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Pacers Connections with UCLA, Wooden Run Deep

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

The Pacers will honor the great John Wooden at Monday's Hickory Night game. Wooden was an Indiana native and enjoyed a tremendous playing career at Martinsville, Purdue, and with one of Indianapolis' first professional teams, but is best known for his legendary coaching career at UCLA, where he won 10 national championships in a 12-year span.

While Wooden did not coach any eventual Pacers players while at UCLA, a number of current and former Pacers players came through the UCLA program and were influenced by Wooden.

In fact, the current Pacers roster features three former Bruins, more UCLA players than any other NBA roster. Veteran point guard Darren Collison starred at UCLA from 2005-09, helping lead the Bruins to three straight Final Four appearances. Rookie big men TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu both were a part of the UCLA team that reached the Sweet Sixteen last spring as freshmen.

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Of course, the Pacers' connection to the UCLA program dates back much further than that. In 1987, the franchise took a skinny shooting guard out of UCLA named Reggie Miller with the 11th overall pick in the NBA Draft. Miller, of course, would spend his entire 18-year Hall of Fame career with the Pacers, setting numerous franchise records and leading the team to six Eastern Conference Finals and one NBA Finals appearance.

Other players who played both for UCLA and the Pacers include Pooh Richardson (played with the Pacers from 1992-94), Earl Watson (2009-10), and Tyus Edney (2000-01), who hit an iconic buzzer-beating shot against Missouri in the 1995 NCAA Tournament during the Bruins' run to their lone national title since Wooden's retirement.

While Wooden did not coach any of those players, he made a lasting impact on all of their careers. Wooden retired from coaching in 1975, but remained involved with the program until his death at the age of 99 in 2010. Almost every player who has come through UCLA speaks glowingly of the atmosphere Wooden created around the program, a foundation that has lasted through the decades, even after his retirement.

"It's one big family," Miller told the New York Times. "It's a brotherhood."

PHOTO GALLERY: John Wooden's Life of Basketball »

Collison was a part of some of the last UCLA teams that Wooden saw play and was fortunate enough to meet him on several occasions. Wooden would watch UCLA practices and always attended the Wooden Classic, an annual college basketball doubleheader in Anaheim that almost always featured the Bruins.

"He still was intelligent, even at his age," Collison remembered. "He got a chance to talk to the group. He said some pretty interesting things...The thing that I remember about him was all the wisdom that he had when he was talking."

Even though Wooden was not around when Leaf and Anigbogu attended UCLA, they still felt his impact during their time on campus. Leaf, whose coach at UCLA was another Indiana high school and college star in Steve Alford, had the chance to talk with several UCLA alums who either played for or met Wooden.

"Being at UCLA, something you didn't realize going in was how big of an impact he had with his players off the court," Leaf said. "...He turned so many players into great people, great men. A lot of the stories that I heard from his past players, that's what they talked about the most."

One of Wooden's greatest legacies is his "Pyramid of Success," a chart of the attributes most important to achieving greatness. The pyramid, which Wooden created while coaching at Indiana State and then implemented throughout his time at UCLA, is still used as a helpful guide to success in both the sports and business worlds.

"It's not just the basketball team, the whole UCLA athletic program uses the Pyramid of Success every day," Leaf said. "Everyone talks about it and it's a really big part of UCLA athletics."

When you think about it, it's kind of a remarkable story. A former Indiana basketball star moves to the West Coast and becomes a legendary coach, building a program that will later send a number of its biggest stars back to his home state to play in the NBA. Even today, John Wooden's impact is still being felt across the basketball world, both at UCLA and with the Pacers.

Pacers' UCLA Stars Thankful for Wooden

Jan. 8, 2017 - Former UCLA stars and current Pacers players Darren Collison, TJ Leaf, and Ike Anigbogu reflect on the impact legendary coach John Wooden, Monday's Hickory honoree, had on their program.

Wooden

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Pacers' UCLA Stars Thankful for Wooden

Jan. 8, 2017 - Former UCLA stars and current Pacers players Darren Collison, TJ Leaf, and Ike Anigbogu reflect on the impact legendary coach John Wooden, Monday's Hickory honoree, had on their program.
Jan 8, 2018  |  00:51

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