He still has a small office in the UCLA athletic department, around the corner from his old basketball headquarters, but John Wooden makes only irregular appearances now on the UCLA campus. He is too busy now with clinics, speaking engagements and NBC Sports to keep a regular schedule.
Wooden, however, remains a devoted basketball fan and critic. In an interview yesterday with staff writer Paul Attner on the UCLA campus, Wooden gave some of his views on the sport, on television commentary and on the current NCAA tournament.
Q: I saw the two years since you retired, it seems as if the game has changed. Players are more physical and games seem to be rougher. What's happened?
A: I saw the trend developing the last two or three years I was in coaching. It's mainly the results of what some choose to call the passing game where the emphasis is on screens, especially away from the ball. The game has tended to be more physical. It's taken away from the finesse aspect. I don't want to see basketball stop being a game of finesse. I don't like that.
The more screens there are, the more defenders subconsiously may think they have to use their hands. All of this contact is covered in the rules, but from an officiating point of view, they are looser in their calls. It handicaps the defense. The rules are there, they just have to be enforced better.
The return of the dunk has created even more physical play. It's made things rougher. It hasn't been a good change.
Q: But I thought you were opposed when the dunk was banned in mid-60s.
A: I felt it was wrong when it was banned, but since then I've seen the wisdom of the ruling. It encourages showing off and it distracts from team play. It also will hurt the development of the big man. If they can't dunk, they have to develop their skills around the basket, the short hook and jump shots. They won't shoot as well because they won't work on it as much.
Besides, there is no defense against the dunk. It puts the defensive man at a disadvantage. And anytime that happens, I don't like it.
Q: Where is increased physical play taking the game?
A: I remember in the old pro league, back when I was just getting out of college. It was too rough and there was a public reaction against it. Whether that will be true today or not, I'm not sure. I'm not for banning all contact, but if you want a boxing match, go to the fights, not a basketball game.
Q: Are there any rule changes you'd like to see?
A: I'm in fa vor of three major changes.
One is a 30-second clock. I wasn't for it until I served on the rules committee for five years and we did a study on one of Hank Iba's teams. Almost every time, they got shots off in less than 30 seconds.
I was convinced that if the foremost advocate of ball-control basketball didn't need 30 seconds to shoot, the clock wouldn't hurt the ball-control coach. But it would prevent the farcical games that no one, not even the home fans, want to see. Games are schedule to be played and I'd like to see them be played every minute.
I tried to show how foolish stalling is by holding the ball in one NCAA final (against Villanova in 1971). Guess it didn't do any good.
The second change would be the elimination of the jump ball. They aren't fair and they are difficult to administer. I'd like to see the game started by the visiting team taking the ball out at midcourt, with an unmolested throw-in to the backcourt only. Then after that, in every jump-ball situation, the teams would take turns taking it out of bounds.
Last, I'd like to see end to offensive-rebound baskets. If shot is missed, the offensive team may not put it back in the basket until after it throws at least one pass. It would cut down on fouls because defensive men wouldn't black out as viciously and offensive men wouldn't go over the backs and shove as much. It would also make for beter in-close passing better finesse.
Q: Now that you've been doing television commentary, is it any different than you envisioned?
A: It's probably harder than you think, but I've gotten used to viewing games differently now than when I was a coach. I don't have to look anymore at a team in regards to how we should play them.
As a commentator, I do not comment on how a team should be doing things. Billy Packer does that a lot but I can't assume that the coach of the team playing out there sees things the same way I do. He may view his personnel differently than I do.
What I try to do is point things the average fan may not see. I try to understand how each coach wants to go about playing the game and then I can point out how his plans are working. I'll talk a little more about what is happening away from the ball and about team play. I don't like one-on-one play, never have, so I can't praise it.
I like the way Billy Packer works, but he'll talk five times more than I will during a game. He'll give a lot of trivia but when I'm watching a game I don't want to hear trivia, I want to know what is going on. I'm not the No. 1 guy, just the color man. People don't want to hear me all the time.
Q: Do you miss coaching?
A: I miss the daily practices and my relationships with the players. But as far as the weekends and the games, no. 1 get enough out of watching games and I especially enjoy seeing other teams play now.
But I always considered myself a practice coach. I'd spend two hours every morning with my assistants setting up practice schedules. I miss putting those two hours into effect in the afternoon, and then seeing the practices pay off on the weekends.
Q: Is UCLA going to win the national title?
A: I wouldn't pick against them but I also know that Kentucky, marquette, Michigan and a lot of other teams could do it. Not all of the 16 teams remaining have a chance but a few have excellent chances.
Q: The way the telephone keeps ringing. I assume you are having no problems staying active.
A: Well, I work with the Bata Shoe Co. They let me design a basketball shoe. I had a lot of ideas I put into the shoe to correct weaknesses I always thought other shoes had. It's out now and they tell me it is doing well.
I have my summer basketball camps, eight weeks of them, including two for girls. My camps are different from the pros. I'm there all day long, I teach fundamentals everyday to every student. They are teaching camps, not entertain camps.
I also signed with Medalist Sports Education, the group AL McGuire is with. I speak at 12 of their coaching clinics every year. I'm going to places like Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Dallas: Columbus; Boston, and Salt Lake City.
I conduct a collegiate speaking program. I'll speak at 35 different colleges this year. I also do considerable speaking at management conferences, such as IBM and insurance meetings.I talk about motivation. I've been doing that for 35 years.
In between all this, I'm writing two books. One is on motivation, the other is the 10 Commandments of Basketball. It has 10 chapters and each is devoted to one of our national championship teams. It talks about the players and the significant games of each season. I've got that book almost done.
Q: What about the future of the game?
A: I think it's a great game but that doesn't mean you should stand still. Progress comes from change. Where we see there are ways and means that we can improve it, we should improve it and not say, "No we won't do it because the pros do it." But we can't always copy the pros, either. They have a new statistic now, for steals. But I bet you will find that the top stealers in the league are not good defensive players because they gamble too much.
We've got a great game and it will continue to get better. I'm just enjoying seeing it grow.