Wilkes: Wooden Impacted Me In So Many Ways

“He was just a good human being,” Jamaal Wilkes says. "I’m so blessed and fortunate that he touched my life.”

Reiter Than You
July 26, 2018 - 11:15 am
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In the grand scheme of things, John Wooden is considered a basketball legend.

While many remember Wooden as the head coach that pioneered the UCLA Bruins to win 10 national championships in 12 years (including an NCAA record of seven in a row), a small, selective group of people had the privilege to know the man behind the legend.

One of these people is Hall of Fame forward Jamaal Wilkes, a two-time NCAA champion who played under Wooden for four years at UCLA. In an interview with Bill Reiter on CBS Sports Radio, Wilkes reflected on his time with the Bruins, underscoring the lasting impact that his old college coach had on his life.

“He impacted me so much in so many different ways,” Wilkes said on Reiter Than You. “I think not just me, but all of the young men that came under his supervision. He was a very simple man, yet very profound.

“He was just a good human being,” Wilkes continued. “Although you don’t realize it when you’re there as a youngster at UCLA with everything going on — competing for minutes, trying to keep up with your classroom work — (Wooden) was a real taskmaster on the court. Very feisty, very competitive – and I never heard him swear in the four years that I was around him. Just being around someone like that — day in and day out with practices and games — all our drills in practice were all for a purpose, and they all fit into a bigger plan. He didn’t believe in long, drawn-out practices. He was very efficient with his time. Technically, he was a brilliant coach.”

While modern coaches and players pursue endorsements and branding opportunities, Wilkes said his former mentor had no interest in that. Wooden only thought of himself as a teacher, and nothing more.

“He saw himself as a teacher first, and that’s what he focused on,” Wilkes said. “People really don’t understand that because it’s a cliche, and all of these coaches and players today are all about brand, hype and self-promotion. But he wasn’t into that. Yes, he wanted to win and it was very competitive, but at the end of the day, he was a teacher. He wanted to develop human beings, and I’m so blessed and fortunate that he touched my life.”