Last Friday was a day of inevitability. John Wooden, legendary basketball coach, passed away a few months short of a century of life. The media has been filled with stories, statistics and reminiscences of this extraordinary man. In terms of college basketball, which accomplishment would be considered the most significant? 10 NCAA championships for the University of California at Los Angeles? His induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach? UCLA winning 88 straight games? How about coaching the only team in history with back-to-back undefeated seasons with seven straight In the NCAA championship game?
As a young man in Southern California, I became a UCLA basketball fan – just in time for Coach Wooden to lead the Bruins to their first national championship in 1963-64 (this in his 15th year at UCLA). A few years and several NCAA titles later, I was a graduate student studying geography at the University of California at Los Angeles. Being on the campus gave me the chance to see some of the basketball players. Even at a university with 25,000 students guys like Swen Nater, Keith (Jamaal) Wilkes, and Bill Walton were easy to spot.
I started going for breakfast with a few of my fellow grad students to the UCLA student union. One day, we were seated when up to our table came Coach John Wooden. “Would you fellows mind if I joined you?” he asked. He sat down with us, introduced himself and proceeded to ask each of us who we were and what we were studying at UCLA. We chatted for a half hour or so, and then he excused himself. My friends and I could hardly believe it. This man, at the peak of his success as a coach, had taken the time to visit with us. He was genuinely interested in each one of us.
A few months later, John Wooden sat with a slightly different group of graduate students. Again, he went around the table gathering information about who these students were and why they were at UCLA. It was stunning when he looked at me and said, “Larry how is your research on conservation coming?” How could he have remembered that? Over my remaining time at UCLA, I had a couple of other breakfast meeting with the Coach. He knew me and every other student that he dined with.
I began to pay even more attention to this great man. He had transcended in my view from an athletic coach to a life coach. Ultimately, that is what Coach John Wooden was really, an amazing coach of life who happened to be the greatest basketball coach in history.
So my colleagues at Snead State, I encourage you to embrace this role as teachers, leaders and mentors. For the sake of our students, let’s become even better teachers of life, not just content. Please think about Coach Wooden’s Seven Point Creed, a life plan given to him by his father Joshua upon his graduation from grammar school:
1. Be true to yourself.
2. Make each day your masterpiece.
3. Help others.
4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
5. Make friendship a fine art.
6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.
Have a masterful day,
Chief Academic Officer
Snead State Community College