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Wizards in the Land of Oz
Ray Cave
March 19, 1962
With help from a magical guard, a poet and a school principal, UCLA surprised the West and became the most intriguing entry in the NCAA basketball championship
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March 19, 1962

Wizards In The Land Of Oz

With help from a magical guard, a poet and a school principal, UCLA surprised the West and became the most intriguing entry in the NCAA basketball championship

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"Coach," said Blackman the other day in a stage whisper Green could easily hear. "From nose to chin Green is the best bowler in school, but could you find me somebody who might talk less and bowl better?" Clearly, the Mouth was liked, from nose to chin and then some.

That was UCLA's starting team. Now add John Wooden. Wooden, 53 and an honor graduate of Purdue, is an extraordinary coach. He has the reputation of getting more out of his players than is in them, and in a sport where the hard-driving coach is often the most successful, Wooden's lower-key approach is rare. He coaches, not surprisingly, like a sedate school principal. He can be found each morning in his small UCLA office referring to records that show exactly what he did in practices on that same date in past years. Using this curriculum as a guide, he sets the day's practice routine. Around him, the office walls are covered with poems, epigrams, pictures of his grandchildren and a large chart of his own devising called "The Pyramid of Success."

No talk of winning

"It is what you learn after you know it all that counts," says one sign.

A poem goes:

A careful man I want to be.
A little fellow follows me.
I do not dare to go astray
For fear he'll go the self-same way
.

Wooden is careful in that sense. He has, for example, never mentioned winning to his players. "I sometimes tell them before a game," he says, "that regardless of the score we are going to walk out of the dressing room with our heads up because we are going to know we have done our best. If I have a coaching technique, this is it: getting across the idea that you are successful when you do your best." All this may sound dreadfully like Jack Armstrong, but at the same time it is somehow refreshing.

Wooden will admit to being a disciplinarian, but rightfully claims he is "no ogre." "There are lots of things I suggest my players do, and a few things that I demand they do," he says. "They learn that I stick by my demands."

His displeasure is best avoided. It is sure to be icy, succinct and possibly, in the rarest of cases, spiced with his strongest blasphemy, "Goodness gracious sakes alive!" He once made Willie Naulls, who was trying for the conference scoring title, sit out a whole game because he had been late getting to the field house. And this year he didn't start Hazzard against Army because East Coast had been tardy for a training meal.

"I had to be stern with Blackman, too," Wooden said recently, and then promptly changed the subject. He was pressed for details. "Well," he said, and there may or may not have been just the faintest smile at the corners of his thin lips, "it was about his latest poem. It concerned USC, and I felt it wasn't in good taste." Thwarted poet Blackman has not published a work since.

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