One of them, his wife; the other, his Christian faith.

John Wooden met his wife Nell in 1926, the two were married in 1932, and she remained his doting confidant and cheerleader throughout their marriage, until she passed of cancer in 1985. John Wooden stayed ever devoted to Nell until the day he died, visiting her gravesite and writing her love letters consistently.

A man of faith, John Wooden has been quoted as saying, "My faith is more important to me then basketball." Wooden attended church weekly and read from his Bible daily. It was through faith and his wife that he was able to achieve absolute greatness.

John Wooden passed last Friday night. Just shy of the century mark, he would succumb to the discomforts of aging and dehydration. Outside his window, a candlelight vigil of UCLA fans both young and old. Today, they remember him as a foundation for inspiration. A life mentor who lived solely by the seven principles that he outlined in his book Pyramid of Success:

1. Be true to yourself.
2. Make each day your masterpiece.
3. Help others.
4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
5. Make friendship a fine art.
6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

With words like that, his legacy will live on for generations to come. He'll continue to inspire players and fans to remain positive, stay well, always achieve, and most importantly, to succeed in the game...the game of life. A man who hated the "slam dunk" but loved the viscosity of the game, he will always be remembered with a calmness and a smile.

John Wooden, we'll miss you...


Stay Fabulous,