Ron Pearson, team captain and a starting guard on John Wooden’s first UCLA men’s basketball squad (1948-49), died on June 28 in Eagle Point, Ore., from a heart condition. He was 87 years old.
The 5-foot-11 guard was a senior in 1948-49, playing for first-year UCLA head coach John Wooden, who arrived in Westwood from Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State University). Pearson led UCLA to a 22-7 overall record that season, setting UCLA’s record at the time for single-season victories. The Bruins won the Pacific Coast Conference’s Southern Division with a 10-2 record before losing at Oregon State in three games for the PCC Championship.
That year, Pearson played alongside center Carl Kraushaar (9.35 ppg), forward Chuck Clustka (9.25 ppg), guard George Stanich (8.60 ppg) and forward Alan Sawyer (9.91 ppg).
Pearson appeared in all 29 games and was UCLA’s fifth-leadign scorer (4.4 ppg) in 1948-49, helping the Bruins establish 26 new school records that season. At the team’s year-end banquet, he was voted as the Bruins’ honorary team captain.
As a junior in 1947-48, he played for head coach Wilbur Johns, who was in his final season as the Bruins’ head coach. Johns helped direct UCLA to a 12-13 overall record before assuming duties as the school’s athletic director. Among Johns’ first duties on the job was hiring John Wooden as the program’s next head coach.
After his collegiate career, Pearson coached the UCLA freshman team for one season, then taught and coached basketball and baseball for three years at Wilson High School in Los Angeles.
Pearson was born Nov. 4, 1925, in Ceresco, Neb., before moving to Los Angeles at the age of 15. He earned all-city basketball honors while playing for Polytechnic High School (Los Angeles). Following high school, Pearson enrolled in a cadet training program to develop Navy pilots, where he spent two semesters in Flagstaff, Ariz. He transferred to Texas Christian University (TCU) to train as a deck officer and started for one season on the basketball team.
Pearson went to the University of Texas for its NROTC program to become an ensign and again started for one season on the basketball squad. He took an Honorable Discharge and transferred to UCLA, continuing his education and collegiate basketball career.
Following his playing and coaching career, Pearson had a 50-year career in the appliance industry before retiring in 1975 to Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife Janice. He and his wife settled in Eagle Point, Ore., for the last 13 years.
According to Pearson’s son, Ron, Jr., a memorable moment in his father’s life occurred in June 1965 when he was selected to speak on behalf of all UCLA men’s basketball alumni at the dedication ceremony to open the new Pauley Pavilion.
Throughout the years, Pearson would visit Coach Wooden in his Encino condominium. He had a Coach Wooden autographed Pyramid of Success, and on it Coach Wooden wrote, “To Ron Pearson, my first basketball captain.” Pearson was also proud of an autographed photograph with Coach Wooden hanging in his office, "To Ron Pearson, one of my boys. You make a living with what you get, you make a life by what you give. Your old coach John Wooden."*
Ron Pearson is survived by his wife Janice of 30 years, children Maribeth Pearson, Ron Pearson Jr, John (Bridget) Pearson, Lori (David) Thorell and Caren Philips (Tod), grandchildren Andrew Pearson, Thomas Pearson, Christina Pearson, Caroline Pearson, Patrick Pearson and Senna Phillips.
* facts about Ron Pearson’s life were taken from the Medford Mail Tribune (Ore.).
Caption for the 1948-49 UCLA team photo
Top row (left to right): assistant coach Bill Putnam, Art Alper, Ray Alba, Dick Irmas, Alan Sawyer, Grover Luchsinger, Carl Kraushaar, Ralph Joeckel, Paul Saunders, George Stanich, head coach John Wooden. Middle row: trainer Ducky Drake, Guy Buccola, Don Seidel, Wayne Boulding, Chuck Clustka, Eldon Bennett, Ron Pearson, assistant coach Ed Powell. Bottom row: Eddie Sheldrake, student team manager Bob Frear, Ernie Johnson.