Memories and lessons from the John Wooden Basketball Camp

14 Comments

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.

De’Aaron Fox’s windmill dunk put the exclamation point on a Kings win (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

The Sacramento Kings won’t be a playoff team this season, but they are a feel-good story and we are poised to watch them rise up in the Western Conference for years to come.

Part of that surprising success has been the emergence of De’Aaron Fox as a leader and a real first option in just his second year in the NBA. He’s already one of the fastest players in the league, but appears that Fox could be a contestant in next year’s dunk contest if need be.

Late in Sacramento’s win over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, Fox threw down a windmill dunk on a breakaway that was something to behold.

Check out the video above and tell me he shouldn’t represent the Kings in the contest next season.

Kevin Huerter dunked, then stared down Jimmy Butler (VIDEO)

AP
Leave a comment

Atlanta Hawks rookie Kevin Huerter contributed seven points, five assists, three rebounds, and two steals during his team’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night. He performed reasonably, and he’s often been a double-digit scorer for the Hawks this season.

But for Huerter, the moment of the game came for him on a breakaway dunk attempt with less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. In a close game, Taurean Prince was able to poke the ball away from Joel Embiid, leading to Huerter streaking down the floor with the ball.

Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler ran to recover, but couldn’t quite stop Huerter, who threw it through the rack.

That’s when Huerter stared down the wily vet.

Via Twitter:

If Butler is the kind of guy who likes “dogs” then perhaps he has a newfound respect for Huerter these days?

Trae Young beat the Sixers on a game-winning floater, 129-127.

Jeremy Lamb hits 48-foot game-winning shot of the season (VIDEO)

AP
Leave a comment

The Charlotte Hornets are still alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race. As the Hornets took on the Toronto Raptors in Ontario on Sunday, things came down to the wire between the two East rivals.

With less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter, Kawhi Leonard appeared ready to play the hero yet again. Leonard hit a game-winning shot over the Portland Trail Blazers at the beginning of March, and it looked like he had sealed a win out of a time game against the Hornets with just 45 seconds left. With everything tied, 112-112, Leonard scored on a go-ahead 18-foot jumper.

Leonard then blocked Kemba Walker‘s shot attempt with 32 seconds to go, giving the Raptors real hope to win the game. Toronto was unable to score on the ensuing possession, and it came down to a final shot attempt for Charlotte.

On a sideline out of bounds, Jeremy Lamb had just 3.1 seconds to get off what was undoubtedly the game winner of this 2018-19 NBA season.

Via Twitter:

The Hornets are now in 10th place, two games back of the Miami Heat for the eighth seed in the western conference with just nine games to go in the regular season.

Charlotte hasn’t been eliminated just yet, thanks in large part to Lamb’s incredible play.

Pau Gasol says Chris Wallace joked about being traded for brother Marc

AP
1 Comment

The Pau Gasol trade shaped the face of the NBA as the first decade of the new millennium ended. It made the Los Angeles Lakers relevant again, and gave Kobe Bryant a solid second running mate to push him to another two championships in 2009 and 2010.

Gasol was famously traded in a package that included the rights to his younger brother Marc Gasol, who became a star for the Memphis Grizzlies before being traded to the Toronto Raptors this past winter.

Big trades involving superstars like the Gasol often come with the benefit of advanced knowledge by the player or their agent, and with some communication between them. But according to Gasol, the first person to tell him about the trade was newly-minted Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, who had joined the team before the 2007 NBA Draft.

Speaking on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast, Gasol said that Wallace tried to make light of the situation by pointing out the irony of being traded for his own brother.

Via the Woj Pod:

I walk in and the first thing he tells me is, ‘Pau please, come in, sit down. You just got traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.’

I’m like, ‘Sorry, what?’

I couldn’t take it in. What are you talking about? At that point I was not expecting to be traded at all.

[Wallace said], ‘You got traded for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, a second round pick, and the funniest of all, your brother Marc.’

I’m like, what? Is this a joke, [he’s] trying to be funnier and funnier? At that time I couldn’t process what he was saying, I’m like, is this really happening? Why is he making a joke out of it when I’ve be here for six-and-a-half years, [Wallace] basically just got there, and now I’m traded.

Obviously I got more excited as the minutes went by, but it was crazy and it was Chris that told me. Obviously it was one of the greatest moments of my career just because …. at first it was hard to to process being treated and moving away from the team that you’ve given so much to (and in the other way around) but then I walk into a situation that would allow me to to win. Which is what exactly what I wanted, what I craved, and to play with one of the greatest players in Kobe and to be coached by Phil Jackson.

It is one of the great NBA narratives that both brothers were swapped for one another, and that each had continued success at a level in the NBA that not many siblings have experienced in their lives.

Perhaps he didn’t know why Wallace was joking about the trade at the time, but obviously Gasol knows that it worked out OK for him in any case.