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Friday, June 4, 2010
Updated: June 5, 4:29 PM ET
Wooden one of a kind

By Dick Vitale
ESPN.com

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Hall of Fame coach John Wooden on Friday night.

When you talk about the definition of the word "class," you could go to Webster's Dictionary and there should be a picture of Coach Wooden right there. He handled himself with such dignity, the way he treated people.

I've always remembered that, when you were in his company, he made you feel so special.

I can reflect back a few years ago, at the Final Four, sitting on a golf cart, sharing so many wonderful basketball stories. We were together on a promotional event for a corporation, and my wife and family, including my grandchildren, had such an amazing time. The way he handled himself, and he was in his 90s, and so strong, so wonderful in dealing with everyone around him.

He was filled with so much pride. His teams dominated college basketball and no other major college team, amateur or pro, has been so dominant since.

I was fortunate enough to come into college basketball, and it was around the time he was leaving. Our paths crossed when I was at the University of Detroit, coaching against Michigan in the NCAA tournament. I was so thrilled to see the announcers prior to that game -- Hall of Famers Curt Gowdy and Coach Wooden. I explained to my team what these two men meant to their professions. It was an incredible experience in my life.

I was always impressed with the way Wooden got the most out of his people. The Wizard of Westwood got his kids to show the pride, wearing that U-C-L-A on the jersey. He got his players to understand their roles. They played as a unit.

They had some great talent with guys like Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton. There were other Bruins teams that didn't have those big men, but they still won. The 1964 team with Gail Goodrich and Walt Hazzard got to the winner's circle as national champion.

He did it with style and class. His teams had a great feel for the game, an understanding of how to share the basketball. They understood what a good shot was, and the importance of finding the right person to attempt that shot.

They could defend as a unit, playing as a team.

When you talk about the greatest leaders in sports history, and not just outstanding coaches, Wooden's name has to be at the top of the list. Yes, you can throw in the likes of Vince Lombardi.

I have been fortunate to receive a number of awards in my lifetime, truly blessed indeed. I will never forget the thrill when I received the John Wooden Pyramid of Success award.

Let me share with you a story about Wooden and his impact on people. As a high school coach, I wrote to a number of people to try to learn their concepts and philosophies. The day I received a letter from Wooden, with the pyramid of success, I couldn't wait to share it with my high school team.

It was the foundation and belief that led to his success in the coaching profession.

He was the best there ever was on that collegiate basketball sideline. He impacted so many lives. His success on the court, with 10 championships in 12 seasons, will never be matched again.

Wooden told me how important family was to him. I know how much he missed his wife, Nell, and now they will be reunited in heaven.