Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.
Sports

Picking up more than splinters

Not all of the players on John Wooden's 10 NCAA championship teams were stars. But many of his sixth, seventh and even 12th men went on to success based on lessons learned from their coach. Here are a few of their stories:

Rich Levin, 1964-65

A forward on what he calls the "mop-up squad" on Wooden's first two championship teams, Levin was a sportswriter for nearly 20 years before joining Major League Baseball's public relations staff in 1985. He is now senior vice president for public relations.

"I think whatever success I've had can certainly be attributed to [Wooden]," Levin said. "What I learned from Coach Wooden is teamwork. How to work within the team. How the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts."

Bill Sweek, 1967-69

After leaving UCLA, Sweek, a guard, served in the Peace Corps and coached basketball in Europe and Africa. He now teaches part-time at Gateway Community Day School in Sonoma, Calif., as well as part-time at Sonoma Valley High. He and his wife, Debbie, celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on April 25.

"I think [family] is the biggest influence for most of us," Sweek said. "When I come back I'm amazed when I see the children of all the players. They're all successful, educated. They all go to great colleges. Wooden emphasized the family more than the basketball."

John Ecker, 1970-71

After appearing in nearly every game — but not playing many minutes — over two championship seasons, the former forward moved to Germany, where he played, coached and taught. He expects to retire soon, having taught for 35 years in Leverkusen, a city in western Germany. His son, Danny, is one of Germany's top pole vaulters.

Ecker, who grew up poor, said playing for Wooden gave him more chances.

"I grew up admiring him and UCLA, so when John Wooden came knocking on my door I immediately said yes," he said. "There were a lot of times I sat on the bench, but I never regretted it. I enjoyed playing for him, I enjoyed learning from him, and I think I profited from those five years I spent at UCLA for the rest of my life."

Bob Webb, 1973

A teacher and girls' basketball coach at Van Nuys Montclair Prep, Webb said he visited Wooden at the beginning of each new season for coaching advice.

He especially admired how Wooden treated his bench players.

"Coach stayed in the game with us," he said. "When we did something well, he would praise us like he did the starters. When we did something bad, he would give us that look like he did the starters."

In class, Webb passes out copies of his coach's "Pyramid of Success" and shows a video of Wooden talking about it. He said he does not expect his students to fully appreciate it yet — he and his teammates didn't until they got older.

Raymond Townsend, 1975

The first Filipino American to play in the NBA, Townsend spent more than 20 years in Norman, Calif., establishing basketball programs in schools.

"Everything I did came from that 'Pyramid of Success,'" Townsend said. "It was real simple. As a coach, I ran my whole system the way Coach did. Strictly fundamentals, teaching players how to execute, and that their mind and heart were more important than their abilities."

laura.myers@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
Comments
Loading