Morgan Wootten as a young man was set to become a lawyer after completing his bachelor’s degree. Instead, he became arguably the finest basketball instructor in the history of the game.
Wootten took a job as a volunteer coach at an orphanage in 1951 and moved on to high school soon after.
He coached 46 seasons at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., amassing one of basketball’s most impressive coaching resumes at any level of play. He died Tuesday night at age 88.
Here’s a look at Wootten’s legacy by the numbers.
The number of games Wootten won in his first year as a head coach.
Wootten began his coaching career at 1951 at St. Joseph’s Home and School for Boys in the District. He coached baseball that spring. The team lost all 16 of its games. But when he took over the football team in the fall, St. Joseph’s boys went undefeated. It spurred him on to a career in coaching.
Joe Gallagher, the basketball coach at St. John’s College High in the District, noticed Wootten’s success and hired him to coach the school’s junior varsity football and basketball teams. DeMatha tried to hire him away in 1955, but Wootten declined.
He accepted the position at the Hyattsville school, just a stone’s throw from the University of Maryland in College Park, in 1956. He coached both football and basketball until 1968, when he gave up the gridiron to focus on the hardwood.
Wootten’s win total at DeMatha. He is second all-time among high school basketball coaches, but held the record when he retired in 2002. He was the first coach — high school, college or pro — to amass 1,200 career wins. Among coaches with 1,000 career wins, his .869 winning percentage is third all time.
Wootten was one of basketball’s greatest innovators. His teams pioneered the full-court press, and the man-to-man defensive techniques he taught helped bring about the modern offensive “charging” foul.
“We would step out and let somebody run over us and they would call a foul and we would go down and shoot at the other end,” he told USA Today in 2013. “The rules committee came down from Massachusetts and they started watching us play. That little innovation of stepping in front of a player, getting your feet planted and taking contact in the chest became eventually known as the offensive foul. We made them change the rule five times before they called it the offensive foul. At first, it was just a foul and we shot it. Later they said, that’s delaying the game so we’ll wait five fouls before we go down and then they went to the line for one and finally, they said we’ll call it an offensive foul, but we won’t shoot it.”
Partly because of Wootten’s teams, rules committees created the “bonus penalty,” in which a team is awarded free throws after an opponent commits too many personal fouls, and “one-and-one” free throws, in which a shooter is awarded a second free throw if he or she converts the first.
Wootten also helped popularize the fast break.
“When anyone ever used to ask me, ‘What was our primary man-to-man offense?’ I would say, fast break,” he said in a 2008 coaching video. “Primary zone offense? Fast break. Primary pressure offense? Fast break.”
National titles won by Wootten’s DeMatha teams.
Multiple schools claim national championships in 1962, 1965, 1968 and 1978 when there was not one national news source that crowned the country’s top team. DeMatha’s 1984 title is undisputed.
When Wootten arrived at DeMatha, the school had pulled out of what was then the Washington Catholic Athletic League because its teams couldn’t compete with rivals St. John’s and Gonzaga on the playing field or in the classroom. DeMatha had a reputation as the rowdier Catholic prep school in the area.
“We can change that,” Wootten quipped of those issues in the 2017 documentary “Morgan Wootten: The Godfather of Basketball.”
He helped integrate the school by recruiting athletes to the basketball program. Johnny Austin, who transferred to DeMatha from Archbishop Carroll in at the beginning of the 1961-62 season, was the first black player on the basketball team.
The Stags won their second national title in 1965 and defeated national dynamo Power Memorial High School and its star center Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That game, played before a sellout crowd at University of Maryland’s Cole Field House, is considered by many historians as the greatest high school basketball game of all time and put DeMatha on the map as a national power.
NBA players who played for Wootten’s DeMatha teams.
The first was Austin, who played a season each in the NBA and ABA. The last was Keith Bogans, who graduated in the class of 1999. The best, surely, was Adrian Dantley, the 1977 NBA rookie of the year, a six-time NBA all-star, two-time scoring champion, Olympic gold medalist (1976) and member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Wootten presented him at his induction ceremony in 2008.
“My entire basketball career has been based on my coach, Morgan Wootten,” Dantley said in his speech. “He taught me the fundamentals of the game, respect for the game and the right way to play the game. Morgan has been a teacher, a mentor and a friend.”
Consecutive years in which every senior on Wootten’s teams earned a college scholarship.
Of all Wootten’s achievements, he told friends this was among his most proud. The streak began in 1960, according to DeMatha records, and lasted until 1991. It was buoyed by DeMatha’s victory over Power Memorial and the ensuing media coverage that followed. Reporters from Newsweek and Time magazine appeared at the game.
“In some cases the player wasn’t very good,” Wootten told Sports Illustrated in 1979 of the streak, “but the coach wanted the prestige of having a DeMatha player.”
For 16 straight years, according to the “Godfather of Basketball” documentary, a Wootten-coached DeMatha player was on Harvard’s basketball roster. Five times DeMatha graduates served as captains.
Dereck Whittenburg and Sidney Lowe, guards at DeMatha, remain the only pair of teammates to win a high school national championship and NCAA tournament title on the same teams.