One of FCA’s earliest supporters, legendary basketball coach John Wooden was active with the ministry for more than 50 years as a popular speaker at FCA conferences, camps, banquets and retreats.
Nicknamed the “Wizard of Westwood,” due to his unprecedented tenure at UCLA, Wooden experienced humble beginnings as a star basketball player in Martinsville, Ind., where, as a three-time All-State selection, he led the high school team to three consecutive state finals and a state title in 1927. At Purdue, he was named All-Big Ten and All-Midwestern and became the first three-time basketball All-American.
Wooden played professionally in the National Basketball League (NBL) while simultaneously serving as a high school teacher and coach. During World War II, he joined the U.S. Navy where he spent three years and returned as a lieutenant. Wooden resumed his career in 1946 at Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State University) where he coached basketball, baseball, and was the athletic director.
In 1948, Wooden was hired as the head basketball coach at UCLA. Under his leadership, the Bruins reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. In 1964, UCLA recorded its first of four perfect seasons (30-0) en route to its first of 10 national championships.
From January 1971 until January 1974, UCLA won an NCAA record 88 consecutive games. Wooden’s teams also won 10 championships in 12 years including a record seven consecutive titles from 1967 to 1973. In his 27 seasons, UCLA won 620 games including 38 straight NCAA Tournament wins, and 98 straight home wins at Pauley Pavilion.
Wooden was named NCAA College Basketball’s Coach of the Year seven times. In 1960, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as player, and in 1973, as a coach, becoming the first person to be honored as both a player and a coach. Other such honors for Wooden include his induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, the Missouri Valley Conference Athletic Hall of Fame, and the Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame.
After his retirement in 1973, UCLA gave Wooden the title of Head Men’s Basketball Coach Emeritus. Since 1977, the John R. Wooden Award has been presented to the most outstanding college men’s and women’s basketball athletes, while the John R. Wooden Most Valuable Player Award is given to the top high school athlete at the McDonald’s All-American Game, an annual all-star contest for which he served as a founding member.
In 1997, FCA and Athletes in Actions partnered to create the Legends of the Hardwood Breakfast where they would present the Coach Wooden “Keys To Life” Award to a past or current college or professional basketball player or coach who models his characteristics.
In 2003, Wooden received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush. In 2009, he was named The Sporting News “Greatest Coach of All Time.” Known for his foundational teachings, most notably his “Pyramid of Success,” Wooden also authored numerous books including A Game Plan for Life, The Essential Wooden, My Personal Best, and They Call Me Coach.