Johnny Wooden, the Indiana Rubber Man of Martinsville, has passed away at age 99. Drawing inspiration from Fuzzy Vandiver of the Franklin Wonder Five, Wooden helped lead Martinsville to the state title in 1927 against Muncie Central (who else). His nickname came from his fearless dives on the court. Apparently the Martinsville Artesians had lost in the finals to Marion in 1926.
Displaying the type of heart and hustle Wooden earned a reputation for possessing, he and his teammates from Martinsville outlasted Muncie Central 26-23 in the last state title game held at the Indianapolis Exposition Building.
Martinsville [with Wooden] had finished as the state runner-up the season before after falling to Marion 30-23.
Wooden scored 10 points to lead the Artesians (26-3) in the title game, helping coach Glenn Curtis win his third state championship. Curtis won one with Lebanon in 1918 before winning a pair with Martinsville in 1924 and 1927.
Wooden also helped Martinsville earn a trip to the championship game by scoring a game-high 13 points in the Artesians’ 32-21 victory against Connersville. Martinsville guard Les Reynolds scored six points in his team’s semifinal and championship game triumphs.
Nothing can quite match winning the single class Indiana basketball title, but Wooden went on to do some other more or less good things in the field of basketball. His Artesians lost to the Bearcats in a rematch in the 1928 finals.
In a time when people had more and better nicknames than they do today, Wooden played for Purdue under Ward “Piggy” Lambert from 1928 – 1932. He received all manner of acclamations as a player, and led the Boilermakers to an NCAA title (by panel vote since the tournament hadn’t started yet) in 1932 — the Boilermakers’ first and (to date) last national championship.
He coached high school basketball for 11 years (during part of which, he was playing basketball professionally), then entered the Navy in 1942 during World War II. After the war, he coached at Indiana State University for two years.
He wanted to coach for Purdue, but the timing of availability for that position never quite worked out. In 1948, he left Indiana for California and
faded into obscurity. became the most successful college coach of all time, coaching UCLA to 12 titles and 620 victories in 27 seasons, including 4 perfect 30-0 seasons. (One thing I hadn’t expected was that he was 53 years old and had coached 15 years (26 if you count high school) before winning his first championship.)
Wooden has become an icon with the emphasis on his virtues and minimization of shortcomings that entails. His solid, Midwestern work ethic is usually cited while the less than ethical recruiting by UCLA boosters that Wooden somehow failed to notice is usually overlooked. That notwithstanding, he seems to have been a very good man, and his achievement at all levels of basketball is remarkable. In terms of role models, we could certainly do worse.
Rest in peace, Coach Wooden.