Coming to UCLA, 1948
Credit an interfering northern winter snow storm in 1948 that allowed UCLA Athletic Director Wilbur Johns to hire 37-year-old John Robert Wooden as the new men's basketball head coach at UCLA.
For the previous nine years (1939-48) Johns had been the Bruin basketball coach. In 1947 he was named UCLA's athletic director, succeeding William H. Spaulding, and decided at the conclusion of the 1947-48 basketball season that he would concentrate solely as UCLA Athletics top administrator.
It was Saturday evening, April 17, 1948, in Terre Haute, IN when Coach Wooden was waiting for Johns' 7 p.m. telephone call to offer him the Bruin basketball coaching position. But he was also waiting for a 6 p.m. ring from another school that was his No. 1 choice, the University of Minnesota. The Golden Gopher job would allow Coach Wooden to stay close to his Midwestern roots and return to the Big Ten. However, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul that night were shut down by a major winter storm, telephone service was knocked out and Coach Wooden did not receive his 6 p.m. call.
When UCLA telephoned at 7 p.m. to offer him the Bruin job, he accepted, assuming the University of Minnesota was not going to offer its coaching position. Coach Wooden, just a few moments after accepting the UCLA job, was greatly surprised when Minnesota's call came through, explained the delay in phoning and offered him the Golden Gopher job.
Coach Wooden had to turn down the Minnesota offer and began what would become a legendary 27-year career at UCLA.
As the 1948-49 UCLA season approached, Bruin fans were asking, "Who is John Wooden?"
Growing Up In Indiana
Coach Wooden had firmly established himself as a basketball prodigy from the State of Indiana. He was born Oct. 14, 1910 in Hall, IN to Joshua Hugh and Roxie Anna Wooden. He had two sisters who died at very young ages and was raised on a farm with his three brothers -Maurice, Daniel and Billy. Joshua Hugh's wisdom and philosophy would shape Coach Wooden's life from the time he was a young child to his death.
Two documents from his father would forever influence Coach Wooden's life.
Dad's Seven Point Creed
1. Be true to yourself.
2. Help others.
3. Make each day your masterpiece.
4. Drink deeply from good books, including the Good Book.
5. Make friendship a fine art.
6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
7. Pray for guidance, count and give thanks for your blessings each day.
His Two Sets Of Threes
1. Never lie.
2. Never cheat.
3. Never steal.
1. Don't whine
2. Don't complain
3. Don't make excuses
Along with his father, Coach Wooden during his maturing years would be influenced by several coaches and mentors, including - Earl Warriner, his elementary principal and coach at Centerton, IN Grade School; Glenn Curtis, his basketball coach at Martinsville, IN HS; and Ward "Piggy" Lambert, his basketball coach at Purdue University.
As a prepster at Martinsville HS under Coach Curtis, Wooden was a three-time All-State performer, leading Martinsville to the 1927 State Championship and runner-up finishes in 1926 and 1928. It was in high school where Wooden would meet his life-long friend, comrade and wife-to-be, Nellie Riley.
His next stop was Purdue University, where under Coach Lambert he earned All-America honors at guard three consecutive years (1930-32) and led the Boilermakers to two Big Ten titles. As a senior in 1932, Wooden led the Big Ten in scoring, guided Purdue to the National Championship and was named the College Basketball Player of the Year. He was awarded the Big Ten Conference Medal for Outstanding Merit and Proficiency in Scholarship and Athletics, an honor he was most proud of throughout his life. Wooden's nickname in college was "India Rubber Man," for his ability to immediately bounce back off the court after diving for a loose ball or getting knocked down.
High School Coach
Following his graduation from Purdue, Wooden and Nell were married on Aug. 8, 1932. He became a high school English teacher, athletic director and coach of many sports, including basketball.
First there was a two-year stop at Dayton, KY HS, where in 1932-33, his initial year as a high school basketball coach, Wooden would record his first and only losing season in a 40-year coaching career.
In 1934, the Wooden's, along with daughter Nancy Ann Wooden, would move back to their home state of Indiana, accepting the athletic directorship and multiple head coaching positions at South Bend, IN Central HS.
It was also in 1934 that Coach Wooden began working on his world-renown "Pyramid of Success" - "Success is piece of mind which is a direct result in self-satisfaction knowing you did your best, to become the best, that you are capable of becoming."
His years at South Bend, IN brought the arrival of son James Hugh, several regional and sectional basketball titles and the beginning of WWII. From 1943-46, Coach Wooden was a lieutenant in the U. S. Navy. His impressive 11-year high school coaching record was 218-42.
Indiana State Head Coach
Returning home from the war, Coach Wooden accepted the head basketball coaching position at Indiana State Teachers College in Terre Haute. He succeeded his high school basketball coach Glenn Curtis, who had become a successful college coach at Indiana State but moved on to the professional ranks.
Coach Wooden was the head basketball coach at Indiana State for two seasons (1946-47/1947-48). In 1947, the Sycamores won their conference and were invited to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (NAIB) Playoffs in Kansas City, MO. But the NAIB did not allow African-Americans to play in the tournament. Clarence Walker was a Black player on Coach Wooden's Indiana State club. When the NAIB said that Walker could not participate in the tournament, Coach Wooden declined the invitation.
The following season, with a 27-7 record and up-beat style of play, the Sycamores, with Walker on the roster, were again invited to the NAIB Tournament. Again, Coach Wooden declined the offer. But the NAIB made certain concessions allowing Walker to play, and with approval from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Walker's parents, Clarence Walker became the first black player to participate in a national college basketball tournament. Indiana State lost in the NAIB Tournament final to Louisville, 92-70.
A month later, Coach Wooden accepted the head men's basketball coaching position at UCLA and moved his family to Los Angeles to begin a heralded coaching career as a Bruin. He would bring with him his completed "Pyramid of Success," which he started compiling 15 years earlier.
Coach Wooden inherited a UCLA program that the year before (1947-48) had posted a 12-13 overall record. Since 1940, the Bruins had managed only one overall winning season.
In his first season (1948-49) as the Bruin men's basketball head coach, John Wooden directed his UCLA squad, picked to finish last in the Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) Southern Division, to a 22-7 overall record and first-place finish in the Southern Division with a 10-2 mark. Led by All-Conference players Alan Sawyer and George Stanich, along with captain Ron Pearson, UCLA achieved what was then the most wins in school history.
The Bruins would do even better in Coach Wooden's second season, with a 24-7 overall mark, and the school's first-ever PCC Championship and NCAA Tournament bid. Stanich, who won a bronze medal in the high jump at the 1948 London Olympics, became Coach Wooden's first UCLA All-American.
Following the 1949-50 campaign, Purdue contacted Coach Wooden about returning to W. Lafayette, IN to become the Boilermakers' head coach. Knowing that Coach Wooden would certainly be interested in returning to his alma mater with his wife and two children, the Bruin administration reminded him that he had asked for a three-year agreement prior to coming to UCLA in 1948. Coach Wooden of course followed the terms of his Bruin contract and returned for UCLA's 1950-51 campaign, thinking it could be his last at UCLA, because he was still interested in returning to the Midwest. What he did not realize at the time was that he would remain as the Bruin head coach for another quarter of a century.
In the following decade, Coach Wooden would lead his Bruins to three more 20-win seasons (1954-55, 21-5; 1955-56, 22-6; 1956-57, 22-4), two PCC titles (1952; 1956, UCLA's first-ever 16-0 unbeaten league record) and two NCAA Tournament bids (1952/1956).
Earning All-America honors for the Bruins were guard Don Johnson (1952), forward John Moore (1955), guard Don Bragg (1955), center Willie Naulls (1956) and guard Walt Torrence (1959).
Moore and Bragg were the school's first four-year starters (1952-55), and Naulls at the time would become the school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder.
Jerry Norman was a senior all-conference forward in 1952 who would later become Coach Wooden's lead recruiting assistant coach on four UCLA NCAA Championship teams (1964, 1965, 1967, 1968).
All-conference Bruins included guard/forward Eddie Sheldrake (1951), who played on Coach Wooden's first three Bruin squads; guard Ron Livingston (1954); and guard Morris Taft (1956).
Now in the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU) conference, UCLA opened the decade (1960-61) with an 18-8 overall record and second place conference finish.
The following season (1961-62), would be a season of `firsts' for Coach Wooden's Bruins. It was school's first AAWU conference crown (10-2), first advancement out of NCAA Regional play and first-ever trip to the NCAA Final Four.
Behind starters Walt Hazzard, John Green, Fred Slaughter, Gary Cunningham and Pete Blackman, the Bruins were narrowly defeated at the 1962 NCAA Final Four by defending national champion Cincinnati, 72-70, in an semifinal contest and Wake Forest, 82-80, in the third-place game.
Helping to lead the Bruins to an 18-11 overall record, Cunningham in later years would become a UCLA varsity assistant coach on six Coach Wooden UCLA NCAA Championship teams (1969-73, 1975).
The following season (1962-63), led by junior All-American guard Hazzard, UCLA was 20-9 overall, again won the AAWU league championship (8-5) but was defeated by San Francisco 76-75 in the second round of NCAA Tournament play.
However, with all five starters returning for the 1963-64 season - Hazzard and Gail Goodrich, Slaughter, Jack Hirsch and Keith Erickson - the Bruins were destined to begin their run of a record 10 NCAA Championships under the teaching and guidance of John Robert Wooden.
Two years later, before the start of the 1965-66 season, Coach Wooden would also see his dream come true, the opening of Pauley Pavilion, UCLA's new and beautiful on-campus arena.
(1) Facts about John Wooden's life were obtained from `My Personal Best,' written by John Wooden, with Steve Jamison.