March 31

This Day in History

Sports

Mar 31, 1975:

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden wins 10th national title

On this day in 1975, the University of Southern California (UCLA) Bruins basketball team wins its 10th NCAA championship title under coach John Wooden. Following the game, in which UCLA defeated the University of Kentucky, Wooden, considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball, announced his retirement. In 27 seasons coaching the Bruins, he transformed UCLA into a basketball powerhouse and compiled a record of 620-147.     

Wooden was born in Hall, Indiana, on October 14, 1910, and raised on his family’s farm, which lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When he was in his early teens, Wooden’s parents lost the farm due to difficult economic conditions and the family moved to Martinsville, Indiana. There, Wooden led his high school team to the state basketball championship in 1927.  He went on to play for Purdue University, where, at 5 feet 10 inches tall, he was a three-time All American guard and helped the Boilermakers win the national championship in 1932, his senior year. After graduation, Wooden spent two years teaching English and coaching basketball at Dayton High School in Kentucky, followed by nine years as a teacher and coach at Indiana’s South Bend Central High School. His record for 11 seasons as a high school coach was 218-42.

During World War II, Wooden was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, serving as a physical education trainer. After being discharged from the military in 1946, he coached basketball and baseball at Indiana State before he was hired in 1948 for the top basketball coaching job at UCLA. In the two decades prior to Wooden’s arrival, the Bruins had just three winning seasons. During Wooden’s first year at the helm, the team compiled a 22-7 record and finished first place in its division.

In 1964, UCLA won its first NCAA championship, defeating Duke University. The next year, the Bruins captured their second championship title, beating the University of Michigan. The following year, 1966, marked the only time between 1964 and 1973 that the Bruins failed to claim the championship. From 1971 to 1974, the Bruins won an unprecedented 88 consecutive games, an NCAA record that still holds. Additionally, the team went undefeated a record four seasons (1964, 1967, 1972, 1973). During this era, Wooden, dubbed the “Wizard of Westwood” (a reference to the Westwood section of Los Angeles, where UCLA is located), coached such players as Lewis Alcindor (who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton.

Key to Wooden’s success, according to The Los Angeles Times, was that he “built his dynasty on simple precepts. He insisted that his squad be meticulously prepared and in top physical condition. No detail was overlooked. The first practice of each season, the coach would remind his players about pulling on socks smoothly and carefully lacing sneakers--there would be no excuse for debilitating blisters. His workouts were so grueling that former players said they often were relieved to play in games.”

On March 31, 1975, UCLA won its 10th NCAA championship title under Wooden, beating Kentucky 92-85. To date, no other coach has won as many NCAA titles. Wooden retired following that game, and the Bruins did not win another national championship until 1995. The recipient of numerous awards, Wooden was the first person named to the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and coach. After retiring, he continued to attend UCLA games and was in demand as a public speaker. The legendary coach died at age 99 of natural causes in Los Angeles on June 4, 2010.

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