I just finished the John Wooden biography, “Wooden, a coach’s life,’’ by Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS TV and it is tremendous. Exhaustively researched and well written, Davis said on Twitter that it took him four years to complete. It was worth the effort, especially for those of us who love college basketball. He provides a complete picture of Wooden as not only one of the great coaches of all time but a man with great attributes and some troubling flaws. His career is meticulously recorded from his high school playing days until his death. Sometimes you think you know a lot, but after reading this, I realized how little I knew about Wooden and about certain aspects of college basketball. Some were mundane such as UCLA’s first national championship team playing in a gym smaller than some Indiana high schools; some were large such as Wooden’s changing story about his retirement.
Three people stood out for me, three people I knew nothing about before I read the book.
1. Nicolas McKay was a Presbyterian minister from Crawfordsville, Ind. who traveled to Springfield, Mass. to study under James Naismith. He learned the new sport of basketball and took it back to Indiana. You could say he’s one of the reasons for the sport’s popularity in that state. Among McKay's first students was Ward Lambert, who would eventually become the coach at Purdue, where he coached Wooden. It’s Wooden’s direct link to the inventor of the game.
2. Jerry Norman played for Wooden at UCLA and was his assistant when the big winning started. Davis makes the case that Norman was the responsible for inspiring Wooden to install the full-court press that fueled the first national championship. He was also the recruiter who gathered all that talent. Wooden never gave Norman credit for that and he eventually left coaching.
3. Valorie Kondos Field is the women’s gymnastics coach at UCLA and she became one of Wooden’s best friends in his final years. An unexpected, sweet friendship captured in heart-warming style by Davis.
That’s just a little bit of what this book reveals. It’s just an outstanding biography and a must read.
Now, for a change of pace, I’m going to read Dan Wetzel’s biography of Jerry Tarkanian. It’s a few years old but I’ve never read it. Oh yeah, Tarkanian is definitely in the Wooden book too.
Games I’d like to see this weekend:
UMass at Dayton: The Minutemen seem to have their mojo back but this is a tough place to play. Dayton is coming off an awful outing at Saint Joseph’s; there’s a lot at stake. I’d be surprised if UMass won.
Miami of Ohio at Buffalo: I haven’t seen Buffalo, but the Bison are coached by Bobby Hurley (it’s his first season) and they are a surprising 17-8. Should be 18-8 after this.
Cincinnati at UConn: This will go down to the wire, but I’ll take the home team. Hopefully, the Huskies have recovered from their home loss to SMU.
Vanderbilt at Tennessee: Rivalry game with Tennessee’s NCAA hopes at stake. Vols have been good at home and should prevail.
Louisville at Memphis: Not sure how many more times these old rivals (from many different leagues) will play with Louisville heading to the ACC. I can’t go against Louisville after that gritty win at Cincinnati.
Missouri State at Wichita State: Perfection will continue.
Auburn at Alabama: What if Alabama tries a shot from half-court but it’s short and an Auburn player catches it and throws it at the other basket and it went in to win the game?
Saint Joseph’s at Saint Bonaventure: St. Joe's has been hot and has fought its way into the NCAA field, but the trip to Olean is always difficult. They still need this one to stay in the bracket.
LSU at Florida: I can’t imagine the Gators losing at home, but LSU is no pushover.
Texas at Oklahoma: A football rivalry that means something in basketball for a change. Sooners have to have this one.
Syracuse at Virginia: UVA can take control of the ACC with a win. The Cavs are a Sully’s Court favorite and I foresee a big win (not points wise, big in importance) here.
BC at Wake Forest: A game the Eagles can and should win.
Creighton at Xavier: There aren’t that many games left to see Doug McDermott play.
Minnesota at Michigan: The Gophers firmly on the bubble could really use this one; not sure it’s achievable.
Western Michigan at Toledo: The Rockets have sputtered and Western is surging. Good time for Toledo to rebound.
Saint Louis at VCU: I can’t explain Saint Louis’ loss to Duquesne. I saw the last 10 minutes and the Dukes really played hard and deserved to win. I’d expect a rebound for the Billkens who will once again try to slow the pace. Halfcourt vs. Havoc.
Robert Morris at Wagner: BobMo is the best team in the NEC again.
Iowa State at Kansas State: This time, the Cyclones will show they can win on the road. Minimum one overtime.
Kansas at Oklahoma State: I almost want to guarantee an Okie State victory. If not, I may have to anoint Kansas a Final Four team despite their youth.
Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s: Zags are slipping (although they beat Pacific Thursday night) and now go into the dangerous gym.
Marquette at Villanova: I haven’t seen Nova in a while. I think the Wildcats are a Final Four possibility and I want to see if that’s still true.
Canisius at Manhattan: A critical MAAC game plus a chance to see Billy Baron light it up one more time. He should be first team All-American.
Stanford at Arizona: If the Wildcats hammer Stanford, we’ll know their all the way back from their brief slump.