Author: Seth Davis

Publisher: Henry Hold and Company / Times Books
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9280-6

He was, in short, a hard-to-please, detail-obsessed, hyper-organized taskmaster and control freak – which made it all the more jarring when he adopted a hands-off approach during games,” Seth Davis writes in his book about John Wooden, WOODEN: A Coach’s Life.

At six hundred and eight pages, this biography based on the legendary UCLA basketball coach would be enjoyed by enthusiasts, educators, and historians of the sport. Divided into four annual seasons that cover thirty-five chapters, those who loved, played for, coached against, and resented him reminisce about the iconic figure. With some profanity (mostly quoted), included are eight pages of black and white photographs, his coaching record, over thirty pages of notes, acknowledgments, and a thorough index.


Senior writer for Sports Illustrated, Davis spent more than four years compiling and gleaning public and personal information on the positive and negative side of Wooden, the “Wizard of Westwood” who led his team to ten NCAA titles and a record eighty-eight game winning streak beginning in the nineteen sixties.


Starting from the determined, self-disciplined child raised by strict Christian parents on their sixty-acre Indiana farm, young Wooden wanted to be a civil engineer. Learning balance in life through a new sport called basket ball, he grew up during the Depression, played at Purdue, became a US Navy lieutenant, and incurred a back injury, changing his vocational path to teaching English at the high school level.

After two years coaching basketball at Indiana State University, he moved his wife and family to sunny California and began a stellar twenty-seven year career instructing famous players such as Alcindor, Allen, Goodrich, Hazzard, Walton, Wicks, and Wilkes in his fast-breaking, zone-press playing style.


The author confirms it obviously was not all fun and games as Wooden arduously drilled his “Pyramid of Success” into his players who, at times, were defiant, disrespectful, and wearisome of his puritanical, disciplinary rules about foot care, haircuts, curfew, and pre-game superstitions. Never known to cuss, drink, or cheat on his wife, Nell, the aloof, hard-headed, and uncompromising coach was verbally abusive to referees, ritualistically referred to his five-by-seven note cards, and fastidiously controlled his players at arm’s length as he gripped a silver cross in his hand.


Written as a beginning-to-end-of-life story, readers quickly understand not only one man’s challenges, accomplishments, and disappointments en route to his rise to fame in the new world of basketball, additionally shared are the era’s racism, hostility among players, and jostling by power-hungry individuals.


Lengthy due to several additional biographies, Davis’s detailed perspective of Wooden’s “goodness gracious, sakes alive” life during an exciting yet tumultuous time in American sports is well-documented, unbiased, and objective, reiterating the prolific coach was a man, not a wizard or saint.


Thanks to Press Box Publicity for furnishing this book in exchange for a review based on the reader’s opinion

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