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John Wooden: Lessons for basketball and life

John Wooden was UCLA's legendary basketball coach who took some of the most challenging egos in the country and fit them into a championship mold of his own making.

Basketball legend John Wooden won 10 NCAA basketball championships at UCLA, coaching such players as Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Twenty-four of his players made All-American.

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Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was an every-day Bible reader from Indiana who took some of the most challenging egos in the country and fit them into a championship mold of his own making. He did farm chores as a boy when they began before the sun came up and took hours to complete.

Gothic to the core, as rustic as a pitchfork, and with a haircut that always had a bunkhouse-bowl look to it, Wooden, who died Friday in Los Angeles, never looked the part of the spoiled, well-oiled cartel. He loved the concept of five players on court riding a bicycle with the same precision as the Flying Wallendas and hated the importance others placed on statistics.

Yet high up in every obituary you’ll read about the Wizard of Westwood is the fact that he won 10 NCAA basketball championships at UCLA. His Bruins also put together an 88-game winning streak between Jan. 30, 1971, and Jan. 17, 1974. Twenty-four of his players – and not just Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) and Bill Walton – made All-American.

When all-conference center Walton showed up for practice one day with a full beard and insisted that as much facial hair as he wanted was his right, Wooden didn’t argue. All John said was: “I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them. Bill, we’re all going to miss you!”

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