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.

Watch James Harden score 50 as Rockets beat winless 76ers 116-114

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden had 50 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, and the Houston Rockets beat the winless Philadelphia 76ers 116-114 on Friday night.

Harden was 14 for 28 from the field and 16 for 20 at the line in his third career game with 50 or more points. He is averaging 36.2 points in his last five games.

Philadelphia moved one loss away from matching the New Jersey Nets’ NBA-worst mark of 18 losses to open a season. The Sixers have dropped 27 in a row dating to last season for the longest losing streak in major U.S. professional sports history, passing the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976 to ’77. The previous record was also matched by the 76ers in 2013-14.

Robert Covington had 28 points for Philadelphia, which made a franchise-record 16 3-pointers in 35 attempts. One day removed from a Boston nightclub altercation, rookie Jahlil Okafor had 11 points and six rebounds.

Facing an 11-point deficit to start the fourth quarter, the 76ers opened the period on a 24-8 run to take a five-point lead.

Down by two with less than 3 seconds remaining, Covington intentionally missed a free throw that was rebounded by Dwight Howard to secure the Houston win.

Harden led the Rockets to one of their best shooting performances of the season, helping Houston win for just the second time in its last nine games.

The Rockets shot 52 percent from the field, including an 11-for-20 night from beyond the arc. Howard added 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Philadelphia scored 100 points for the first time in nearly three weeks and just the fourth time all season. Isaiah Canaan had 23 points, and Jerami Grant scored 18.


76ers:C Nerlens Noel was a late scratch with right knee soreness. … SG Nik Stauskas returned from a one-game absence after suffering a knee contusion in Monday’s loss to Minnesota. … Canaan got his fifth start of the season over regular starter T.J. McConnell.

Rockets: Houston improved to 68-68 all-time against Philadelphia. … The Rockets had a season-high 35 third-quarter points. . PG Patrick Beverley received a technical foul in the second quarter after throwing an elbow near the face of Phil Pressey.



Report: Jahlil Okafor had gun pulled on him in another altercation in October

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot

Apparently Sixers’ star rookie Jahlil Okafor‘s altercation outside a nightclub in Boston earlier this week — one for which he apologized, and there will be no law enforcement action — was not his only altercation since training camp opened.

Okafor had a gun pulled on him back in October, according to a report by John Finger at

The 19-year-old Sixers’ rookie was outside an Old City nightclub after 2 a.m. on October 4 when he and another person began arguing with two men sitting in a parked car near the corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets, according to a witness. The verbal disagreement escalated and a witness said he saw Okafor try to punch the driver through the open driver’s side window. During the altercation, the driver and passenger exited the car and the passenger pointed a gun in the direction of Okafor and his associate, per the witness.

U.S. Park Rangers — who patrol nearby Independence Hall — arrived on the scene during the altercation, according to separate reports filed by the U.S. Park Rangers and the Philadelphia Police Department and obtained by The man who exited the passenger side of the car fled on foot and appeared to toss his gun, per multiple witnesses. According to the police report, the driver got into a black Camaro with red stripes and sped off. The car was not stopped….

A law enforcement source told that a gun magazine was recovered near the scene and submitted for fingerprint analysis. The law enforcement source said the investigation is ongoing. It is unclear what happened to Okafor or his associate after the incident or if they were interviewed by U.S. Park Rangers or PPD.

The Sixers told Finger that they were aware of the investigation but would not comment further.

Add this to the incident in Boston and it makes you wonder about the situations Okafor keeps finding himself in. That said, we’re talking about a 19-year-old, and if you’ve ever been that age you know it is not always when you make your best decisions. Okafor is just going to have to grow up more quickly — and under a brighter spotlight — than the rest of us.


Raptors center Bismack Biyombo: Cavaliers believe we’re tougher than them

Lebron James, Bismack Biyombo
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LeBron James and James Jones called a players-only meeting after the Cavaliers’ loss to the Raptors on Wednesday.

This is why.

Toronto center Bismack Biyombo, via Chris Haynes of

“The most important thing is that we played tough,” Bismack told “Cleveland is a good team, but when they come in here, they feel like we are the tough ones and that’s what we want to accomplish as the definition of the Toronto Raptors.”

Those are harsh words from Biyombo. It’s one thing to say you believe your team is tougher than the opponent. It’s another to say you can tell the opponent believes your team is tougher.

Privately, though, I bet LeBron appreciates this comment.

The Cavaliers are not soft, but their goal is nothing short of a championship. They need to get tougher if they’re going to beat the Warriors, whom LeBron said look hungrier than Cleveland. So, LeBron has already begun challenging his teammates. He wants them to believe they have far to go, because that will pay off in the long run.

Biyombo’s answer furthers the Cavs toward that goal.

Plus, if the Cavaliers and Raptors meet in the playoffs, it’ll make it much easier for Cleveland to find motivation. But Toronto is a tough team. That series would be no walkover unless the Cavs use this criticism constructively.

Jerry West: Draymond Green is a Top 10 player in NBA

Draymond Green

Jerry West is smarter than you. And me. Put together. This guy is more than just the logo, he helped assemble the Showtime Lakers, he was a vocal advocate of not trading Klay Thompson for Kevin Love, he has been right far more than he has been wrong making basketball decisions.

And he says Draymond Green is a top-10 player in the NBA. West was on KNBR radio in the Bay Area when he made these comments (hat tip to Eye on Basketball):

“I think honestly we have two of the top 10 players in the league — Draymond Green is the second one. He’s the most underrated player in the NBA, period. There are very few players, I think, anyone in our organization would trade for him. He’s just a remarkable player. Watch him handle the ball, watch him make passes, defensively he’s everywhere. If he’s not a top 10 player in this league, I don’t know who is.”

West is right.

If you’re shaking your head no, then you don’t realize how 29 other teams are trying to find their own Green right now. Name the players who can step into the Warriors’ system and do what he does right now? It’s a short list. He is at the heart of what makes Golden State so dangerous; he’s more valuable to their style than Klay Thompson.

Well, we can add one caveat — Green is top 10 if your team is playing small. If you’re just going to play him as a four next to a traditional big all the time he’s still good but not a game changer. However, Green is a game changer at the center spot and the reason that the Warriors are so feared when they go small.

What is usually discussed about Green is he’s a fierce defender who can hold his own with a big inside, make a traditional center work, get rebounds, and still switch out on a pick-and-roll and harass a quick guard. Golden State doesn’t suffer defensively when they go small — they allow 9.1 points fewer per 100 possessions when they go small than their season-long average. Green makes it happen; that’s why he was second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season.

What often gets overlooked is how great he is as a pick-setting big when Golden State goes small. No defense has figured out the Stephen Curry/Green pick-and-roll. In part because Curry is Curry and almost indefensible. But Green can roll and finish in the lane, pop out and knock down a three, or do a half-roll to the free throw line and when the help defender closes on him he finds Andre Iguodala alone in the corner for a three (or Klay Thompson at the arc, or a slashing Harrison Barnes, you get the idea). Green is a skilled playmaker in his own right and plays with a high IQ, making the Warriors tough to defend.

In Golden State’s system, there is no doubt Green is a top 10 player.