Memories and lessons from the John Wooden Basketball Camp


wooden007.jpgFive days doing nothing but playing basketball. To me as a skinny little fourth grader growing up in Los Angeles, it sounded like nirvana.

The John Wooden basketball camp. I didn’t expect anything but a week of playing my favorite sport, and it was summer so I certainly didn’t expect to learn anything. That was for school and catechism. I expected to go and just have fun and show off my jump shot, which was way better than any of the other kids in my class. Wooden was going to be impressed.

“What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player.”

My parents loaded me and a brand new pair of Pony high tops in the Chevy Nova and off we went to the Cal Lutheran campus in Thousand Oaks. Of course I knew who John Wooden was — he was the coach who didn’t lose. Or at least it seemed that way. Los Angeles loved UCLA basketball and worshiped Wooden. A guy who could have had anything he wanted in Los Angeles but luxuriated in a simple life with his family.

So there we were on the first day of drills, a couple hundred kids in a huge gym, and in walks Coach Wooden. This isn’t like so many camps today, where the name that draws kids to the camp walks in on the last day, gives a speech, shakes some hands, takes his check and moves on. Wooden was there, hands on, every day.

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

We were ready for some basketball. We were ready to play. And he told us to sit down and take off our shoes and socks. What? UCLA legend Marcus Johnson would come to speak to us later and ask if he started the camp with learning how to put on our socks and shoes. He had done it, too. When the UCLA players showed up for the first day of practice, Wooden went through the same thing with his highly recruited players. Learn how to put on your socks and shoes properly so you reduced blisters and foot problems.

Start at the beginning and make sure you get the little things right. It is just one of the many lessons I still carry over to this day from those camps. Things I try to apply to my life now.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Two summers I went to the Wooden camp and it remains some of the best memories of my childhood. I remember friends and I playing jokes on each other at meals (leaving to go to the bathroom during breakfast was a big mistake, your food would not be edible upon your return). I remember the session spent going over the Pyramid of Success. I remember the Dallas Cowboys having training camp there at the same time and thinking I didn’t know people could be so big.

I remember Swen Nater speaking to us and halfway through the talk reaching up and grabbing the net with his hands — feet still flat on the floor — and leaning on it like it was a lamppost. At that point, he could have given us the secret to becoming an NBA player, the secret to making our parents feed us ice cream for dinner every night, and we never would have heard it. We were amazed and no words entered our ears.

And I remember the basketball. Lots of basketball. On indoor courts and outdoor ones, against players often better, but holding my own. I remember it was about sportsmanship after every game. I remember spending an hour with one of the young coaches reworking my jumpshot form. For Wooden, it was always about doing things the right way. To this day my form is pretty good. (Note: good form is no predictor of shot accuracy.)

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”

Years later, while working my way through college waiting tables in Northridge, I worked at a restaurant Wooden used to come in to semi-regularly. We were careful to sit him in a place where other guests would not bother him.

Like most people growing up in Los Angeles, I’m pretty unaffected by famous people. Wooden was different. I went up to him near the end of his meal and said thank you. He asked me about college and what my plans were and how I liked working part time as a high school sports stringer at the Daily News. I refilled his tea. He was the kind of person that when you talked to them you felt like the only person in the room. I’m terrible at that, but I remember that moment and try to be better about it.

Fast forward to this past Thursday night, me pushing to get stories done after Game 1 of the Lakers Celtics. I instinctively told myself, “be quick, don’t hurry.” Maybe my favorite and the most useful Woodenism. Many other ones that are part of the running dialogue in my head. I still think of those lessons.

Like so many people who crossed paths with John Wooden, I went in expecting one thing and came out with lessons that lasted a lifetime. Things that didn’t sink in to a fourth-grader but do to a guy still around the game every day in another capacity. To a guy who is a husband. To a guy who is a father. To a guy who wants to be a better person.

Thank you Coach Wooden. For everything.

JaVale McGee apparently makes Warriors regular-season roster

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 15:  JaVale McGee #1 of the Golden State Warriors brings the ball up the court against the Los Angeles Lakers during their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on October 15, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Golden State won 112-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Steve Kerr warned us, but it’s still difficult to digest.

The NBA’s best team will have the league’s most foolhardy player.

Yes, the Warriors are apparently keeping JaVale McGee.

Golden State waived its other three players without guaranteed salaries today: Elliot Williams, Phil Pressey and Cameron Jones. That drops the Warriors’ roster, including McGee, to 15, the regular-season limit. Unless Golden State prefers to open the season with a vacancy, McGee made the team.

McGee earned the job with a strong preseason. No Warriors match his rim protection, giving him clear value in certain matchups

Zaza Pachulia remains Golden State’s starting center, and Draymond Green will play plenty at the position. But I wouldn’t be surprised if McGee outperforms an aging Anderson Varejao (whose primary skill is flopping) and a rookie Damian Jones (who’s recovering from injury) to become a rotation regular.

McGee also has potential to add comic relief to what’s already a tremendous viewing experience.

Report: Kings and Thunder were ‘seriously engaged’ on Rudy Gay-Cameron Payne trade until Payne got hurt

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 03:  Rudy Gay #8 of the Sacramento Kings during the first half at American Airlines Center on March 3, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Kings are still looking for answers at point guard.

Darren Collison? Not for the season’s first eight games, at least.

Ty Lawson? Um…

Seth Curry? Too late.

Ricky Rubio? Not right now.

Goran Dragic? I mean, maybe, I guess.

Cameron Payne?

If it weren’t for Payne’s foot injury, perhaps Rudy Gay would play for the Thunder.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Kings were seriously engaged with Oklahoma City on a Rudy Gay deal that would’ve included the Thunder’s second-year point guard, Cameron Payne, but those talks stalled after Payne broke his foot in September, league sources said.

This suggest the Kings are not as steadfast on keeping Gay as they’ve suggested, so perhaps we’ll see more trade rumors involving him.

A deal based around Gay and Payne would’ve made sense for both teams.

Sacramento would get a younger player (22 to Gay’s 30) and someone under greater team control (three more years on a rookie-scale contract then restricted free agency rather than Gay planning to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent). Payne would give the Kings much-needed hope at point guard, and he could grow with a team trying to retool around DeMarcus Cousins.

Oklahoma City is far more capable of winning now, even without Kevin Durant, and Gay would help by replacing some of Durant’s scoring punch at small forward. Such a deal could hinder the Thunder down the road, but they seem so intent on making a statement behind Russell Westbrook this season. The bigger concern than swapping Payne’s future for Gay’s present might be Gay opting in and interrupting Oklahoma City’s bigger goals for next summer.

Alas, Payne’s injury puts such a trade on hold, if not closing the window for it entirely.

Elton Brand retires ‘for real, this time’

BOSTON, MA - MAY 12:  Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers celebrates a shot in the first quarter against the Boston Celtics in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Elton Brandretired” last year, though he left the door open for a return.

The 76ers, desperate for a veteran presence, signed him last January. They even re-signed him this offseason.

But Brand wont stick with Philadelphia into the regular season.

Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly:

Brand had a $1 million guarantee on his contract. It’s unclear how much, if any, of that money he’ll get. The first $980,431 would come from the 76ers, any more would come from the league. Philadelphia is far enough below the salary floor to give him a parting gift with minimal team-building constraint.

There had been talk of Brand surviving from the 20-man offseason roster to the 15-man regular-season roster, but this provides clarity for the 76ers. Undrafted rookies James Webb III, Brandon Paul, Cat Barber and Shawn Long are the other likely cuts.

If this is truly the end for Brand, he had a fantastic career since the Bulls drafted him No. 1 overall in 1999. Neither his peak (seventh in 2006 MVP voting, leading the Clippers that year to their first playoff-series victory in Los Angeles) nor longevity (17 seasons, including eight averaging at 20 points and nine rebounds per game) have been properly appreciated.

J.R. Smith denies racism toward Jeremy Lin

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19:  Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks reacts with teammate J.R. Smith #8 during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden on February 19, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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Jeremy Lin sensibly noted how his Asian-American heritage has influenced his basketball career, for better or worse.

Among the negatives: It made it harder for Lin to gain acceptance as a basketball player.

But did J.R. Smith show that prejudice against Lin while they played together with the Knicks? That’s what Craig Carton claimed when Lin appeared on Boomer & Carton.

  • Carton: “Let me say directly what we think went on, and you tell me if you felt it or if I’m right. There’s the thought – and I believe this, so I’ll say it’s my thought, maybe no one else’s – that there’s a racial component that because you’re a Chinese-American player, that certain African-American players in your locker room, J.R. Smith being one of them, did not want to accept you as a ballplayer. And when you were offered money to play and this big contract comes your way, there’s resentment because of where you’re from and who you are. Did you ever feel that?”
  • Lin: “Yeah, I don’t know. That’s such a hard question, because I’ve never spoken to him or anybody directly about it. So, it’s all speculation. Do I think that – I’ve never spoken to J.R. about it. I’ve never spoken to whoever else you might think about it. And so it’s hard for me, because I don’t want come out and speculate. I will just say, the one thing I will say is that race has been a huge part of my journey ever since I was a child trying to play basketball. So, I do think there’s always that type of component that would be involved, but again, I’ve always said, it’s a double-edged sword. It comes with the good. It comes with the bad. And the bad is, yeah, sometimes I’m different. I look different, and I’m treated different, and that’s a negative thing. And in some ways that’s a really positive thing, too. Linsanity wouldn’t have been Linsanity if I was white or black or whatever. Part of the reason why it was so crazy is because I’m Asian. So to answer your question, I do think race definitely plays a part into it. I think it always has. And to what degree or to how much or to who felt what, that I can’t really specifically give a good answer for you.”

Smith responded emphatically:

I can’t speak to what’s in Smith’s mind, but I’m going to need better evidence than Carton’s unsubstantiated claim that Smith showed racism toward Lin before I believe it.