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“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
John Wooden (1910-2010)

Since a major theme of “Screenwriting from Iowa” is an emphasis on showing how people come from flyover country to make an impact in larger areas—John Wooden could be exhibit one. Though not a screenwriter, he was part of a great story that impacted many lives. The great UCLA basketball coach died Friday at age 99.

But long before he won ten national championships coaching men’s basketball at UCLA. Long before his back to back undefeated seasons. And long before he was named by Sporting News as the greatest coach of all-time, Wooden was born in a small town called Hall, Indiana. When he was eight he lived on a farm in Centerton, Indiana and as a teenager moved to Martinsville, Indiana. (Three towns most people outside the area would have a little trouble pointing out on a map.)

And though far from the big spotlights, Wooden managed to carve out a little fame leading his high school team to three consecutive state championship finals and winning the state championship in 1927. He was an All-State player three times in high school. While playing at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana he was a three-time All-American player and helped the team win the national championship in 1932.

It’s safe to say that long before he moved away from Indiana that the foundation for success was firmly in place.

While he did play professionally as a basketball player, as is often the case with great coaches, his success there was limited. He spent a few years during World War II in the Navy, and 11 years coaching at the high school level and teaching English in Kentucky and Indiana. He coached a few years at Indiana State University before UCLA came calling.

Ironically, it was a storm that changed the direction of his life. UCLA and the University of Minnesota were competing for his coaching abilities. Wooden’s first choice was to stay in the Midwest  and he set a deadline for offers. When Minnesota didn’t call on the deadline he accepted the UCLA offer. The story is that a storm had knocked the phone lines down in Minneapolis and Minnesota officials were not able to contact Wooden in time. When they later did Wooden would not back down from his commitment.

Wooden and his wife realized in that first year or so that the Los Angeles lifestyle didn’t quite fit them. And an offer to coach back at Purdue seemed like a perfect fit and a dream come true. But Wooden instead honored his three-year committment to UCLA and the rest is history.

And what a history it is. And what a life “the Wizard of Westwood”  lived.

After his retirement he was a speaker and author. And as a man of faith, he often stressed that there were more important things to life than playing basketball.

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
John Wooden

You can read more quotes by Wooden, and see his “Pyramid of Success,” at the official website of Coach Wooden.

Scott W. Smith

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