Ode to Wooden

ONE WONDERS HOW many young people really know who John Wooden is.

Sure, they may know he is old (98) and that he was a great coach at UCLA.

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Wooden

But do they know how great?

We live in an era where coaches are deified for winning a single NCAA title. Wooden won 10 in his last 12 years, including seven straight from 1966-72.

Imagine what would happen if Villanova did that. There would be "Jay Wright for Governor" posters on every telephone pole on Lancaster Avenue.

The reason we bring up Wooden is that on this date in 1975, he coached his final game. UCLA beat Kentucky, 92-85, to win the national title.

Wooden retired with a 620-147 record at UCLA, coaching the likes of Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) and Bill Walton.

Among those 10 NCAA championship games was a 68-62 win over Villanova in March of 1971. That's the 'Nova team that starred forward Howard Porter, who was stripped of the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award when it was discovered he had signed a pro contract.

Overall, Wooden, who is in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach and player, coached the Bruins for 27 seasons winning more than 80 percent of his games. Plenty of others have won more. But Wooden, in our book, remains the greatest college hoops coach of all time.

What's next? Hoops with LeBron?

How great is John Smoltz' life?

The 41-year-old righthander, who signed with the Boston Red Sox in January, showed up at the Atlanta Braves' spring training clubhouse in Kissimmee, Fla., yesterday to visit his old teammates.

But the real reason he was in town was to golf with Tiger Woods, who 1 day earlier had rallied from a five-stroke deficit to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

"I didn't see his [winning] putt, but I'll tell him I did," Smoltz said. *

- Tom Mahon

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