books by Jack McDaniel

Better Than Talent

Rick Reilly, former Sports Illustrated and current ESPN writer, interviewed legendary basketball coach John Wooden recently. Wooden turns 99 soon. Though confined to a wheelchair because of a bad hip, he's still sharp as ever and looks great.

It's important to Wooden that he hasn't cussed in 76 years. (That's not a value I give a damn about.) He believes John Woodencoaches and players yelling at the referees is a sign that they are out of control. I can't argue with that.

Every year when he was coaching he would write down his guess for his team's record in the coming season. Only once did he project an undefeated season - Lew Alcindor's sophomore year. (His first season playing. Freshmen weren't allowed to play then.) Wooden believed Alcindor was so good that he just couldn't see losing a game. He was right. In an interesting side note, Wooden only had two other undefeated seasons. Both of them were when Bill Walton was in school.

John Wooden's favorite sport is baseball. He's probably happy that on his 99th birthday the California Angels are still in the playoffs. It's looking bleak, though, as the Yankees lead the ALCS 3 games to 1.

I remember being 14, 15, and 16 years old and watching the UCLA Bruins on television, coach Wooden and his rolled up program in hand, watching the game and directing from the sidelines. Wooden rarely had the best players or athletes. He just knew how to build the best team.


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