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Remembering John Wooden... By Coach Dan Peterson

Great thoughts from Italian coaching sensation Dan Peterson on John Wooden... A great man...

The passing of legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden, on Friday, had an impact on me. No, I did not know him in the first person. I shook hands with him once at a clinic up on the Pocono Mountains, in 1969. He was a speaker there. Of course, I must have seen him at a dozen different clinics over the years. Let's put it this way: When he was in the East or the Midwest, I went to hear him talk. I knew he'd give the same basic introduction every time but, with each successive re-telling of that intro, I became more and more convinced that his way was the right way. And, I heard him speak before he ever won the first of his record 10 NCAA titles.

His mantra was: conditioning, fundamentals, teamwork. Like every other smart-ass young coach, I'd be thinking, "Yeah, yeah. We know this, Coach. You say it every time. Talk to us about the 2-2-1 full-court zone press or the 1-2-2 full-court zone press. That's why we're all here." But, know what? Near the end of my career, those three things were all I thought about. He was not only right, he was 100% right. The clinic I put on in Padua last week? I did the best John Wooden impression ever: "Hey, Coaches, three things: physical conditioning, fundamentals and teamwork." And I talked about John Wooden.

After Wooden's lesson in Pennsylvania in 1969, I was in the car with him. He was up front, riding shotgun, and I was in back, at the left window. I think it was Hal Wissel that asked him: "Coach, Lew Alcindor (today known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) just graduated. What are you going to do now?" Me? If I'd had a guy like that graduate, I'd be crying into the wee hours of the morning! John Wooden? He said, "I'm a positive coach." He was coming off three consecutive NCAA titles, the first coach ever to win three straight. He went on to win four more in a row, for a record seven consecutive NCAA titles. That really impacted on me: Be positive.

John Wooden was one of a few coaches that I saw that made the difference. That is, I knew their team was going to win the game just because they were the coaches. Pete Newell was one. Adolph Rupp was another. These coaches won national titles (Wooden included) in years when they did not have the best talent. Adolph Rupp won in 1958 with the "Fiddlin' Five." Pete Newell won in 1959 with what one coach described as "... perhaps no better than 100 other teams." And John Wooden won with a lineup of no one over 6'5" tall in 1964 and 1965 and with Bill Walton and no other player than went to the NBA in 1973. That's coaching.

I used the UCLA 2-3 set on offense vs. Man-to-Man defenses. Actually I got it watching Ray Meyer at DePaul, Red Auerbach with the Boston Celtics, and Adolph Rupp at Kentucky. I loved the way you opened it up under the basket, could strike both sides of the floor, could keep defensive and rebounding balance. Every time I saw Wooden's team play and every time I saw him at a clinic, I came away with a lesson I could use. Who of us did not use his 11-Man Drill? He set records that will never be broken, not if they play NCAA Basketball for another 10,000 years. He's gone but what he did will stand forever.


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