John Wooden's Impact Still Strong

Nov. 22, 2000

INDIANAPOLIS - Steve Lavin still treasures the note pads from his daysas an assistant coach at UCLA.

The words paint a picture of how basketball, success and life can coexist intoday's pressure-packed sports world.

But what Lavin cherishes most is the authority from whom they came - formerUCLA coach John Wooden.

'It's not just basketball stuff, it's practicality stuff,' says Lavin, thecurrent UCLA coach. 'I've got all my notes from the first five years I washere as an assistant. He's always been a great ally and friend and a greatsource of wisdom.'

An infinite wisdom that supersedes basketball, even now, 26 years sinceWooden last coached.

His fabled Pyramid of Success has stood the test of time, as have hisunprecedented achievements - an .806 winning percentage, 19 conferencechampionships, 10 national championships, seven straight national titles andfour unbeaten seasons. He has two tournaments named after him - the WoodenClassic in Anaheim, Calif., and the Wooden Tradition, which begins Saturday inIndianapolis.

But what those, like Lavin, appreciate most about Wooden is his uniqueinsight.

'When I became the interim coach, I think it was that evening, he told methe most important thing would be my ability to stay in the moment,' Lavinsays. '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 mytendency as an interim coach would be to look backward or look forward.'

Lavin is hardly the only one around college basketball who attributes theirsuccess to Wooden.

At Purdue, where Wooden starred as a player, coach Gene Keady said he stillemploys many of the elements he learned from watching Wooden and that thosephilosophies remain every bit as important today as they did in Wooden's day.

'The things he taught, just from an organization standpoint, are stillused,' says Keady, whose Boilermakers face No. 1 Arizona in the second gameSaturday. 'The practice schedule was huge to me. I've used that in highschool, in junior college, it's really helped me develop my players.'

And in Indiana, where basketball is king, Wooden's name has becomesynonymous with greatness.

At the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle, there's an entiresection dedicated to Wooden, including a tape of him giving the infamousPyramid 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 wasthe Big Ten's top student-athlete in 1932 - the same year he led theBoilermakers 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 afather, as a husband, as a teacher, as a Christian, as a sportsman. It's allwrapped 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 realsecrets. 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 wouldhave happened.'

Those who know Wooden disagree.

'He's someone who, obviously, evolved as he went along and he mastered hisvocation or field,' Lavin says. 'He's teaching basketball, but I think hewould have been a master teacher in any subject. His curriculum just happenedto be basketball.'

What Wooden taught wasn't complex.

In 29 years of college coaching, Wooden said he used the same offense forall but five seasons - two with Lew Alcindor, now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, andthree with Bill Walton.

His defensive philosophy remained the same, too - using three defenders in aman-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 whathe was going to do but he'd just out-technique you because it was done withperfect 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 formerEnglish teacher. 'I tried to teach that you should never try to be better thansomeone else, that you should always keep learning from others and try to bethe best that you can be.'

Wooden certainly achieved that much as a player, as a high-school coach inKentucky and South Bend, Ind., as a coach at Indiana State at UCLA, and evennow as coaches, such as Lavin, continue taking notes from their model mentor.

'The universal core values are the basic building blocks in his Pyramid ofSuccess,' 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, notjust in basketball but for all athletics and we all can learn from that.'

AP Sports Writer

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