I have so many memories of Coach Wooden, but the one that's most vivid for me came in 1964 when we were playing Duke for the national championship — the first UCLA championship. We're 29-0 at the time and the No. 1 team in the country, but Duke is still favored.
In the locker room before the game, Coach gets up for his pregame talk. He says, "We got here playing a certain way — making this a 94-foot game. How many of you remember who finished second last year?" No one raised their hand. And he says, "No one remembers who finished second. Now go out there and play the way you played to get us here, and I'm sure you'll be happy with the results."
That was it. That was his pregame talk. And we went out and won.
He never talked about winning. He talked about being a success and being able to look in the mirror at the end of the day. If you did the very best you could, that's all anybody could ask.
When I came to UCLA, never would I have dreamed the impact he's had on my life. It's been tremendous. When he would meet with the freshmen and go through his "Pyramid of Success," it was sort of meaningless to most players. Only after we graduated did you really start to look at that pyramid and realize what he was teaching us. At least that's how it was from my standpoint.
People wonder if he'd ever get angry. Oh, yes, he'd get angry. He never cussed, though. He'd say, "Goodness gracious, sakes alive!" When he said that, you knew you were in trouble. He was a disciplinarian. He did it his way, and he had the hammer: He knew that all players wanted to play more minutes. So you realized that you had to do it his way to play.
That's why he wasn't that fond of professional basketball. He thought it was too individualistic. He was about team. He respected people. When you won, he wouldn't let you get too high, and when you lost, he wouldn't let you get too low. He wanted you to be somewhere in the middle. He wasn't about showtime.
Over the years, I came to realize that he really taught us lessons. All those things he talked about in basketball apply to how you raise your kids, or how you live your life. His impact was far greater than basketball.
Outside of my parents and my family, he's the most important person in my life. He's been my mentor.
Gail Goodrich helped lead the Bruins to their first two national titles under John Wooden, and was the leading scorer on the 1971-72 Lakers team that won a record 33 consecutive games. He's a retired businessman living in Greenwich, Conn. He spoke with Times staff writer Sam Farmer.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun