College basketball has lost a great coach and true gentlemen in the death of legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. Mr. Wooden died Friday. He was 99.
Growing up, I was a big fan of the UCLA Bruins' men's basketball program, which featured Bill Walton, the red-haired player who became an NBA star.
During his years at UCLA, coach Wooden guided the Bruins to 10 national titles -- a feat that hasn't been matched since.
Coach Wooden's demeanor with his players was terrific. He said what he needed to say and left the rest to his players. He never talked down to any of them. He taught them much about the game of basketball, as well as about the game of life.
He taught others a lot about those two games, too.
I happened to be one of those pupils. And I'm sure there were many others just like me.
I learned by watching and listening to his interviews following big basketball games shown on television while a teenager being reared in Thomson.
By the way, it was a black and white television set.
I also read a couple of books that he wrote during his time as a basketball coach at UCLA.
He truly was a remarkable man -- most talented, too.
Coach Wooden will long be remembered as the dean of college of basketball. He always dressed up for games wearing suits and ties -- looking more the part of a well-dressed executive than a basketball coach. It all changed as soon as players jumped to see who would control the basketball first during a game, though. Easily, one could tell right away that coach Wooden was a basketball coach through and through.
He was the kind of person who knew how to pump his team up for those big television games. Such was especially true when the UCLA Bruins played for a national championship. Even when his teams got down by a few points, I always knew that coach Wooden would find a way for his players to come back.
He was a man and a coach who possessed those special skills. He was able to get inside his players' heads. He seemed to have that keen ability, which simply added to him being a great coach.
Coach Wooden also was a father-type figure to many of his players. He was a man who deeply cared about his players -- all of them -- not just a select few.
Coach Wooden was a coaches' coach. He worked one-on-one with his players and because he did, he made them much better as basketball players and perhaps even more importantly, better men.
Thanks, coach Wooden, for all the great memories and words of encouragement to all of us who admired and loved you!