Wooden it be great?

first_img Howland and Wooden chatted by phone the other day. Wooden offered his congratulations. They discussed the wins over Gonzaga and Memphis. Many times, they don’t even talk basketball. “He has such great perspective about basketball and life,” Howland said. “I’m sure he’s excited. This is his program. I think he feels good about the fact that UCLA is back in the Final Four. He has very good balance in his life. This is important. He’s excited about it but it’s not the all and the everything. But it sure is neat, especially for Wooden. Even though he uses a cane, he attends all of UCLA’s home games. He sits in the same seat, usually with family, and watches as players run up and down the “Nell and John Wooden Court,” which was renamed in 2003 after Wooden and his late wife. As part of a pre-game routine, Wooden signs autographs. He signs during halftime as well. Once the second half resumes, he checks out a box score from the first half. But he didn’t need any statistics to figure out why UCLA was playing so well at the end of the season. “I saw them improve as the season progressed,” Wooden said. “They’re very good defensively. They’ve gotten better at sharing the ball. They’ve become a stronger team the last couple of months.” UCLA is 31-6 and has won 11 consecutive games. The Bruins play LSU on Saturday in the semifinals and, if they win, will play either George Mason or Florida in the final. Wooden will watch on television with a good friend who lives in Encino. The Final Four is in Indianapolis, where Wooden is from. Coincidence? Maybe. He played at Martinsville High and Purdue. He even coached at South Bend Central High. But Wooden, who travels to Indiana once a year, won’t attend the games. After several days in San Diego, the travel would be too much. “When you get to be 95, (travel) doesn’t come as easily,” he said. UCLA sophomore Lorenzo Mata won’t be able to look in the stands and see Wooden but he’ll know he’s watching on television. “This means a lot to him,” Mata said. “He’s the one that pretty much made the basketball program here. Coach Wooden is a great coach and a great person. It would mean a lot if we could win a national championship in his hometown. That would be a really nice gift to give him.” Howland, who has become good friends with Wooden, would’ve loved for Wooden to be in Indiana. He understood Wooden’s decision, and not just because of the toll that traveling takes. “When he goes, he has a hard time saying no,” Howland said. “He’s mobbed like he’s who he is. It would be like the Beatles going to a rock concert of somebody else’s.” Former UCLA guard Mike Warren, who visits Wooden regularly at VIPs, will attend the Final Four, as will Abdul-Jabbar, who’s an assistant coach with the Lakers. Warren wishes that if UCLA makes the finals Monday, Wooden could find his way home. “I know it’s really tough on him, going through these events,” Warren said. “Some of us are hoping he’ll still come. Someone’s going to have to send him a nice jet.” Jill Painter, (818) 713-3615 jill.painter@dailynews.com 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! At Coach’s favorite breakfast hangout, VIP’s in Encino, the buzz these days is UCLA’s magical run to the Final Four. John Wooden, UCLA’s legendary coach, eats breakfast there at the same time nearly every morning but he’s down in San Diego this week so he can’t bask in all of the congratulations and excited chatter of a possible NCAA championship. Customers are dissecting the Bruins’ dramatic run through the NCAA Tournament over eggs and oatmeal. Most of the regulars were wondering where the man of the hour was. Coach is in San Diego for the McDonald’s All-American high school basketball game this week but he’s on the minds of so many. As one patron left, he remarked: “Coach must be on top of the world.” Indeed. Wooden couldn’t be more proud. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl event “Most schools have never won one championship,” Wooden said by phone from San Diego. “It’s nice. The more you get, the more you want.” Wooden, 95, knows that all too well. He was the mastermind behind a record 10 national championships at UCLA. There are 11 championship banners hanging in the rafters at Pauley Pavilion. Jim Harrick won the school’s most recent one in 1995. Throughout the past decade, however, UCLA had lost its luster as one of the nation’s elite teams. “(Wooden) likes to see the program do well,” said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played on Wooden’s championship teams in 1967, 1968 and 1969. “He’s so much a part of it. He can’t escape it. It’s tattooed across his forehead.” UCLA is back. And in just his third season as coach, Ben Howland has the Bruins two victories shy of a 12th national championship. last_img

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