Published October 26, 2012
LOS ANGELES – The stern gaze behind black-rimmed glasses, arms crossed, rolled-up program tucked under his arm. John Wooden is now standing vigil outside Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA unveiled an 8-foot bronze statue of the late revered coach on Friday outside its newly renovated arena on the Westwood campus. Wooden's family members, who were consulted by sculptor Blair Buswell, were pleased with how the nearly 400-pound tribute turned out after a few tweaks suggested by Wooden's daughter, Nan.
"The ears weren't quite right," she said, noting her father's right earlobe was slightly longer than his left. She also had Buswell smooth out the area under her father's arms and jacket that originally made it look as though the trim coach had a pot belly.
"I just wanted people to look at him and be able to say, 'That's John Wooden,'" she said. "I don't think there's any doubt."
Hall of Fame basketball player Ann Meyers Drysdale, who emceed the ceremony under a searing sun, UCLA chancellor Gene Block and athletic director Dan Guerrero were among many in attendance who knew Wooden and agreed he would be embarrassed by the hoopla.
"He'd probably pooh-pooh this," Meyers Drysdale said. "He was not one to draw attention to himself."
Nan Wooden said, "He's probably shaking his head, saying, 'I don't deserve this.'"
Greg Wooden said his grandfather "would have been against it unless his whole team could be out there."
Other members of the Wooden family, players on the current men's basketball team, the university band and cheerleaders were among the crowd that watched as each of the speakers placed a hand on the yellow cord to yank down the white canvas covering the statue. Wooden stands tall in a jacket and tie, his usual sideline attire.
"He's intense," said Buswell, who created the sculpture at his studio in Pleasant Grove, Utah, and had it delivered 800 miles to campus this week.
Current Bruins coach Ben Howland added, "It really captures Coach."
Howland said Wooden might have downplayed the honor "but he also understood how many lives he's touched and what he's meant to everyone here at UCLA."
Wooden, who died in 2010, led the Bruins to 10 national championships, including seven in a row. The statue resembles Wooden in the final years of his 27-year career, which ended with a 620-147 record in 1975. Wooden was a frequent presence at basketball games in retirement, and he was sought out for his teachings on leadership and teamwork.
His autograph in his familiar unadorned cursive — a signature he gladly gave out countless times at games — is on the base of the statue. A plaque with his name and years as coach includes one of his quotes:
"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable."
UCLA alum Jim Collins and his wife, Carol, donated the money for the statue. Collins, chairman emeritus of Sizzler International, recalled asking Wooden to serve on the steak restaurant's board of directors because the coach and his wife, Nell, ate at the location near their home most days.
"For nine years he never missed a meeting," Collins said.