By Bill Bennett
Sunday, Nov. 19
Leaving for Kansas City
You get very spoiled traveling with Coach Wooden. There’s the town car that picks him up at his condo in Encino and drives him to the Raytheon private terminal in Van Nuys. There, the private jet is waiting, and in less than three hours, you arrive in Kansas City, where a limousine is waiting to take us to the Kansas City Hyatt Regency.
Coach Wooden and his daughter are in adjoining rooms on the 15th floor, where I head to escort them to the private reception on the 40th floor of the hotel. Upon entering Coach Wooden’s room, there sits Lee Hunt, with his wife, Elizabeth. Hunt was a Bruin assistant under Gene Bartow, the first UCLA head coach after Coach Wooden’s retirement in 1975. Hunt ended his career as the head basketball coach and athletic director at Missouri-Kansas City.
When the Hunts depart, I escort the Wooden’s to the 40th floor. Walking into the reception, there sit Smith, Russell and Robertson, joined by Coach Wooden. As people gather around the four Hall of Famers, everyone is frantically taking pictures.
Press Conference/Public Reception
From the reception, we head down to the adjoining Crown Center Exhibit Hall for the press conference and induction ceremony. Although this is a celebration for the history of college basketball, it could just as well be a highlight reel for UCLA basketball. Present in the Exhibit Hall for the press conference are –
Coach Wooden, who guided the Bruins to a record 10 NCAA Championships, including seven consecutive from 1967-73 and who led UCLA to a record 88-game overall winning streak and a 38 -game NCAA Tournament winning streak.
Larry Brown, UCLA’s head coach from 1979-81 who led the Bruins to the 1980 NCAA Championship game. He’s the only coach in history to win an NBA Title (Detroit Pistons/2004) and an NCAA Championship (Kansas/1988). Brown was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002. He is there to present his former coach, Dean Smith.
Denny Crum, a UCLA letterman (1958-59) under Coach Wooden, he was also a Bruin assistant (1959-60/1968-71) under Coach Wooden and was on the UCLA varsity staff for three NCAA Championship Bruin runs (1969-71). After his UCLA days, Crum was the head coach at Louisville for 30 seasons, leading the Cardinals to two NCAA Championships (1980/1986) and six Final Fours. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1994. Crum traveled to Kansas City to accompany Coach Wooden to all of Sunday’s events.
Bill Walton, the Bruin star center led UCLA to two NCAA titles (1972-73) and was a three-time National Player of the Year (1972-74). He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1993.
Following the press conference, at the public reception, Coach Wooden stayed seated at the dais signing a steady steam of autographs. The Air Force basketball team is also there, in their military uniform, roaming the Exhibit Hall, taking their picture with every basketball luminary in the place.
Next up: The Induction Ceremony
Reprinted with permission from Bruin Blue. © 2007 Bill Bennett and Bruin Blue. All rights reserved.