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Tuesday, November 13, 2001
Updated: November 27, 3:34 PM ET

John Wooden


Page 2

John Wooden is the greatest coach ever -- in any sport, not just college basketball. Page 2 will not argue about this.

John Wooden
John Wooden led UCLA to a record 10 NCAA championships.
The Wizard of Westwood won 10 NCAA titles at UCLA during his tenure there from 1948-75. The former All-American from Purdue is also a member of the Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a player. Now 91, he is still a keen observer of the game -- and more than sharp enough to handle 10 Burning Questions from Page 2.

1. Page 2: We've seen how hard it has been for Larry Brown and Allen Iverson to get along. How did you handle coaching players, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, who shared your approach to the game but whose lifestyles and moral choices were different than yours?
Wooden: Well, I never tried to determine the religion or the politics of an individual. I wanted to always stay open-minded -- and I wanted them to have something in which they believed. The two players you mentioned were extremely unselfish individuals, such team players, that there was never any problem.

1a. Do you believe athletes have a responsibility to get involved in social issues?
Wooden: To a certain degree. They have to not be afraid to let their own actual feelings be known, if they really believe in them. Back in the time that Walton was playing for me, he was anti-establishment, but he had every right to be. As long as you do not deny others of their rights, I think it's fine. If everybody agreed on everything, it would be a very dull, monotonous world.

John Wooden
Wooden went so far as to instruct his players on the proper ways to put on their socks and shoes.
2. If you were a young man going into coaching now, would you coach the way you always did, or would you want to -- or have to -- adjust your approach?
Wooden: You have to adjust as time goes by. I certainly know that I adjusted as time went by. But my basic philosophy of the game would not change at all. I never taught under the shot clock. I never taught under the 3-point goal. Those things would make me make changes in my style of play, but my basic philosophy would not change one bit.

2a. What kinds of adjustments did you have to make over the years?
Wooden: At one time, I required players to wear slacks and a sport coat while traveling. But then our university president at UCLA, and the professors, too, started wearing turtlenecks and jeans, so I changed my expectations. I only required that they be clean and neat. I never relaxed my feeling about beards or goatees, but I did relax a little bit about the hair. I never wanted it too long, but as time went by I let them wear it a little longer than I had before.

3. Is it true that you used to instruct your players on how to put on their shoes and socks before each game or practice?
Wooden: Absolutely. I picked that up when I was teaching in high school. We had a lot of blisters, and I found out that a lot of the players didn't smooth out all the wrinkles around their heels and around their little toes, places where the blisters are apt to occur. Then I found out that they didn't lace their shoes properly and oftentimes they wore shoes that were a size too large.

Michael Jordan
You wouldn't see any of this if Wooden could rewrite the rules for basketball.
With all the quick-stop turning, changes of direction, changes of pace on a hard floor you have in basketball, this would cause blisters. So, I thought it was very important that I'd check their shoe size and how they put their socks on. I hoped they would take a few extra seconds to smooth out the wrinkles around the heel and the toes and hold the sock up while they put their shoe on. I think it was important. And I know from the time I started in high school that we greatly reduced the number of blisters that we'd have, so I continued that throughout my coaching. I know a number of players laughed about it. They probably still laugh about it now. But I stuck to it. I think to some degree it helped team unity. I believed in that and I insisted on it.

3a. What other ways did you encourage team unity?
Wooden: I never permitted a player to criticize a teammate. If I saw a player criticizing a teammate I would, you know, uh, talk to him! I wouldn't permit that.

I also insisted that a player never score without acknowledging somebody else.

I tried to conduct myself in such a way that I wanted my players to act. I think our youngsters, whether they be basketball players or our children at home, need models more than they need critics.

I wanted talking, but I never wanted any taunting. I see entirely too much of that today, and I think coaches can stop that if they wanted to. If I caught a player doing it, I certainly would not let it go unnoticed -- he'd hear from me.

Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski's coaching style and success at Duke have caught the Wizard's eye.
4. If you could institute rule changes in basketball, what would they be?
Wooden: I'd abolish the dunk and move the 3-point line back.

5. You've often described yourself as a teacher. What do you most enjoy about teaching?
Wooden: Watching youngsters improve. If I didn't see improvement in my youngsters from the beginning of the year to the end, I thought, I'm to blame, because I'm the teacher. When I had players that didn't improve to the degree I thought they should, I felt responsible and it bothered me.

Two players came as close to realizing their full potential as any two I ever had. One was Conrad Burke (1956-1958) and the other was Doug McIntosh (1964-1966). As freshmen, I didn't think either one of them would play a minute for us on the varsity. The very next year Doug McIntosh played about 30 minutes in the national championship game against Duke. He didn't have the physical ability that many had, but he became a starter the next year. Conrad Burke was a starter for two years -- at one time I thought he would never play any meaningful minutes for us. Neither of them were very good jumpers, but they were good rebounders because they assumed every shot would be missed, and they got their hands up and tried to get the ball, instead of assuming somebody else was going to get it. They weren't good shooters, but they had high shooting percentages, because they didn't take bad shots.

5a. What is the key to being a good teacher?
Wooden: Patience. No two cases are identical, but the teacher must always have patience. And you have to listen to those under your supervision. I think anyone in a position of supervision, if they're not listening to those under them, they're not going to get good results. The supervisor must make sure that all of those under his supervision understand they're working with him, not for him. I think if you work for someone, you punch the clock in and out and that's it. If you're working with someone, you want to do more than that.

6. Who are the coaches you most admire or respect?
Phil Jackson
Wooden read up on Zen philosophy when he learned Phil Jackson was using it.
Wooden: I like the team play in recent years of Roy Williams' teams at Kansas. I think Mike Montgomery at Stanford is doing an outstanding job and, of course, I highly respect Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. Now they're getting very bright youngsters and good players, and no one wins without outstanding talent, but not everyone wins with it, either.

There are many, many others, of course. I've often said some of the greatest teaching jobs are being done by coaches that don't have very outstanding records, because they're not located in a situation where they have an opportunity to have an outstanding record, and yet they may be coming closer to getting the maximum potential out of what they have than somebody who is winning championships.

7. Do you follow Phil Jackson's coaching?
Wooden: As a matter of fact, some years ago, when he was with the Bulls, when I read that he was interested in Zen philosophy, I got some books on Zen philosophy, just because I read he had used that a lot.

John Wooden
I think he does a great job with the non-stars on his teams. I think his greatest job with the Lakers, for example, was getting the supporting cast to accept the fact that they were not as important as Kobe and Shaquille -- and yet still having them want to contribute.

8. If you could give a dinner party and invite any three guests from throughout history, who would you invite?
Wooden: Let's see, one would be Christ, one would be Mother Teresa and one would be Abraham Lincoln. Yes, I would like those three.

9. Do you ever wish you were still coaching?
Wooden: I miss teaching. I don't miss the games. I don't miss the tournament. I miss the daily practices.

10. Do you ever dribble or shoot a ball any more?
Wooden: No, no, no. And I don't miss it. I just wish my knees were better.

John Wooden's new book with Andrew Hill, "Be Quick -- But Don't Hurry," was released last month by Simon & Schuster.