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Jeff Eisenberg

My afternoon with John Wooden at his condo

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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I had clicked off my tape recorder and packed up my notepad after a lengthy interview with John Wooden seven years ago when the legendary former UCLA coach did something that caught me totally off guard.

He started asking me questions.

Before my two colleagues from the UCLA student newspaper and I left Wooden's tiny two-bedroom condominium in blue-collar Encino, Calif., he quizzed us about everything from our majors, to our career aspirations, to our opinion of his beloved Dodgers. I don't remember how I responded, but what still stands out today is that college basketball's most iconic coach seemed as interested in us as we were in him.

The news of Wooden's passing on Friday evening makes me feel fortunate I had a chance to meet him before he died. That afternoon in his condo was by far my coolest memory of Wooden, but a few other moments from my time covering UCLA basketball stand out.

I'll remember the reverence with which Wooden's former players spoke of him. I'll remember the awed look on prominent coaches' faces the first time they shook his hand. And I'll remember the way Wooden graciously signed autographs at his customary seat two rows behind the UCLA bench at every game until the endless line of well-meaning fans finally dwindled.

College basketball lost one of the good ones on Friday. Wooden may have lived until four months shy of his 100th birthday, but he still died way too soon.

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