Nov. 22, 2000
INDIANAPOLIS - Steve Lavin still treasures the note pads from his days as an assistant coach at UCLA.
The words paint a picture of how basketball, success and life can coexist in today's pressure-packed sports world.
But what Lavin cherishes most is the authority from whom they came - former UCLA coach John Wooden.
"It's not just basketball stuff, it's practicality stuff," says Lavin, the current UCLA coach. "I've got all my notes from the first five years I was here as an assistant. He's always been a great ally and friend and a great source of wisdom."
An infinite wisdom that supersedes basketball, even now, 26 years since Wooden last coached.
His fabled Pyramid of Success has stood the test of time, as have his unprecedented achievements - an .806 winning percentage, 19 conference championships, 10 national championships, seven straight national titles and four unbeaten seasons. He has two tournaments named after him - the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, Calif., and the Wooden Tradition, which begins Saturday in Indianapolis.
But what those, like Lavin, appreciate most about Wooden is his unique insight.
"When I became the interim coach, I think it was that evening, he told me the most important thing would be my ability to stay in the moment," Lavin says. "He said you can't have one foot in yesterday or one foot in tomorrow, you have to keep both feet in today and that's how you get to tomorrow.
"That was probably as critical to my success as anything because he knew my tendency as an interim coach would be to look backward or look forward."
Lavin is hardly the only one around college basketball who attributes their success to Wooden.
At Purdue, where Wooden starred as a player, coach Gene Keady said he still employs many of the elements he learned from watching Wooden and that those philosophies remain every bit as important today as they did in Wooden's day.
"The things he taught, just from an organization standpoint, are still used," says Keady, whose Boilermakers face No. 1 Arizona in the second game Saturday. "The practice schedule was huge to me. I've used that in high school, in junior college, it's really helped me develop my players."
And in Indiana, where basketball is king, Wooden's name has become synonymous with greatness.
At the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle, there's an entire section dedicated to Wooden, including a tape of him giving the infamous Pyramid of Success speech.
He won a state basketball championship at Martinsville (Ind.) High School, was a state runner-up twice, was a three-time All-American at Purdue and was the Big Ten's top student-athlete in 1932 - the same year he led the Boilermakers to a national championship.
Nobody has forgotten.
"I would say he is the ultimate," executive director Roger Dickinson says. "Think of him not only in terms of a basketball player or coach, but as a father, as a husband, as a teacher, as a Christian, as a sportsman. It's all wrapped up in one package by the name of John Wooden."
But at age 90, Wooden still remains humbled by it all.
"I think many things you learn from others," he says. "There's no real secrets. I just developed certain things and I got the ideas from someone else.
"If I hadn't had so many fine players under my supervision this never would have happened."
Those who know Wooden disagree.
"He's someone who, obviously, evolved as he went along and he mastered his vocation or field," Lavin says. "He's teaching basketball, but I think he would have been a master teacher in any subject. His curriculum just happened to be basketball."
What Wooden taught wasn't complex.
In 29 years of college coaching, Wooden said he used the same offense for all but five seasons - two with Lew Alcindor, now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and three with Bill Walton.
His defensive philosophy remained the same, too - using three defenders in a man-to-man defense while leaving the other two in a zone.
Yet, few could beat it.
"He executed it so well," Keady says. "It was very simple, you knew what he was going to do but he'd just out-technique you because it was done with perfect precision."
Just the way he taught it - with repetition, with focus, without worry.
"The pinnacle (of the pyramid) is peace of mind," says Wooden, a former English teacher. "I tried to teach that you should never try to be better than someone else, that you should always keep learning from others and try to be the best that you can be."
Wooden certainly achieved that much as a player, as a high-school coach in Kentucky and South Bend, Ind., as a coach at Indiana State at UCLA, and even now as coaches, such as Lavin, continue taking notes from their model mentor.
"The universal core values are the basic building blocks in his Pyramid of Success," Lavin says. "I call them the ABCs to leading a successful life.
"I think he kind of created a model and a standard for all coaches, not just in basketball but for all athletics and we all can learn from that."
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer