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NCAA, 100, Honors Wooden, 95

January 08, 2006|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA honored John Wooden with its Gerald R. Ford Award on Saturday as the governing body of college sports kicked off its centennial celebration.

"You'd have to be surprised if it was anything less than 100 years old, wouldn't you?" Wooden said.

"Like me. I'm over 95."

The NCAA, originally known as the Intercollegiate Athletics Assn., was formed in 1906. Four years later, Wooden was born in Martinsville, Ind.

He and former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh were honored Saturday with the Ford award, named for the former U.S. president who was a member of two national championship football teams at Michigan.

NCAA President Myles Brand praised Wooden, who won a record 10 NCAA basketball titles at UCLA, as the epitome of the teacher-coach.

"Coach, intercollegiate athletics were made better because you have been among us," Brand said.

The audience of perhaps 2,000 in the historic Murat Theatre -- which opened the same year Wooden was born -- gave him two standing ovations.

Wooden, who has received more awards over the years than he could possibly display, was unusually emotional. He kept putting his fingertips to his head, his eyes moist, and laying a finger in front of his lips in a characteristic pose that looks something like a motion to shush the crowd.

"It's my age, I suppose," Wooden said. "I did choke up a bit. I think of things back home, and something came up that made me think of Nellie."

Wooden and his late wife were married in Indianapolis on Aug. 8, 1932, and attended a Mills Brothers concert on downtown's famous circle before Piggy Lambert, Wooden's coach at Purdue, picked him up at 7 a.m. the next morning.

He returns to Indiana at least once a year and visits the places he grew up and began his career. He made an extra trip for the NCAA convention to receive the award.

"We could not have college sports as we have it today if not for a governing body such as the NCAA," Wooden said. "Without them, we'd really be in a mess. No question about it."

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