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Speakers honor UCLA basketball coach John Wooden

The speech at CSULB about John Wooden occurred on what would have been his 100th birthday.


The speech at CSULB about John Wooden occurred on what would have been his 100th birthday.

Vineet Gupta, Staff Writer

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A choking silence fell over the audience as Andy Hill recounted college basketball coach John Wooden’s last speech with former players.

“The very last thing I ever heard Coach say — and his voice was failing and you really had to strain to hear him — he looked over at this little group of guys sitting there at this table,” Hill said, “and he looked at all of us and he said, ‘I only wish I could have done more for all of you.'”

Former national champions Hill and Kenny Booker came to Cal State Long Beach Thursday to commemorate Wooden, two weeks after what would have been his 100th birthday.

Hill and Booker, former UCLA players, talked about their experiences in winning three men’s basketball championships under Wooden and the lessons they learned from him.

“One of the things that he taught us, and that was probably one of coach Wooden’s biggest points, was being prepared because he was prepared every day,” Booker said. 

Booker and Hill talked about Wooden’s penchant for practice, preparation and discipline.

“He really was the consummate teacher because the repetition is obviously a fundamental part of teaching,” Hill said. “You take what you learn on the practice court, which is laboratory learning, and you go to these hostile gyms like Oregon State, and you wouldn’t be fazed.”

Hill and Booker recalled the basketball game against Long Beach State in which Long Beach was ahead late in the game, but lost.

“There was a timeout, and we went to the huddle and it was like an eerie silence and nobody said anything,” Booker recalled. “The crowd was yelling and screaming because it looked like Long Beach State was going to win that game, but there was a guy named Dwight Taylor who took an ill-advised shot.”

Booker said Jerry Tarkanian, LBSU’s coach at the time, can’t get over the fact that he never beat Wooden.

“If you see [Tarkanian] tomorrow, don’t bring it up,” Hill joked.

Booker started for UCLA’s 1970 and 1971 championship seasons. He was drafted by the Phoenix Suns and played in Europe before returning to Long Beach to work for a successful real estate company. He is still involved in sports as a referee for basketball and volleyball games.

Hill came off the bench during his stint at UCLA, but went on to have a successful career as the president of CBS Productions, where he helped develop TV shows like “Touched by an Angel,” “Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman,” “Walker, Texas Ranger,” “Caroline in the City,” and “Rescue 911.” He is also the author of “Be Quick — But Don’t Hurry,” a book about Wooden’s philosophy and sayings.

Copies of Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” were handed out to the audience. The book included his famous quote:

“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” 

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