Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Winds of Fate

The Winds of Fate


Once, Coach Wooden read me a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox that was a great encouragement to me. I don’t remember the occasion but I believe it was the following.


In 1975, fewer than two years into my ABA career, I suffered a knee injury while playing for the San Antonio Spurs. In warmups, I jumped and heard a snap in my left knee. As it turned out, about one-fifth of my knee cap split away from the rest. I finished the season and then traveled to Inglewood, California, to have the Lakers doctor perform surgery. Surgery went well, I was wheeled into the recovery room, and finally to my hospital room.


I went in and out of sleep. Once when I woke up, I saw two rather blurry faces. As my vision cleared, I recognized John Wooden and Bill Sharman. Sharman was coach of the Lakers at that time I believe. What a wonderful surprise.


Mr. Sharman handed me a book on basketball he and Coach Wooden had authored. It contained detailed explanations and illustration regarding the fundamentals of the game. It was signed by both of them. I still have it.


And then that’s when, I believe, Coach Wooden read me a portion of the poem, The Winds of Fate. He could see I was discouraged. Here I was, just a year or so into my career and I was facing a huge challenge. This was a serious injury and Coach knew it. He wanted me to know, my success for coming back was directly related to my attitude. I got the message. I came back. I love you, Coach Wooden.


The Winds of Fate


But to every man there openeth,

A high way and a low.

And every mind decideth,

The way his soul shall go.


One ship drives East while the other drives West,

By the self-same winds that blow.

‘Tis the set of the sails,

And not the gales,

That tells it where to go.


Like the winds of the sea,

Are the waves of fate,

As we journey along through life.

‘Tis the set of the soul,

That determines the goal,

And not the calm or the strife.

Friday, August 10, 2018

John Wooden and Mental Toughness

John Wooden and Mental Toughness


Henry Bibby gets the outlet pass. It’s another UCLA fast break. Bibby passes to Rowe on the left side. Here comes Wicks on the right side. Steve Patterson is trailing and coming straight down the middle. Rowe back to Bibby, Bibby to Wicks, Wicks to Patterson for the uncontested layup. Score!


That would be a signature play for John Wooden’s UCLA teams. We were famous for being unselfish, in great condition, and extremely skilled especially with the pass. But few talk about how mentally-tough the Bruins were.


Mentally-tough athletes are conditioned to maintain poise, effort, and concentration during times of resistance and nonresistance, and are able to give their best when their best is needed.


When we were up by twenty points, we kept pouring it on. When we were down by ten points, we raised our game and made the comeback to win. Nothing could rattle us, no fan, score, or official. Nothing could cause us to think it was hopeless or in the bag. We were tough, as tough as nails.


How did Coach Wooden develop such resilient individuals and teams? Here are three steps:  


Step 1: Teach the Pyramid

Although Coach Wooden never directly taught us the Pyramid of Success, it was there. It was there when he said before games, “If you’ve done all you can to prepare, I want your heads up at the end.” It was there when he never mentioned the word, “win,” one time. It was there when he taught the fundamentals (skill), subjected us to immense physical challenges (condition), and incessantly emphasized working together (team spirit). Those three blocks of the pyramid will begin to make you tough. Mentally tough players are always skilled, conditioned and unselfish.


Step 2: Apply the Pressure

Coach Wooden trained the mind to be the boss over the body. That’s mental toughness. The body wants to do this but you say, “No. You’re doing that.” All practice long, we were begging to take a break. When he saw my tongue dragging on the hardwood floor he yelled, “Get going! What are you waiting for?” That’s when my mind told my body to move. His method for getting yourself in shape was, “Go until you can’t go anymore and then go a little more.”


We scrimmaged a lot, half court and full. We screwed up a lot. He would say, “Don’t sulk. Try it again. Figure it out.” That’s when my mind told my body to get going once again. He applied pressure every day, all season.


Step 3: Model the Pattern

No written word, no oral plea,

Can teach our youth what they should be,

Nor all the books on all the shelves;

It’s what the teachers are themselves.



Teach the Pyramid and apply the pressure but the best way to teach mental toughness is to demonstrate it. UCLA players were mentally-tough because our coach was. Nothing rattled John Wooden. Nothing affected his concentration. He was a tough son of a gun.


When we got behind in a game because the other team was hot and we had not yet figured out how to beat them, Coach grinned. To us it was a big thing; to him it was a small thing. He knew we would come back. When we saw that, we believed and went to work.


So that’s how John Wooden created mentally-tough teams. Get us down by twenty, and we’re coming back, together. Let us up by twenty, and we’ll bury you. And if the score was close with a minute to go, you had better be careful. UCLA was raising its game to a level you have never seen.  

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Truth about Sam Gilbert and John Wooden

The Truth about Sam Gilbert and John Wooden


The summer between my junior and senior years at UCLA, I had the privilege of being coached for two weeks by Bobby Knight at the 1972 Olympic trials in Colorado Springs. I found him to be an exceptional teacher and his knowledge of the game, I must say, was in the same league as my college coach John Wooden. He was also fun to be around, especially when watching him interact with the officials.


The entire group was divided into eight teams, so each team played seven games. The very first game, Knight was all over the refs but they barely acknowledged he was there. So the next game, he coached in a referee shirt and it worked.


Coach Knight was good to me. He played me a lot and I ended up leading the entire camp in scoring. The NBA and ABA scouts were there and my stock went up considerably. I have often thanked Coach Knight for what he did for me.  


I was on the 1973 UCLA team that played Indiana University (Knight was coach) in the semifinals of the final four. Although they gave us a run for our money, we won and went on to win our seventh straight NCAA championship.


Fast forward to November 8, 2017 where in an interview, “Speak for Yourself,” Knight said:


“I have a lot of respect for Wooden as a coach. He was a good coach. I don’t respect Wooden because he allowed Sam Gilbert to do whatever he could to recruit kids.”

“I think John was called in and told he didn’t have to worry about recruiting. People would take care of that for him.”


Sam Gilbert was a millionaire real estate tycoon, based in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles. Sam was a UCLA basketball fan but went a bit too far. He illegally helped some of the players, materially and financially. Coach Wooden got wind of what was going on, warned us to stay away from Gilbert, and trusted us to do the right thing. The rest of the story is, the NCAA put UCLA on probation years after Wooden retired.


But I have no idea why Bobby Knight claimed Gilbert was involved in player recruitment. I was a UCLA player for three years and never heard anything of the sort.  


To this day, there is much communication between Bruins, and to my knowledge, not one has ever said, Gilbert helped recruit him, and that includes Kareem, Walton, Johnson, Wilkes, Wicks, and Hazzard. I have read numerous articles about Sam Gilbert’s dealings and nowhere have I found even a hint of Gilbert being involved in UCLA recruiting. Had it been true, it certainly would have surfaced by now, don’t you think? It’s been over 40 years.


Knight erroneously assumed Wooden needed help recruiting. Are you kidding? The best players in the country were standing in line wanting to join the legendary program Coach Wooden had developed. As for me, I wanted to play for a coach that was a role model, and who:


  1. Didn’t grab players by the jersey and jerk them to their seats
  2. Didn’t hit a policeman before a practice
  3. Didn’t get into a shoving match with a reporter and stuff him into a garbage can
  4. Didn’t curse at the Big Ten commissioner from midcourt
  5. Didn’t toss a chair across the court
  6. Didn’t bang his fist on the scorer’s table and pull his team off the floor before the end of a game in protest
  7. Didn’t scream at his son and kick at him
  8. Didn’t go into an outburst at a news conference
  9. Didn’t berate a referee and call his work on the court “the greatest travesty”
  10. Didn’t choke a player in practice and get suspended for three games.

But I have to confess; Coach Wooden bribed me into signing with UCLA.


On three of my other four visits to major universities that recruited me out of junior college, one gave his players money to take me to a porn flick and offered me a bunch of cash when I departed. Another promised me a starting spot. One coach set me up with a date —the football centennial queen who followed up our date by writing a letter which said in part, “When you get here, I want us to date.”  


Coach Wooden took me to a UCLA track meet. As we watched, he said I’d never see much playing time because the best center in the country was coming to play at UCLA — that was Bill Walton, 3-time NCAA player of the year.


He also promised, to the best of his ability, he would help me make maximum improvement. Every day in practice, he said, I would be honing my skills against the best team in the country — the six-time NCAA champion Bruins. He thought I would have a very good chance of being noticed by NBA scouts, even if I never started a game.


I just couldn’t resist that bribe.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

John Wooden the Competitor

John Wooden the Competitor


Who was John Wooden? Rather, what was he like? The popular opinion seems to be, he was a very kind man, a man of principles, and a Saint of sorts. In fact, John Wooden has been nicknamed, St. John.


Thousands will testify of his generosity and integrity. When calling for an appointment at his Encino condominium, few have failed to get one. When with Wooden, one was showered with wise sayings and poetry that illustrated such powerful truths, many say, “A visit with Coach Wooden was a life-changing experience.” Books have been written about his high moral standards and living a life above reproach. “Never lie. Never cheat. Never steal. Never whine. Never complain. Never make excuses.” He lived that.



Those who tossed him flattery have seen his chin quickly drop to his chest, as if to dodge the praise. When one gentleman told Coach how honored he was to be in his presence, Coach told him, “I am not what I used to be. I’m working on becoming better every day,” and then thanked the man for the reminder. Deeply and soberly committed to keeping his ego down where it should be, to Coach Wooden, a compliment was very much like Kryptonite.



But make no mistake; John Wooden didn’t win the Indiana State high school championship and the national collegiate championship as a player being a nice guy. And he certainly didn’t win ten NCAA championships as a coach by being everyone’s friend. The world may never have seen a more ruthless competitor. Within the rules of course, he did everything he could to gain an edge and that did not rule out “working the officials” and “working the opposing players.”


Following are excerpts from a 1969 article in The Vault entitled, “Two Faces of the Rubber Man,” John Wooden’s nickname as a player. He had won four championships at this point.


Working the Officials

His scathing comments can melt a referee’s whistle almost in mid-tweet. One official said, “I’ve seen him so mad that I’ve been afraid he’d pop that big blood vessel in his forehead. But I never heard him curse.”


“Dadburn it! You saw him double dribble down there! Goodness gracious sakes alive! Everybody in the place saw that!”


Eddie Powell, a player for Wooden at South Bend Central High School, said, "Usually sometime during the first half he would choose one incident, a close call, and jump all over the referee," said Powell. "Just chew him out in a gentlemanly manner, if there is such a thing, but let him know that there is that side of him. During the half he'd seek out the referee and apologize to him. He'd say, 'I know I should have known it was a close call. I was wrong. It's just a job and you're doing the best you can.'


"And then they'd part with Wooden walking away meek as you please. In the second half, if another close call arose, chances are the referee'd call the play in Wooden's favor."


To make his full-court press as effective as possible, Wooden wants referees to be acutely aware of the rule that gives a team only 10 seconds to get the ball across the mid-court line. Sometimes he carries a stopwatch to the bench. He will not say a word about it and probably will not check it, but he will make certain that the officials notice it.

"No official, no player has ever heard me use a word of profanity," he says. "I don't stand up and do anything to excite the crowd. That's one of the worst things coaches can do. You've never seen me throw a chair or a towel, or jump up and go down the floor yelling.

"I don't say, 'You're a homer!' I'll say, 'Don't be a homer! I'll say, 'See 'em the same at both ends!' I'll say, 'Watch the traveling,' or some such, but no profanity and nothing personal.

Working Opposing Players

"The thing I may be ashamed of more than anything else is having talked to opposing players, not calling them names but saying something like 'Keep your hands off of him' or 'Don't be a butcher' or something of that type."

Walt Hazzard, the high scorer and imaginative passer who sparked Wooden's first NCAA title team in 1963-64, is a great admirer of Wooden's needling. "He is one of the best bench jockeys in the world. He has an 'antiseptic needle'—clean but biting. I've seen opposing players left shaking their heads, but there was nothing they could say."


I think you get the idea. But just in case, let me finish with a story Coach told me. He and Denny Crum, his assistant who went on to coaching greatness himself, regularly played Saturday morning golf. Coach told me, “Denny was a much better golfer than I but he rarely beat me. I had to do whatever I could to make the playing field more even. So, for example, when Denny would line up a putt that would win him the hole, I might say, on his backstroke, “Are you sure you accounted for the break?” Most of the time, he missed the putt.


Does this information lower your opinion of John Wooden? Not me. I admire him even more. In fact, I’ve taken notes. Wanna play a round of golf?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Coach Wooden and the O.J. Simpson Painting

Coach Wooden and the O.J. Simpson Painting


The following story was told to me by Mike Warren, starting point guard on three consecutive UCLA championship teams.


There’s a great story that Coach told me about an Andy Warhol painting of O.J. Simpson that was in the Wooden Center. Why it was hanging in the Center was beyond Coach Wooden’s comprehension. This was quite a while after O.J. was found not guilty in the murder trial of his wife, Nicole, and Ronald Goldman. Coach was talking to the Wooden Center’s Manager and he expressed his displeasure with OJ’s picture being there.  


“It doesn’t make much sense, do you think, to have OJ Simpson’s picture in the Wooden Center?”


The manager said, “Coach, you’re probably right but I don’t have the power to put up or take down anything.”


The Coach replied, “Do you think it would be easier to take down OJ’s painting or my name off of the building?”


“Coach, I’ll look into it right away.” A short while later, Coach was at an event where the UCLA Chancellor at the time, Albert Carnesale, was also present and not too far away. In a voice just loud enough for Albert to hear, the Coach went on a rampage talking about OJ’s picture being in the Wooden Center and how it didn’t make any sense to have it up. He went on and on about how displeased he was that it wasn’t taken down.


Again, he pulls out his trump card question. “Do you think it would be easier to remove OJ’s painting or my name?” He never once looked at the Chancellor but his words were definitely heard.


A day or so later, Coach saw the Center’s manager again. “Coach, did you know I took down OJ’s painting.” “No, I didn’t know but it looks like someone agreed with me.”


Later, Coach saw Albert Carnesale at another function and, excitedly, the chancellor said to the Coach, “John, the other week at the (he named the function), were you specifically talking to me about the OJ’s painting and not necessarily to the person you were conversing with?” Wooden never answered but Albert did see that little twinkle that Coach usually gave when he had put something over on someone.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Coach Wooden and the Pre-Game Meal

Coach Wooden and the Pre-Game Meal


It was Saturday, December 5, 1970 and UCLA was playing its second game of the season, a preseason game against Rice University. The day before, they had beaten Baylor 108-77. Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe, the two All-American forwards, had demonstrated not only why they were national champions the year before, but that UCLA was in shape to win it again.


But when the starting team was announced, Sidney and Curtis were not included. In fact, Coach Wooden didn’t put them in the game until ten minutes were used first half. Why? These were the two best players in the country and Coach Wooden always started his best team.


On the day of every game, home and away, UCLA coaches and players ate pre-game meal together about five hours before game time. The menu never changed: a 16 oz New York steak, baked potato with one TBS butter, peas, fruit cup, Melba toast, and hot tea.  


On that particular day, pre-game meal was at 3:00. It was very unusual for anyone to be late to anything, especially this great dinner, but Wicks and Rowe casually strolled in at 3:10, not apologizing but rather greeting everyone as if nothing was wrong. Coach Wooden didn’t say anything.


Fast forward to about twenty minutes before game time when Coach Wooden was addressing the team before it went out to the floor for warmups. As always, he provided the matchups, which means, who was guarding who. Wicks and Rowe were not mentioned.


Twenty one minutes before game time, Coach Wooden told everyone to get into the hallway and prepare to go out to the floor for warmups. Everyone went out except for Sidney and Curtis. Coach asked, “Why are you not going?” I think it was Wicks who arrogantly demanded, “Why are we not starting?” Coach said, “You were ten minutes late for pre-game meal, so you’ll not play the first ten minutes of the game.”


Wicks said, “Well when you call us to send us into the game, we may not go at all.” Coach Wooden replied, “If you don’t go in the game when I call you, you’ll not play another minute for UCLA.”


When ten minutes were gone, Coach looked down the bench and yelled, “Curtis and Sidney: Get in the game!” They sprinted to the scorer’s table. UCLA won the game 124-78 and Coach didn’t have a problem with the two forwards the rest of the season. UCLA repeated as Champion.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Coach Wooden and Grandchildren

Coach Wooden and Grandchildren


Like many, I have talked with Coach Wooden about the Xs and Os of basketball. He liked explaining how things work. Like many, I have talked with Coach Wooden about life. He really liked talking about life. Like many, I have talked with Coach Wooden about the ins and outs of creating a united team. He would sit up in his chair to talk about that. I have talked with John Wooden about grandchildren. That’s when he would sit up in his chair and lean forward. I think he loved that subject more than anything else. Stories and stories he would tell filled with very funny and heart-warming moments. Once Coach said, “My granddaughter looked at me eye to eye, moved in a little closer almost nose to nose, and softly said, ‘Papa. You’re really sumpin.’”  


Like many, I didn’t understand his joy until I received my first grandson, Chase Maxwell. I wanted Coach to know I had learned the lesson so I wrote this poem and sent it to him.  



Grandpa’s Little Boy

Swen Nater


I hold my infant grandson tenderly.

His eyes meet mine and I hear angels sing.

His trusting stare gives more than worth to me.

Oh, I am rich, yes richer than a king.


And when I think of all the waiting rhymes,

Created for those virgin, tender ears,

The circus clowns and puppet shows and mimes,

I beg my God to live a few more years.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

John Wooden on Golf

John Wooden on Golf


About 1990, five years after retiring from the NBA, I took an interest in golf. Many ex-NBA players do because it’s a very challenging sport to conquer. And most of us sadly discover, it’s too late to master it. Nevertheless, we spend countless hours a day practicing bunker shots, chip shots, pitch shots, and longer shots at the driving range. I got my handicap down to fifteen which I think is respectable.


One eighteen hole round, I shot a 55. I had two hole in ones but had some trouble with the Clown’s Mouth and Windmill holes.


But seriously, in a visit to Coach Wooden’s condo in Encino, California, I discovered, he was quite the golfer during the years he taught at UCLA. He told me, “Swen, once I got a double eagle and hole in one in the same round.”


I asked, “Which was the most fun? I bet it was that double eagle.”


With some excitement, he replied, “Not at all. It was the hole in one. You see, I never saw the ball go in the hole when I made the double eagle. On a par five, I hit a 260 yard drive right down the middle of the fairway. About to hit my second shot, I calculated I was about 275 yards away. The group in front of us were on the green putting. With my three wood, I knew I couldn’t reach the green so I hit the ball with the plan of laying up perhaps 50-70 yards from the green. I hit the ball solidly with some draw from right to left. It landed about 50 yards from the green and rolled forward and onto the green. A firm believer in practicing golf etiquette, I knew I had done a terrible thing, hitting into the group in front of me. I waved as if to say, “Sorry.” They waved back, all of them, and enthusiastically pointed down to the hole. The ball had gone in. Later, I was able to apologize but they would not accept.”


Coach Wooden continued, “I have one word of advice for you, Swen. Don’t take golf too seriously.” Going forward, I remembered those words whenever I hit the ball in the pond, popped it up off the tee, and putted ten feet past the hole on a five foot putt.


Coach and I talked about various ways to improve a golf game. I mentioned one item I had purchased, the “Medicus,” a practice iron with a hinge in the shaft. If you made a downswing with a jerk, the hinge releases and you are left with a floppy club head. I told Coach, “Practicing with this club is supposed to take four or five strokes off your game.”


To that he replied with a smirk, “Swen, I’ve probably seen all the commercials and ads for gimmicks they promise, will take strokes off your game. I did the math and, if I bought all of them, I wouldn’t have any strokes.”  I never bought another video or practice tool again.


My handicap is much higher now and I play golf about two times a year. Nevertheless, whenever I play, I bring an extra pair of pants. You know why? Well, in case I get a hole in one. Coach liked that joke.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Coach Wooden and Fromin's Delicatessen

Coach Wooden and Fromin’s Delicatessen


I’ve worked for Costco Wholesale in the Seattle area corporate office for almost twenty-four years now. About twelve years ago, work took me down to LA so I decided to pay Coach Wooden a visit. He lived in Encino, California. My Costco boss, Rick DeLie, who was also there on business, asked if he could meet Coach Wooden. I arranged for the three of us to have lunch at Coach’s favorite delicatessen, Fromin’s, not far from Coach’s condo. As it turned out, my community college coach, Don Johnson and his wife were also visiting coach, and Coach’s daughter, Nan, wanted to go too. So I made reservations for six.  


The food was great and the conversation was even better. Rick, being a huge sports fan, asked Coach a lot of questions about the great UCLA teams and the glory days. Don Johnson, a UCLA All-American under Coach Wooden in the 1950’s, talked about “back in the day” stuff. Nan pretty much listened.


I have always looked for the humor in things so when the opportunity came, I told a joke. Everyone laughed, thank goodness. Coach then turned to me and asked, “Where do you come up with all these jokes, Swen?” This was my opportunity and I took full advantage.


As many of you know, I played about two minutes per game at UCLA because the starter was the great Bill Walton. In other words, I was a “benchwarmer.” I answered Coach, “Coach, you know I spent a lot of time on the bench.” He blushed a little. “I had plenty of time on my hands. People behind me, in the stands, used to tell me jokes. That’s how I learned them.”


Coach smiled and said, “You know, Swen, that’s interesting. There were a couple of times I was going to put you in the game and looked over toward you, but you were looking behind you so I didn’t bother.”


I blushed a lot while Coach patted me on the shoulder.

Coach Wooden and The Game of Life


Adults often make the mistake of prematurely-judging young people as to what profession it looks like they will eventually be involved in. Little Amy struggles in math but becomes a scientist. Little Johnny repeatedly fails his Friday spelling tests and morphs into a successful non-fiction novel author. I was getting C’s in math until the eighth grade when my teacher helped me make sense of it all and finished two years of college calculus. Born in The Netherlands, I struggled with English writing. I have six published books to date and I’m writing blogs.


Experienced adults have learned not to judge a book by its cover when it comes to youth. There may be some occasional “indicators,” but they know young people will surprise you and often prove you wrong.


Coach Wooden was no exception. Bill Walton was one of UCLA’s all-time most valuable players and it was relatively safe for Coach Wooden to predict he would become one of the NBA’s greats. But when, after the NBA, Walton decided to become a television basketball commentator, it surprised many he became one of the best, considering throughout college and well into the pros, Bill had a stuttering issue. But Coach Wooden was not surprised at all.


During a UCLA player reunion, when Coach was asked by the MC, “Are you surprised Bill Walton became a commentator?, he responded, “As many of us know, Bill stuttered quite a bit when at UCLA, so much so, he refused to get in front of a camera for interviews. I am not surprised, knowing Bill, he overcame this difficulty. But now we can’t shut him up.”


The Game of Life

Swen Nater


The Little League game was about to begin,

On a perfectly, wonderful day.

One team sprinted out

With a spirited shout,

For the boys were excited to play.  


As their coach saw the field, with his players in place,

A vision took over his sight.

Each Little League lad

Grew the age of a dad,

Complete with the beard and the height.


His pitcher, an artist, composed to create

On a canvas awaiting and bare.

His stroke on the ball

Made it spin and then fall

When it curved and it carved through the air. 


His catcher, a general, positioned in place,

Was leading the rest of the pack.

On his signal and sign,

They joined to combine,

With a quick and successful attack.


His shortstop, a surgeon, whose quickness and skill,

When it seemed as though death cast its fate,

On the double, he caught,

What the grave almost got,

And threw lifelessness out at the plate. 


His outfield consisted of no lesser men:

Three statesmen with not one reproach.

On third was a preacher,

And on second, a teacher,

On first was a Little League coach. 


As the vision grew fainter, the coach stopped and thought.

The epiphany cut like a knife.

Baseball was more

Than a game and a score;

It was practice for the game of life.   

Monday, June 25, 2018

Through Coach's Eyes

Through Coach’s Eyes


My eight-year-old grandson, Chase Maxwell, started his very first basketball camp this morning. I was there. Camp started twenty minutes late due to registration, during which time Chase ran up to me and said, “I’ve already shot a hundred shots. I’m bored. When does all the fun stuff start, Papa?” He’s a little impatient due to his excitement for this week. As the camp director addressed the campers for orientation, Chase was glued to every word the man said. That’s when I remembered I wrote this poem.


I don’t believe anyone has put Chase down but I do believe, he’s not sure how good he is compared to the other boys. You see, in spite of his grandpa being seven feet tall, Chase is not tall for his age. And since this is a third-fourth grade camp and he is a third-grader, Chase is one of the smallest boys there.


I’m confident he is depending on the coach to believe in him, to encourage him, and to praise him. Chase watches everything I do and he talks to me about everything. He trusts me. He knows, no matter what the outcome, if he is doing his best, my smile tells him it’s OK.


I idolized Coach Wooden. He was everything I wanted to be. I wanted to see basketball and life through his eyes, and he was careful to make that happen.




Swen Nater


Hi, Coach. It’s me. I’m on the team.

Been looking forward to this day.

Got my glove and got my ball.

Couldn’t sleep last night at all,

But here I am, prepared to play.


They say you really love this game,

Not for the glory or the prize.

I want to love it just like you.

So teach me how to love it too.

I want to see it through your eyes.


My other coaches put me down,

And each time something in me dies.

I saved some faith I think is strong,

‘Cause I knew you would come along.

I want to see things through your eyes.


I don’t believe in me so much.

I’m just a kid inside my shell.

If you believe in me, I could,

See through your eyes, and know I’m good.

Then I’ll believe in me as well.


And through your eyes, I hope I see,

That if we’ve lost, or if we’ve won,

You won’t compare me to the rest.

You’ll see that I have done my best,

And smile at me and say, “Well done.”


Then someday when I’m all grown up,

Like you, I’ll be astute and wise.

I’ll face the choices, without pause.

I’ll make the righteous ones because,

I learned to see through Coach’s eyes.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Coach Wooden's "Two Sets of Threes"

Coach Wooden’s “Two Sets of Threes “


Never lie. Never cheat. Never steal.

Never whine. Never complain. Never make excuses.


They say, “Never say never,” but Coach Wooden didn’t agree with that. There are certain things you should never do. Try being true to the “Two Sets of Threes” for one day; it’s nearly impossible. As far as I could tell, Coach did.


I never caught him in a lie. There may have been one exception. He told us, “You are the best-conditioned team in the country.” He didn’t know if that were true but he did know, if we believed it, we would continue to put the pressure on the other team, knowing those players would wear down before we did. But that’s not really a lie, is it?


I never saw Coach cheat. Well, there was this issue about the net. When we played in the opponents’ arenas, when the basketball was shot and went through the net, it went through the net. Our nets were quite a bit stiffer for some reason. The ball seemed to take it’s time falling through, perhaps even one or two seconds longer. We full-court pressed after every made basket. That extra time to get in position but I’m sure that was just a coincidence.


Coach never stole a thing in his life but he taught us to steal. Whenever possible, take the ball away from the other team. We liked stealing and did a lot of it.  


But seriously, he did teach us never to whine, complain, or make excuses. For example, the last thing he told us in the locker room, before we went out to warm up for a game was, “If you know you have prepared to the best of your ability, I want your heads up at the end, no matter what the score.” In other words, no whining, complaining, or making excuses.


We didn’t lose one game while I was on the team but when I was redshirting (practicing but not on the roster to save a year of eligibility), we lost to Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. I saw the game on TV. Austin Carr played brilliantly for the Irish and I have to say, the refs played brilliantly for them also.


When Coach conducted the next practice on Monday, he didn’t mention one word about the game. It was practice as usual. It would have been easy to make excuses, and there were some valid ones, but Coach practiced what he preached. As a result, we had one of the best practices of the year and we didn’t lose a game the rest of the season.  



Swen Nater


On the road to the top of the mountain,

At the base of the very last hill,

There’s a pleasing and well-traveled exit,

For the faint with a weakening will. 


For the last stretch is steep and is daunting,

And for most, it’s just too much to bear.

And those with the best of intentions, 

Turn right and then settle down there.


And together they built a calm city.

And they talk of such things as, “could have.”

And they find consolation in “but” and in “if,”

And of course the most popular, “would have.”


There’s a sign up ahead by the highway,

“Excuseville: A Sweet-Dreaming Town.”

You’ve done well; you can stop.

It’s too far to the top.

Take the exit and just settle down.   

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

John Wooden and Priorities

John Wooden and Priorities


I suppose it was on the farm in Indiana where John Wooden first learned priorities. If the field doesn’t get plowed at the right time, the soil won’t be ready for seeding. If the grass is not harvested at the right time, they quality of hay will be reduced. If the hay doesn’t get stored in the barn on time, the rains will spoil the bails.


As a coach, he also understood the importance of prioritizing. If recruiting is not finished by a certain date, you can’t create the offense and defense. If your master practice plan is not finished, you cannot create weekly plans. And weekly plans are essential for creating the daily practice plans. Equipment must be ordered, managers must be selected, and the all-important season game schedule must be set in stone by a certain time.


Coach Wooden often quoted Ben Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail.” He learned that early in his life and continued to excel in this area through his coaching career at UCLA.


Knowing this, it may not surprise you to learn, Coach Wooden placed his family at the top of the priority list, above coaching basketball, as time-consuming and demanding as that job might be. If you think I’m kidding, after practice was over, we couldn’t talk to the man. He and his coaching staff darted to his office for a short debriefing and Coach was in his car on his way home. Practice was over at 4:59 and Coach was home before six.


Like his father, he helped his children with their homework, ate dinner with his family, and read bedtime stories, while other coaches around the country were watching game films, practice films, and calling recruits.


When I discovered that, it inspired me to write this poem.



Swen Nater


“Daddy, come and play with me.”

He begged with outstretched hand.

He was so small—below my knee.

He didn’t understand.


I had far bigger things to do

Like further my career.

Instead of him, I chose to view

The corporate frontier.


“Later, son, I’ll be there soon,”

I hoped that would appease.

I had a meeting right at noon,

But heard, “Please, Daddy, please!”


“The babysitter’s waiting, son,”

I said, with plastic smile.

“She’ll read you books and let you run.”

“Dad, just a little while?” 


I tied my shoes and tied my tie,

And draped my suit coat on.

While from the floor, he caught my eye:

My one and only son.


“The Army guys in red are bad,

And the good guys are in blue.

I’ll let you be the good guys, Dad.

I’ll let you beat me too.”


“Rrrunga rrrunga rrrunga rrrung,

The bad guy’s tanks did blare,

And toward the good guys troops they sprung,

Who had no leader there.


Five or ten already dead;

The raid was under way,

Until the good guys’ general said,

“I’d better sit and play.”


The battle waged and fierce it was;

Both sides were holding fast.

There was no stop; there was no pause,

Just guns and tanks and blast.


I saw my watch and I was late,

“Son, pause this army brawl.”

He stared and I said, “Son, please wait!

I’ve got to make one call.”


I dialed the phone; he looked so sad.

I said, “It’s Larry Burr.

You know that twelve o’clock I had?

Well, I can’t make it sir.


“Yes, sir, I understand the cost.

Yes, sir, I’ll be surpassed.

But I’ll be poor if I have lost

A son who’s growing fast.


“I’ll see you in the morning, sir.

When day replaces night.

But now, will you excuse me, sir?

I’ve got a war to fight.”