John Wooden, peerless U.S. basketball coach, dies

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - John Wooden, the peerless U.S. college basketball coach who became known as the "Wizard of Westwood" while winning a record 10 national championships at UCLA, died on Friday at age 99, a spokesman for the UCLA Medical Center said.

Wooden, whose UCLA teams once won 88 straight games, died at 6:45 p.m. local time, spokesman Phil Hampton said. Wooden had been admitted to the hospital on May 26 and died of natural causes, the university said in a statement.

Wooden was considered one of the greatest coaches of any type in U.S. sports history. U.S. President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor, in 2003.

He coached at the University of California Los Angeles -- located in the city's Westwood area -- from 1948 to 1975. His teams won 10 National Collegiate Athletic Association championships in his final 12 years at the school, including an unmatched seven straight from 1967 to 1973.

Wooden guided a succession of great players at UCLA including Lew Alcindor (who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Bill Walton, Gail Goodrich, Walt Hazzard, Keith Wilkes (who changed his name to Jamaal Wilkes), Henry Bibby and Sidney Wicks.

"We want to thank everyone for their love and support for our father. We will miss him more than words can express," his children Nan and Jim Wooden said in a statement.

"This is a sad day at UCLA," university Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement. "Coach Wooden's legacy transcends athletics; what he did was produce leaders. But his influence has reached far beyond our campus and even our community."

'PYRAMID OF SUCCESS'

Wooden was noted for his philosophical quotes about life and sportsmanship and developed a unique teaching method called the "Pyramid of Success."

"Talent is God given; be humble. Fame is man given; be thankful. Conceit is self given; be careful," Wooden once said.

"Ability is a poor man's wealth," was another of his truisms.

Wooden was born in Indiana on October 14, 1910. He was a star player at Purdue University in his home state, helping the Boilermakers to the 1932 national championship.

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War Two, he coached for two years at Indiana Teachers College (now Indiana State University) before moving to UCLA.

At Indiana Teachers College, Wooden had refused to bring his team to a prestigious tournament in 1947 because organizers would not allow one of his players to play because he was black.

At UCLA, Wooden guided the Bruins to four undefeated seasons. No other college basketball coach ever had more than one. His Bruins teams won a record 88 games in a row from 1971 to 1974.

Wooden retired in 1975 after winning his final national championship and finishing his career with a record of 664-162 in 29 seasons. Despite a record of 620-147 at UCLA, he did not like the "Wizard of Westwood" nickname.

Wooden was enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame both as a player and as a coach -- the first inducted in both categories.

For decades after his 1975 retirement, Wooden often attended UCLA basketball home games.

(Writing by Will Dunham, Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney)