Legendary Boilermaker And College Basketball Icon John Wooden Passes Away

June 4, 2010

Purdue Profile Documentary: John Wooden Watch
1994 Purdue Hall of Fame Induction Video Watch
Thoughts on Coach Wooden: Coach Matt Painter | A.D. Morgan Burke | Brian Cardinal Watch 
John Wooden Honored By Purdue Trustees

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University and the college basketball world lost one of their pillars on Friday with the passing of the iconic John Wooden. The legendary player and coach passed away on Friday night in Los Angeles.

"All of us at Purdue, past and present, are immensely saddened by the death of John Wooden, and we send our deepest regrets to his loved ones and friends," Purdue president France A. Córdova said.

"Coach Wooden has been a member of the Purdue family since he studied and played here 80 years ago. He lived a life of true leadership, steady and amazing excellence, and unfailing kindness to others.

"There was no one like Coach Wooden. He leaves a lasting imprint."

The first person to be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and coach, and one of only three to do so, Wooden took up the game that would later rename its collegiate player of the year award after him in 1918.

After his family moved from Centerton to Martinsville when Wooden was 14, he led Martinsville High School to a state title in 1927 and runner-up finishes in 1926 and 1928. He was a three-time all-state selection.

Following his high school days, Wooden enrolled at Purdue and continued to craft his legend under head coach Ward "Piggy" Lambert's guidance. He wasted no time in winning his first championship at the collegiate level, averaging 8.9 points per game to lead the Boilermakers to the 1930 Big Ten title and earn the first of his three-straight consensus All-America honors.

Wooden averaged 8.2 points per game and was once again named a consensus All-American in 1931 as Purdue finished 12-5 and narrowly missed out on another league championship.

Wooden's senior season, however, not only cemented his place in Boilermaker lore, but affirmed his status as one of the preeminent players of his era. With an average of 12.2 points per game that was nearly unheard of at the time, Wooden led Purdue to a 17-1 record, a Big Ten crown and, most importantly, the lone national championship in program history. In his final game in a Purdue uniform, Wooden equaled his own single-game scoring record with 21 points in a 53-18 win over Chicago that wrapped up the national title.

Wooden was named National Player of the Year and earned his third-consecutive consensus All-America honor in 1932, becoming the first three-time consensus All-American in college basketball history. Nicknamed "The Indiana Rubber Man" for his hard-nosed play and propensity for diving for loose balls, Wooden was also a three-time first-team All-Big Ten and All-Midwestern selection during his time with the Boilermakers.

Wooden, renowned for his emphasis on living a well-rounded lifestyle, also excelled off the court during his college career. He was an honor roll student at Purdue, where his grade point average as a first-semester senior ranked 19th in a student body that numbered 4,675. He was awarded the 1932 Big Ten medal for outstanding merit and proficiency in scholarship and athletics, and graduated from the university with a degree in English later that year.

"Kate and I were fortunate to meet Coach Wooden on numerous occasions," Purdue athletics director Morgan Burke said. "What came through all the words - each time we met - were Coach Wooden's leadership principles, dry sense of humor and love of his wife, Nell. John Wooden couldn't tell me enough about Ward `Piggy' Lambert and his positive impact on both basketball and Purdue.

"While I know he was a Bruin, Coach Wooden never shed his Purdue ties. Having spoken with Matt Painter and (senior associate athletics director) Nancy Cross about John, I truly believe he is someone whom Matt wants to emulate in his career. We send our condolences to John's family on behalf of all Boilermakers."

After his graduation from Purdue, Wooden began his teaching career at Dayton High School in Kentucky, where he coached numerous sports. After two years, he returned to the state of Indiana, where he coached basketball, baseball and tennis, while also teaching English, at South Bend Central High School for nine years. In 11 prep seasons as a high school basketball coach, Wooden compiled an impressive 218-42 (.838) record.

During several of his seasons as a high school teacher and coach, Wooden also continued to play professionally with the Indianapolis Kautskys, the Whiting Ciesar All-Americans and the Hammond Ciesar All-Americans. During one 46-game stretch, he made 134-consecutive free throws, and he was named to the NBL's first team in 1938.

World War II interrupted Wooden's coaching career from 1943-46, as he served as a full lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.

Following his discharge in 1946, Wooden went to Indiana Teachers College (now Indiana State University), as athletic director, basketball coach and baseball coach for two years. In addition to his athletic duties in Terre Haute, Wooden also taught and completed a Master's degree in education.

In 1947, Wooden's basketball team won the Indiana Collegiate Conference title and received an invitation to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (NAIB) National Tournament in Kansas City. Ever a man of high morals, Wooden declined the invitation, citing an NAIB policy that would have banned African-American player Clarence Walker from participating.

The 1948 season saw Wooden once again guide ITC to a league title. The NAIB had reversed its policy banning African-American players earlier in the year, and Wooden coached his team to the NAIB National Tournament final, where it lost to Louisville. The contest was the only championship game ever lost by a Wooden-coached team. That year, Walker became the first African-American to play in a postseason intercollegiate basketball tournament.

After the 1947-48 season, Wooden negotiated a three-year contract to take over as head coach at UCLA, where he became widely regarded as the greatest coach the game has ever seen.

During his tenure with the Bruins, Wooden became known as the "Wizard of Westwood" and gained lasting fame with UCLA by winning 620 games in 27 seasons. His last dozen seasons in Westwood saw Wooden win 10 NCAA titles, including seven in a row from 1967-73. His UCLA teams posted four perfect 30-0 seasons, had a record 88-game winning streak, won 38-straight NCAA Tournament games and produced a record 98-game home winning streak. UCLA was 149-2 at Pauley Pavilion during Wooden's tenure with the Bruins.

Wooden was named National Coach of the Year in 1964, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973. He also garnered Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" award in 1973 and finished his collegiate coaching career with a 664-162 (.804) record, including a 620-147 (.808) mark at UCLA.

Wooden was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1961 and a coach in 1973, becoming the first person ever to be enshrined in the hall in both capacities. Wooden received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 2003, and was a member of the founding class of the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Since 1977, the most coveted of four college basketball player of the year awards has been named the John R. Wooden Award. The award has attained the status of being the equivalent of football's Heisman Trophy, with the winner announced during a ceremony held at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

"There isn't a more respected, influential and genuine figure in the history of the game than Coach Wooden," Painter said. "This is a tremendous loss, but his legacy will live on through the countless people whom he touched over the years."

Wooden and his wife, Nell, who passed away in 1985, were married for 53 years. Parents of a son, James Hugh, and a daughter, Nancy Anne, the couple had seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.





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