Former player says Wooden is lucid but frail

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former UCLA basketball coach and Hall of Famer John Wooden remained hospitalized Friday with little information being released about his condition, although a recent visitor described him as alert but frail.

Former UCLA and Los Angeles Lakers star Jamaal Wilkes told The Associated Press that he visited Wooden in his hospital room twice this week and they chatted briefly.

Wilkes said Wooden recognized him and that the coach's mind remains "sharp as a tack," although he said the 99-year-old Wooden's body is "very, very frail."

During his second visit on Wednesday night, Wilkes asked Wooden if he recognized him.

"His glasses fogged up and he had to clean his glasses," Wilkes said. "He looked at me and said, 'I remember you, now go sit down.'"

Wilkes teamed with Bill Walton to help UCLA win NCAA titles in 1972 and '73. He was part of UCLA's record 88-game winning streak under Wooden.

Besides his grown son and daughter and other family members, Wilkes said Wooden has had several visitors since being admitted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on May 26, including Walton.

UCLA officials said Friday afternoon that Wooden was resting comfortably and was surrounded by family, who requested no other information on his condition be released. The university's statement said the family wanted to thank Wooden's fans for their thoughts and prayers.

A few hundred students gathered around the Bruin Bear statue near Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus Friday, performing the university's eight-clap chant and shouting Wooden's name. He frequently attended men's basketball games until a couple years ago.

Wilkes said Wooden is sleeping a lot. The university said the former coaching great was being treated for dehydration.

"I got the sense that it's an overall physical decline," Wilkes said while attending an event for an NBA charity.

"His mind and his spirit is very lucid and sharp. He was sharp as a tack, still got the sense of humor. People don't realize how funny he is, but his body is very, very weak, very frail."

Wilkes said he recognized what he called "that little glint" in Wooden's pale blue eyes. He was in the room with Wooden's son, James, when Wooden asked to be shaved.

"His son made the comment that when he got shaved he was getting ready to see Nellie," Wilkes said, referring to Wooden's late wife who died of cancer in 1975.

Like many of Wooden's players, Wilkes, now 57, has stayed in regular contact with his former coach through the years. He said they rarely discussed basketball and mostly talked about their lives.

"He's such a tough survivor and you want to keep wishing and hoping that he's going to live forever, but we all know he's not," Wilkes said. "The realization that this may actually be it hasn't really hit me yet. I'm so overwhelmed with what's happening."

Wilkes, however, said Wooden seemed at peace with himself, and that the coach's pastor was another visitor.

"He's OK with it. It's the rest of us that have to," Wilkes said, his voice trailing off. "It's hard."

There were multiple media reports that Wooden was in grave condition, but all were attributed to anonymous sources.

Wooden has been on the minds of everyone from NBA commissioner David Stern to Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre, another longtime friend.

"I know he's struggling now, but hopefully things will be all right," Torre said.

He and Angels manager Mike Scioscia spent time with Wooden at a brunch in January.

"We just sat and talked," Torre said. "He's always loved baseball. He asks very interesting questions. I know he's very fond of Derek Jeter, too."

Wooden led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships — at one time winning seven in a row — during a 27-year run that ended with his team cutting down the nets one last time in 1975.

The Bruins won 88 consecutive games from 1971-74 and 38 consecutive NCAA tournament games from 1964-74, both records.