John Wooden On College Basketball's Lost Beauty

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John Wooden, in a 2004 photo, holds the record for most NCAA men's basketball championships.

John Wooden, in a 2004 photo, holds the record for most NCAA men's basketball championships. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images hide caption

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From The Interview

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Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and John Wooden i

Lew Alcindor of UCLA, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, celebrates the Bruins' NCAA championship win over Purdue with coach John Wooden on March 22, 1969. Bettmann/Corbis hide caption

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Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and John Wooden

Lew Alcindor of UCLA, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, celebrates the Bruins' NCAA championship win over Purdue with coach John Wooden on March 22, 1969.

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If you tune in to the Final Four this weekend, you can be sure that John Wooden is watching, too. The great college basketball coach is pulling for his old team, UCLA, though he's not in love with the way basketball is played these days.

"I think they're permitting the game to become a little too physical today," the 96-year-old coaching legend tells Steve Inskeep. "I've been watching the games in the tournament. There's not a game when you don't see them on the floor a good part of the time. There's been a lot of blood here and there. I think permitting the game to become too physical takes away a little bit of the beauty."

In the 1960s and '70s, Wooden's Bruins won 10 national championships during a 12-year span.

No other team has come close to that record. So people still listen when he talks about how you coach.

Wooden says he had three basic rules for his players: Be on time for practice or class, no profanity, and never criticize another player.

Of the latter, he says, "That's the coach's job, not the player's. You do not criticize a teammate. I'll take care of that. I used to tell them, 'I'm paid to do that. That's my job and it's not yours.'"

Regarding UCLA's NCAA championship streak, Wooden disagrees with the notion that it's easier to get to the top than it is to stay there.

"I say it's easier to stay there because of things you learn along the way and because of the better talent that will come to you just because of the fact you are winning."

He also disagrees with people who think he'd rather be the underdog.

"Would you rather fight somebody that's whipped you twice, or someone that you'd whipped twice? There's no question in my mind, I'll take the one that I've whipped twice. I don't want to take another beating."

Wooden says he didn't give motivational speeches as his teams went into big games.

"No, I didn't believe in that — nothing fiery," he says. "I seldom was ever off my seat on the bench during the game. I'd tell them, 'Don't look over at me. I prepared you during the week. Now, do your job.'

"Bill Walton used to say while we were in the dressing room before we'd go in to play a game, whether it was the national championship or a regular season game, they'd have to send a manager out to get a program to find out who they're playing because I never mentioned the other teams.

"My concentration was always on developing ourselves — to work to the best of our ability. I think you have to be what you are. Don't try to be somebody else. You have to be yourself at all times."

Wooden's Career

  • Compiled an 885-203 (.813) record during a 40-year coaching career.
  • Record 10 NCAA men's basketball championships, including seven consecutive (1967-73) at UCLA.
  • 38 consecutive NCAA tournament victories (1964-74).
  • NCAA consecutive winning-streak record of 88 games over four seasons (1971-74).
  • During 27 years at UCLA, his record was 620-147; including four perfect 30-0 seasons.
  • NCAA College Basketball Coach of the Year (1964, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973).
  • Wooden is the first person to be inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and coach.
  • Wooden, who began at UCLA in 1948, retired in 1975.

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