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UCLA students mourn John Wooden's death

Hundreds gather on campus to honor the legendary coach. 'He was bigger than just our school,' one student says. 'He was college basketball.'

June 05, 2010|By Robert Faturechi and Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • UCLA students gather Friday outside the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center after hearing that legendary Bruins basketball coach John Wooden had passed away. Wooden, 99, won 10 national titles between 1964 and 1975. He had been in failing health for several months.
UCLA students gather Friday outside the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

They weren't even born when revered UCLA basketball coach John Wooden had his glory days and string of national championships. Yet hundreds of students still gathered on campus in his honor and mourned his death Friday night.

As word of Wooden's passing spread, more than 500 students joined a somber, candlelit remembrance of the legendary coach across from the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, where he had died minutes before at the age of 99. When Wooden's children stepped outside the building, the crowd greeted them with chants of "Wooden! Wooden! Wooden!"

"He was bigger than just our school," said Carie Spidel, a UCLA junior who helped organize the vigil. "He was college basketball."

She carried a sign that quoted Wooden: "It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen."

Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, a graduating senior who was a guard on the UCLA basketball team, addressed the crowd with a bullhorn, asking first for a moment of silence and then raucous clapping.

"I think he was an inspiration to all of us," Abdul-Hamid said. "This is a testament to all he's done."

He described Wooden as "a memory bank" who frequently visited current athletes and regaled them with poetry and tales of his championships in the 1960s and '70s.

"This is somber here, but the 99 years of life weren't," Abdul-Hamid said. "I don't know if anyone can live a perfect life, but he pursued it passionately."

As they emerged from the hospital for a short time, Wooden's children and other relatives were teary-eyed as they watched the rally.

"We're sad and we're happy," said daughter Nan Wooden.

Jim Wooden said his father had been suffering the last few months and "was ready to go be with my mother, who he's been missing dearly for 25 years."

Also at the scene was Tyler Trapani, one of Wooden's great-grandsons and a UCLA basketball player.

The students originally had planned an 8 p.m. rally in support of Wooden, who was reported earlier in the day to be in grave condition.

"It is heartbreaking, but we were doing this for him. So we're still going to do it," said sophomore Theresa Gio, another organizer.

Decades removed from Wooden's championships, the students nonetheless said the coach transcended sports and will be remembered for his principles, famously summed up in his "Pyramid of Success" and its emphasis on cooperation and responsibility.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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