Wooden's Impact On Washington Coach Romar
- Video: Coaches Comment On Wooden
by Michelle Smith
Lorenzo Romar was a senior in high school the first time he met legendary coach John Wooden.
Romar was a kid who grew up in Compton, who followed UCLA basketball and regularly made the trek to Westwood on the weekends to play open gym pick-up games in Pauley Pavilion, hoping to get a glimpse of the Bruins coach.
"That never happened," Romar said with a chuckle.
But his opportunity to talk to Wooden came in the most unexpected way.
Romar was at Los Angeles International Airport, arriving after the final recruiting trip of his high school career to the University of Washington.
"The whole flight back I was thinking about what I should do," Romar said.
He was headed to baggage claim when he saw "a little man from the back."
Romar recognized him immediately as Coach Wooden. And he was not going to miss his opportunity.
"It was a straight-up selfish motive on my part. I might not ever see him again, and I was going to say hello," Romar said. "I didn't even think that he might not want to be bothered. He was walking alone. If I wouldn't have needed his advice, I would have found another reason to ask him something."
But Romar did want Wooden's advice.
"I caught up to him and I said, 'You don't know me, my name is Lorenzo Romar and I have to ask you a question.'"
Romar laid it out for the coach, the schools that were recruiting him, the choice he had to make.
"And he said, 'If you have the opportunity to play for [then Huskies coach] Marv Harshman, you can't pass it up,'" Romar said.
Romar indeed ended up at the University of Washington for a stellar playing career.
The next time he had a chance to meet Wooden, Romar was an assistant coach at UCLA under head coach Jim Harrick.
Harrick took his staff to Wooden's condominium. They all sat and talked for three hours. Romar reminded Wooden of their first meeting and Coach just chuckled.
It turned out that would be only the first of many days that Romar and Wooden would talk about basketball and about life.
"He would come up to UCLA camps, and the staff would have breakfast with him on his birthday," Romar said.
Romar said he read every book that had ever been written about Wooden, called him when he needed advice about dealing with a player.
"He always put things in perspective for me," Romar said. "I remember that we had one player who was very talented, but didn't play as hard as we would like him to and I called to ask him 'How do you change a guy like that?' And he told me, 'Would you rather have him on your team or not?' I said we'd rather have him and that was that."
When Romar became the head coach at Pepperdine, he invited Wooden to come to one of his practices in Malibu and critique it.
"He sat at half court and watched the entire practice and afterward, he had nothing bad to say," Romar said. "We made so many mistakes that day. I think there was more pressure on me than on the players."
Romar said Coach Wooden's humility was the thing that resonated with him more than anything else.
"He always had an encouraging word. You would ask him 'What do you think?' and he would tell you, 'You don't need my help,'" Romar said. "If you tied him down and forced him, he would always start by saying 'In my opinion….and that doesn't mean it's right…'."
Romar said he will always cherish the friendship he developed with Wooden.
"It was unbelievable that I could call him and he would answer the phone," Romar said. "There was so much more substance to him than just winning championships. The things he said always hit home for me."
Including this piece of sage advice that Romar still remembers.
"He said that it was amazing how much players improved with praise," Romar said. "If you reprimand a player, you always follow it with praise. You must be prepared to give players a pat on the back. And sometimes a little bit lower."