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.
The book reflects on Wooden’s core philosophies and principles behind his numerous basketball successes. It also shows how Wooden influenced Adam’s career and coaching style as they became very close friends. Adams told blackfive.net, that his first year of coaching was Wooden’s last. After retiring UCLA’s Athletic Director asked Adams if he wanted a high profile officemate. “The book describes how we met and told me ‘Gary, you know you are coaching my favorite sport, baseball.”
Adams went on to say that during an interview Wooden commented that he was never asked to be an assistant baseball coach. Adams chuckled as he noted, “I would have been proud and honored for him to be my bench coach. Can you imagine having Coach Wooden as my right hand man to help me think about what I should do? Unfortunately, during those times there was never such a thing as a bench coach.”
There are many stories about former players, as well as how both coaches viewed the changes to the games. Both coaches, as with today, 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. 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 player would have been sitting on the bench before his feet landed on the ground.”
Baseball according to both coaches has not changed for the better with the American League rule of having a designated hitter. Adams said he and Coach Wooden did not like the designated hitter rule because it took the strategy away from the game. Would a pitcher who is doing well be pulled for a pinch-hitter?
Conversations with Coach Wooden is an engrossing book for both a sports fan and a non-sports fan. If you like basketball or baseball, the reader will love the personal stories of the coaches and players in this book. But beyond that is the life lessons these two coaches taught through the sports of baseball and basketball. These lessons seem to have been forgotten by some Americans today.