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Wooden on Success

Another Brief Birthday Tribute

Olympic Preview: IOC Commission visit LA2024
Coach is still teaching
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Today is Coach Wooden’s birthday. It is something we at UCLA should always commerate regardless of other things such as the results of todays game. I was thinking about Wooden on success.

How many of you know what Wooden consider his best season? We wrote about this a long time ago at Bruinsnation. It is not the season you would expect.

Therefore when I reflected on the 1959-1960 season with its 14-12 record and the sizable obstacles we faced, I was of the opinion that our team might have gotten my best coaching up to that point in my career. And nobody knew it but me. That was fine.

I also believe those student-athletes under my leadership came as close to reaching 100 percent of their potential as some of the later UCLA teams with perfect 30-0 seasons. The 1959-1960 group just didn’t have the extreme level of talent that championship teams possessed. However, I do not judge success based on championships; rather, I judge it on how close we came to realizing our potential.

Consequently, in looking back at all 27 years I coached the Bruins, I wouldn’t put another season ahead of 1959-1960 for what we achieved in that regard. I have great pride in what we accomplished that season.

All those seasons and this was his best. And this is still a good measure. Are our current coaches maximizing their team’s potential? Next, while most know that Coach consider Jamal Wilkes his “favorite” player, he was not the one who maximized his potential. Another quote from Wooden:

I mention in my book, "They Call Me Coach," two players that gave me great satisfaction, that came as close as I think anyone I ever had to reach their full potential: one was Conrad Burke, and one was Doug McIntosh. When I saw them as freshmen, on our freshmen team -- freshmen couldn't play varsity when I taught. I thought, "Oh gracious, if these two players, either one of them" -- they were different years, but I thought about each one at the time he was there -- "Oh, if he ever makes the varsity, our varsity must be pretty miserable, if he's good enough to make it." And you know, one of them was a starting player for a season and a half. The other one, his next year, played 32 minutes in a national championship game, Did a tremendous job for us. The next year, he was a starting player on the national championship team, and here I thought he'd never play a minute, when he was -- so those are the things that give you great joy, and great satisfaction to see.

Neither one of those youngsters could shoot very well. But they had outstanding shooting percentages, because they didn't force it. And neither one could jump very well, but they kept good position, and so they did well rebounding. They remembered that every shot that's taken, they assumed would be missed. I've had too many stand around and wait to see if it's missed, then they go and it's too late, somebody else is in there ahead of them. They weren't very quick, but they played good position, kept in good balance. And so they played pretty good defense for us. So they had qualities that -- they came close to -- as close to reaching possibly their full potential as any players I ever had. So I consider them to be as successful as Lewis Alcindor or Bill Walton, or many of the others that we had; there were some outstanding players.

And both of these are why Wooden did not define success by winning but as:

From those things, and one other perhaps, I coined my own definition of success, which is: Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you're capable.

Thank you Coach. You are still teaching us. Your success goes beyond your National Championships.