June 8, 2010
SEATTLE - Tia Jackson wasn't sure how to react the first time she met John Wooden 10 years ago. Then a neophyte assistant coach at UCLA, Jackson was at a Bruins function when in walked the Wizard of Westwood. At the moment, Jackson recalled, it was almost like everyone in the room came to a stop.
In the presence of basketball royalty, Jackson approached Wooden to shake his hand. Her jaw dropped when Wooden kindly addressed her by name, having read the announcement of her hiring on UCLA's athletic website.
"I was floored," Jackson said. "He walks in and it's like everything comes to a halt. I was so nervous."
Jackson spent five years at UCLA as an assistant before she was promoted to be the recruiting coordinator/top assistant at Duke. But she still continues to quote Woodenisms with her team, where the sayings have become a presence on emails and on top of scouting reports. Her favorite is one of Wooden's most quoted phrases, and one of the tenets to Jackson's program at UW: "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."
Wooden died last week at the age of 99 of natural causes, and is widely considered one of the best coaches in the history of sports. His resume speaks for itself. Wooden won 10 National Championships, secured countless awards, was a Hall of Famer as a coach and player, etc. But for as celebrated Wooden was as a basketball mind, it was his grace and kindness off the court that Jackson felt truly made him memorable. She notices how former Wooden disciples such as Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar continue to tout Wooden as one of the principle figures to their development as both sports figures and human beings.
"I think that speaks volumes," Jackson said. "That they can take those life lessons (from Wooden) and apply them to their personal lives."
Of course, Jackson isn't the only UW coach that had shared a Westwood connection with the legendary coach. Lorenzo Romar spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well, and fondly recalled the lessons he learned from Wooden during his time there.
"Many men and women have impacted their profession in a positive way," Romar said recently. "Not many have impacted their profession and impacted people's lives away from their profession."
Jackson frequently borrows from Wooden's "Pyramid of Success," a tiered 15-part guide to what makes student-athletes successful in their pursuits. The bedrock to his philosophy is industriousness, i.e. hard work. Similar components include alertness, skill, loyalty, etc.
She keeps an autographed copy of the Pyramid in her office. It's those lessons, along with the takeaways from her personal conversations with the Coach, which have remained with her to this day. And while she expressed sadness at his passing, Jackson was thankful for the time she had to share with Wooden.
"We use a lot of what he has taught us to motivate our players," Jackson said.