John Wooden Remembered as Brilliant College Coach

In the history of college basketball, no coach or school has come close to John Wooden’s 10 NCAA championships.

Unassuming throughout his Hall of Fame years as a player and coach, Wooden’s life was just as awe-inspiring as his records.

“We’ve lost a giant in all of sport with the passing of Coach Wooden,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who himself has won four national championships. “Quite likely, his accomplishments as a college basketball coach will never be matched. Neither will the impact he had on his players or the greater basketball community. Many have called Coach Wooden the ‘gold standard’ of coaches. I believe he was the ‘gold standard’ of people and carried himself with uncommon grace, dignity and humility.”

Wooden died Friday night at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized since May 26. He was 99.

Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim said that, when he thinks of a basketball coach, “the only one I ever thought of was Coach Wooden.”

“He had a great life and helped so many coaches until well in his 90s. Every time I talked to him he would give me some words of advice. He’s the best of all time,” Boeheim said. “There will never be another like him, and you can’t say that about too many people. … I can’t tell you what he’s done for the game of basketball, and it’s not just the wins. It’s the attitude and the way he carried himself. I just can’t say enough about him.”

Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, too, spoke more of the man than the coach.

“My reaction is sadness, yet at this point we have to celebrate maybe the most important guy in the history of the game,” Calhoun said. “There has been no greater influence on college basketball, not just about the game but the team. He’s the greatest coach in college basketball, if not all basketball, from the standpoint of all of us trying to emulate what he’s done. He gave so much to basketball and education. In my opinion, if he’s not as important as Dr. Naismith, he’s right next to him.”

The news of Wooden’s death did not reach Dodger Stadium until after Friday night’s game against Atlanta had started so there was no pregame moment of silence. However, Dodgers Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully spoke directly to the crowd after the sixth inning by way of a recorded message on the Diamond Vision, and the 42,459 in attendance gave Wooden a posthumous standing ovation.

Kelly Inouye-Perez, UCLA’s softball coach, met Wooden when she was a player there in the 1980s, and she still has the recording of the message he left her when she was selected to coach the Bruins. 

“I think, if anything, we are going to remember all what he has done for the game and will forever carry on his words, his wisdom, all of those things,” Inouye-Perez said at the Women’s College World Series. “We get to say that we’re a part of his UCLA family, which is really cool.”

“I’m just fortunate to say that I got to meet him and be a part of his world and be able to say that he was part of the softball world,” Inouye-Perez said.