The Current and Sad Post-Wooden Era at UCLA

Reeves Nelson (right) bullied and sometimes injured his teammates before coach Ben Howland dismissed him from the team in November. (Photo: US Presswire)

Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by George Dohrmann and published in Sports Illustrated magazine (March 5, 2012).

As I began to read the article, I was reminded of a poem, Ozmandias, written by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822 ) and first published in 1818:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Here is the excerpt from Dohrmann’s article. To read all of it, please click here.

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This story appears in the March 5, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated. Buy the digital version of the magazine here.

On the evening of Nov. 6, 2007, legendary former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden spoke to about 600 Bruins student-athletes and coaches. The occasion was the debut of The Wooden Academy, a seminar series in which former UCLA athletes and coaches returned to campus to describe how the tenets from Wooden’s Pyramid of Success had helped them in college or life.

Wooden was 97 years old at the time. He spoke while seated in a padded chair on a small stage just off the baseline of the basketball court at Pauley Pavilion. To his left was a microphone stand with a long arm attached, which positioned the microphone so that Wooden could sit back in his seat.

Wooden talked about some of the players he had coached, and recited the 15 blocks in his Pyramid, which include cooperation, self-control, team spirit and intentness. Wooden also used a metaphor that will ring familiar to readers of his books. Think of a team as a train, he said, and its star player as the locomotive. There is much more to a train than just that engine. If any part of a train fails, if just one nut or bolt gives away, the whole chain of cars can derail.

At the time of Wooden’s talk, UCLA’s basketball program was one of the smoothest-running trains in the country. The Bruins had made consecutive Final Fours and would reach a third in 2008 behind freshman Kevin Love, the team’s new locomotive, who was in the audience that November evening. UCLA coach Ben Howland would join Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski as the only active coaches to lead teams to three straight Final Fours. Howland’s reputation for teaching defense and instilling discipline made him appear to be cut from Wooden’s cloth.

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To read the complete article, please click here.


As Ozmandias exemplifies, few pyramids survive that were built to commemorate pride and arrogance.

My own opinion is that, if anything, Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is stronger today than ever before. He formulated it before his first season of coaching basketball at Dayton High School in Kentucky in 1932. FYI, he was a three-time All-State and All-American in high school and a three-time All-American at Purdue in college. The high school teams he coached had a combined record of 218-42 and the college teams he coached had a combined record of 664-162. Moreover, UCLA won ten NCAA championships, including nine consecutively (1963-1973).

He never measured “success” in terms of games won, even championship games. For Coach Wooden “success” could only be measured in terms of one’s qualities of character.


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