When he died in June 2010, longtime UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was remembered not only for his record number of consecutive wins, but for an “Indiana inner-directedness that was so much from another time that he might have come from the moon,” as George Vecsey wrote in The New York Times.
But the so-called “Wizard of Westwood” came from the heartland.
A “quaint-looking Midwesterner [who] look[ed] like he belonged in a one-room schoolhouse,” as onetime Bruin Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recalled, John Wooden was born on a farm in the Morgan County town of Hall in 1910.
The property was adjacent to land farmed by the parents of future IU coach Branch McCracken, and the two boys grew up shooting hoops using a stuffed sock and a tomato basket.
Moving to Martinsville when his parents lost the farm, the 5’10” guard led his high school to the state championship in 1927, going on to be named all-American and national player of the year at Purdue, which took the national championship in 1932.
An English major with the highest grade-point average of all Purdue athletes, Wooden also earned a teaching certificate and went on to teach high school in Dayton, Kentucky, and South Bend.
During the war, he served the Navy as a P.E. instructor, taking over as athletic director at the Indiana State Teachers College (now ISU) in 1946, where he also coached basketball and baseball.
When IU’s Branch McCracken opted to resist UCLA’s overtures in the late 40s, the coach recommended his boyhood playmate for the opportunity to coach the Bruins.
Wooden’s legacy at UCLA rests on ten national championships over a twelve-year span, including 88 consecutive wins from 1971-74, a streak as yet unchallenged in the NCAA.
Known for his team’s full-court zone press, the eminently quotable coach was equally memorable for his philosophical serenity.