Coach Wooden — A legend!

Published 10:51 pm Monday, March 20, 2023

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College basketball fans love this time of the year, the beginning of “March Madness”! This represents the top 68 men’s and top 68 women’s teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 playing in a single-elimination tournament; one loss and your team is out. The original men’s tournament began in 1939 with only 8 teams and expanded to its current 68 in 2011.

Coach John Wooden coached the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) to heights experts agree will never be surpassed.  During his tenure there from 1948-75, his teams won the NCAA men’s national basketball championship 10 times over a 12 year period and 7 in a row. His teams once won 88 games consecutively.

Wooden’s basketball skill in high school led to his All-State selection three times. He played college basketball at Purdue and was an All-American there three times, the first person to achieve that distinction. He stood 5’ 10” and graduated with a degree in English. In both high school and college, he was recognized for his accomplishments as a student as well as on the basketball court. After college, Wooden taught and coached high school basketball and baseball teams and also played as a professional.  During one 46 game stretch, he made 134 free throws in a row before missing.

America’s involvement in World War II beckoned, and he joined the Navy serving 1943-46 finally as a lieutenant. After the war he accepted the position as both basketball and baseball coach at Indiana State University from 1946-48 and earned a master’s degree in education. While there, he interviewed for the head coaching position at the University of Minnesota and also UCLA. He and his wife, being from the midwest, wanted the Minnesota job, but UCLA called first and he accepted. A short time later, Minnesota called but he had committed to UCLA and chose to honor that decision.

Why was he so successful? Former players and colleagues agree that even though he was much older than most coaches in that era, he possessed an aura that made people want to follow his advice. He once said “basketball is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live.”

He met his wife when they were freshmen in high school, married at age 21, and they remained together until her death of cancer at age 73 on March 21, 1985. He visited her crypt every month thereafter on the 21st of each month for 25 years until his death in 2010 at age 99. Upon returning home each month, he wrote her a sealed love letter and placed it on the pillow where she slept while they were together. His daughter would visit and occasionally place the accumulation of letters in a box close by.

In 2009, “The Sporting News” recognized Wooden as the Greatest Coach of All Time.” Enough said.

Robert N. “Bob” Holt, a Franklin native, is a retired professor of business management and real estate at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies degrees from Virginia Tech and was a member of the university’s Corps of Cadets. His email address is