Local boy meets ULCA legend

Writer Seth Rubinroit (right) and brother Sam with legendary UCLA Bruins coach John Wooden.

Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden gives inspirational and meaningful advice to youth.

By Seth Rubinroit/Special to The Malibu Times


When John Wooden walks into the room, people can’t help but stop what they are doing and stare.

I couldn’t believe it. The person standing in front of me was legendary UCLA Bruins basketball coach John Wooden.

Wooden was more than a hero to the City of Los Angeles. Wooden put UCLA on the map-leading the Bruins to 10 national championships, including an amazing seven in a row. Wooden also was able to achieve four perfect 30-0 seasons, and was rewarded for his success by being elected as one of only two men to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a player and a coach, along with Lenny Wilkens.

My reporting has allowed me to talk to amazing athletes such as Magic Johnson, Adrian Beltre, Baron Davis and many more, but none of them compare to John Wooden. Even at 94, Wooden is still as sharp as a tack. He has fascinating stories to tell, and everything he says is inspirational and full of meaning.

“Patience, patience and balance. Don’t get too high and don’t get too low,” Wooden said recently on how to achieve your goals. “Think with the proper perspective, and have patience. Good things take time, and they should. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.'”

What makes Wooden so amazing is that, even at 94, and after not coaching at UCLA for 30 years, people like me, who are too young to have seen him coach, are still amazed at what he has done. How many other coaches will be remembered 30 years after they retire? Part of the reason Wooden has reached immortal status is because he understands life is more than basketball, something I am still trying to figure out.

“My favorite memory (from UCLA) is the fact that every player I had graduated and got their degree and have done pretty well in whatever profession they have chosen,” Wooden said. “There have been attorneys, doctors, dentists, ministers, teachers, businessmen, there have been a couple of actors, whatever they have done they have done pretty well.”

While Wooden told me how important school was, my 7th-grade brother, Sam, told Wooden he couldn’t finish his history homework because he was there at the Los Angeles Central Library talking to him. To help Sam out, Wooden wrote a hand-written letter to Malibu High School teacher and huge UCLA fan, Mr. Bream, apologizing for keeping Sam from his homework. This shows how Wooden believes school is important, but understands there is also more in life.

Wooden is famous for his “Pyramid of Success,” which is a list of values he compiled that he says will help you in life. He emphasized to me how important hard work, and enjoying your work, is.

“The cornerstones of my Pyramid of Success are industriousness on one side, and enthusiasm on the other. You have to work hard, and you have to enjoy what you are doing. Unless you enjoy what you are doing, you are never able to come close to your own ability level,” Wooden said. “Never try to be better than somebody else, but never cease to be the best you can be. Always learn from someone else because you will never know a thing, I don’t either, that I didn’t learn from somebody else.”

Wooden said he is not happy with today’s professional athletes, especially players like Timberwolves guard Latrell Sprewell.

“You know what a coach’s greatest ally is?” Wooden asked. “The bench. Put ’em on the bench. But that is one of the problems in the professional level, the players are making so much more money than the coach is, they don’t listen to them a lot. It’s like, did you read about Sprewell and his thing? He is only making $14 million, and he has to feed his family, so he wants more money. That would be pretty tough to get along on that.”

Wooden thinks that professional athletes need more discipline, and he knows how to give it.

“I think the best motivational thing in the world is a pat on the back. Sometimes, make it a little lower and a little harder.”

But Wooden has other methods of discipline, as he explained to my mom.

“I think the best discipline is denial of privileges, and, are you their mother? Listen to them too, as well as have them listen to you,” Wooden said.

Today, too many coaches ignore the concept student-athlete, and they’re only interested in the athlete-student. It is unfortunate there aren’t more coaches with the values of John Wooden.

Seth Rubinroit, a 14-year-old Malibu High School student, writes for the publication, L.A. Youth He’ll soon be appearing on the reality TV show called “Make it or Break It” where he and his brother interview rookies trying to make it into the NBA.