More than Just a Sports Book
This time of year has sports fans euphoric since it is the beginning of the baseball season and March Madness is heating up. A new book, Conversations with Coach Wooden by former UCLA baseball coach Gary Adams is very relevant since it combines both these sports. But it’s more than just a sports book because it explains how two coaches reflected on life and tried to retain important American values that appear lost today. Gary Adams shared an office with Coach Wooden for almost a decade after the legendary basketball coach’s retirement. American Thinker had the privilege of interviewing Coach Adams.
Many have heard of John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, which was about life as it applies to basketball. It basically came down to applying these principles so a person can strive to be the best they can. Coach Adams told American Thinker of an example, “We both felt winning is overrated and effort is underrated. Sure we wanted to win but just as with life we wanted our players to understand they should always strive to do their best. Once, after an NCAA playoff basketball game, Coach got into his player’s faces. They were celebrating hard because they had won by a few points. He thought they played lousy and told them he would have been more proud of them if they gave an 100% effort in losing, than winning and not giving their best effort.”
In the book there is another example of how both coaches wanted their players to realize that “practice makes perfect.” They were disciplinarians during practices, very strict, and made sure players were serious about their work ethic. Yet, during game time they allowed their players to take the lead. Wooden would paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, “rather trust and be disappointed than distrust and be miserable.” Unlike many others today, neither wanted their players to be robotic. They felt the players needed to think on their own because that is what life is all about -- whether it was Wooden’s point guard who led the offense or Adams allowing his catcher to call the plays. An extension of this thought was their desire to be teachers first. Wooden would comment that he coached “student athletes,” noting the word “student” comes before athlete.
Both coaches believed change is not necessarily for the better. Regarding basketball, Wooden was disheartened with the one and done, the slam-dunk, and the “show-off” players. He felt basketball was no longer a sport but pure entertainment. For him, the beauty of basketball was in the fundamentals of it being a team sport, something that seems to be lost in Washington. In the book, Adams quotes Wooden, “Those fancy behind-the-back passes and showmanship slam dunks do not make the execution of the game any better. They are only done to entertain the fans. Well, it does not entertain me.” He went on to say that the best basketball is having sound fundamentals that emphasize “good old-fashioned teamwork.”
Wooden thought, “the slam dunk may be good for entertainment, but it’s not good for the game.” He once told Adams that at a UCLA basketball game a Bruin went high in the air and did a pirouette slam-dunk. His response was that on his team, “that player would have been sitting on the bench before his feet landed on the ground.”
Regarding the one and done, Adams commented to American Thinker, “He hated it. Not a mild ‘I do not prefer it,' but 'I hate it.'’” This takes away from the game in so many ways including having fans not able to identify with a team and there is no hero to root for over a period of time.
Adams said he and Coach Wooden did not like the designated hitter rule because it took the strategy away from the game. For example, would a pitcher who is doing well be pulled for a pinch-hitter?
Anyone watching the NCAA Basketball tournament should reflect on how the college game has changed and not for the better. Conversations with Coach Wooden burnishes a legend while revealing how the sports of basketball and baseball can parallel life. A sports fan will enjoy the many anecdotes while a non-fan can learn about friendship and Wooden’s philosophy of life.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.