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Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, winner of 10 national titles, dies at 99

Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden has died of natural causes, he was 99. The university said Wooden, who won 10 NCAA national championships, had been hospitalized since May 26. A look at the legendary UCLA men's basketball coach.

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By Matt Schudel
Friday, June 4, 2010; 11:49 PM

John Wooden, who led his UCLA basketball team to an unsurpassed record of 10 national championships in the 1960s and 1970s, and who is often regarded as the greatest coach in American sports history, died Friday. He was 99.

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No cause of death was given for Mr. Wooden, who had been hospitalized for dehydration at UCLA Medical Center since May 26. The university, which announced his death, said only that he died of natural causes.

Mr. Wooden was a mild-mannered leader who molded an athletic dynasty at the University of California at Los Angeles by instilling a quiet discipline in his players, emphasizing group effort over individual heroics. His favorite part of coaching was leading the practice sessions in which he taught the fundamentals that were the foundation of his success.

He was called the "Wizard of Westwood," after UCLA's Los Angeles neighborhood, but never particularly liked his nickname. Year after year, with short teams or tall, with star players and scrappy unknowns, Mr. Wooden compiled a record of excellence that has never been equaled in a major college sport.

From 1964 to 1975, his teams won 10 national championships, including seven in a row. No other men's basketball coach has won more than four. He led UCLA to four perfect seasons, each time with a record of 30-0. No other coach has had more than one undefeated season. From 1971 to 1974, his teams won 88 consecutive games, a record no one else has come close to breaking.

"He is the greatest coach in the history of sports, not just basketball but in any sport," UCLA basketball Coach Ben Howland said in 2008, echoing the sentiments of dozens of other coaches and writers.

"Neither Knute Rockne, not John McGraw, not Connie Mack, nor Casey Stengel, nor Vince Lombardi, nor any other coach or manager has complied anything close to the record of Wooden's teams," sports journalist Arnold Hano wrote in the New York Times in 1973. "He is sport's most enduring, most successful winner."

Although remembered primarily as a coach, Mr. Wooden was an outstanding 5-foot-10 guard at Purdue University in his home state of Indiana and was named the national collegiate player of the year in 1932. He was the first person elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. The annual award given to the nation's top college men's and women's players is named in his honor.

He coached many all-American players during his 27 years at UCLA, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (known in college by his original name of Lew Alcindor), Bill Walton, Sidney Wicks and Keith Wilkes. But in keeping with his belief in team play over individual glory, Mr. Wooden refused to allow his star players' uniform numbers to be retired.

"What about the fellows who wore that number before?" he asked. "Didn't they contribute to the team?"

Mr. Wooden was soft-spoken but firm about his rules of behavior, which included no profanity and maintaining a neat appearance. In the early 1970s, Walton challenged Mr. Wooden's authority by coming to practice with a beard and shaggy hair.

"That's good, Bill," Mr. Wooden responded. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them. I really do. We're going to miss you."


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