Saturday, June 5, 2010

You Can't Sum The Wizard Up With Stats

John Wooden led the UCLA Bruins basketball team to 10 NCAA championships, including an unmatched streak of seven in a row from 1967 to 1973. He also won 620 games including a mind-boggling 88 straight games in a row.

Yet to define the Wizard of Westwood by those numbers would be insulting.

Wooden was a rare coach who is nearly extinct in today's big business, media glitz sports atmosphere. Wooden actually taught his players about life. He cared. He didn't pretend to care in front of the media. He didn't go through the motions to make it seemed like he wanted to help these young kids. His calling was to teach. The wins were an off-shoot of that.

You can tell this because when Wooden died this weekend, his ex-players didn't sum him up with the games they won, or the trophies. They talked about what they learned about life under Wooden. The winning helped, of course, but don't forget that Wooden didn't win a championship for the first 16 years he was at UCLA.

16 years? Can you imagine a coach staying at a school for 16 years without winning a title these days?

Once the winning started, it was like an avalanche. Wooden had his pick of top players around the nation. Yet you didn't hear of off-the-field problems for these superstar recruits. Sure, the media eye wasn't as focused on sports at the time, but even when they graduated college, you didn't see Wooden students fall apart.

Listen to the interviews of former UCLA, how they speak of Wooden, how the carry themselves during the interview. Now imagine what that would be like for John Calipari, or Rick Pitino to be remembered. It's like comparing a fast-food burger to Filet Mignon- both get the job done, but you only remember one years down the road.

For those of us who didn't know him, we look at Wooden's wins in amazement. For those who did know him, what they remember is anything but the stats.

Where have all the Wizards gone?

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