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It's A Gray Area: Living his masterpiece daily

June 26, 2010|James P. Gray

I want to add my voice and discuss the life and enduring legacy of Johnny Wooden. This great UCLA basketball coach, teacher and family man left us on June 4 at the age of 99, and I cannot think of anyone who better exemplified the way a life should be lived. One of his mottos was to "Make each day your masterpiece," and that is what he did.

When I was a freshman at UCLA in 1963, I happened to have a basketball class at the men's gym that ended at 3 p.m., which was the time the men's varsity team began its practices. I stayed so frequently to watch that later, when they closed the practices to the public, they still allowed me to remain.

The 1963-64 academic year was when UCLA won its first national basketball championship, with 30 wins and no losses, and if you think Walt Hazzard made some great plays during the games, you should have seen what he did during the practices. But the thing that really got my attention was the meticulous planning that obviously went into each practice session.

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At the practices, Coach Wooden carried with him a small piece of paper that seemed to have everything organized down to the minute. In fact, he put into operation his motto that "Practice doesn't make perfect – only perfect practice makes perfect."

Coach Wooden would always be teaching during the practices, with such comments as "Be quick, but don't hurry." There was also a time in which one player made a good pass to a teammate for a layup, and Coach stopped the practice and observed that the player who received the pass had not acknowledged or thanked the one who had fed him the ball.

Then he said: "You cannot win a basketball game without cooperation. So thank your teammate when you receive it."

Coach Wooden did not particularly prepare his team to play against any specific opponent. Instead he prepared his players to play their own game as best they could, and let their opponents prepare for them. And never once did I hear Coach mention winning. Instead, he spoke about doing the best they could, and that would be good enough. Those were some of the great lessons in life that I learned from Coach Wooden.

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