Auburn lives touched by Wooden

Boulding played on coach’s first UCLA team while Stryker saw a dynasty begin
By: Todd Mordhorst, Journal Sports Editor
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John Wooden remains the greatest coach of all time in the eyes of many athletes and sports observers. Auburn’s Wayne Boulding remembers him as a first-year basketball coach at UCLA with some unorthodox methods and sky-high aspirations. Boulding starred at Sacramento City College before joining the Bruins in 1948 under coach Wilbur Johns. Wooden took over the program in 1949 — Boulding’s senior season. “I can recall his first meeting he sat us all down and said, ‘We’re picked to finish last in the conference,’” Boulding said. “He said, ‘I’ve never finished last in anything.’ And we won it that year.” Boulding was a reserve guard for Wooden’s first UCLA squad, meaning he didn’t see the court as much as he would have liked. Wooden rarely used more than seven players in his regular rotation. It’s tough to argue with Wooden’s methods, which have become the foundation for millions of coaches in all kinds of sports. And the results were legendary. Wooden guided the Bruins to the Pacific Coast Conference-South Division title in ’49 and went on to become the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history. He had an 885-203 record in 40 years as a college head coach. He won 19 conference championships in 27 years at UCLA and 10 national championships, including seven straight from 1966 to ’73. Boulding didn’t even play basketball in high school. He honed his skills in church leagues and pick-up games before graduating from McClatchy High and enrolling at Sacramento City. He went out for the basketball squad and made the team, though he said the competition was not deep. “There weren’t many guys around because of (World War II),” Boulding explained. “But the next year we went 32-3 and won the junior college national championship.” Then-UCLA assistant Bill Putnam recruited Boulding to UCLA, where he played for coach Wilbur Johns for one season before Johns took over as the school’s athletic director. A young coach from Indiana named Wooden took over the basketball program and the Bruins were never the same. Wooden’s philosophy of pushing the ball up the court on every possession was innovative at the time and helped UCLA rebound from a 3-9 record in the Pacific Coast Conference in 1947-48. “He believed in the fast break,” Boulding said. “He was really the first one on the West Coast to do that. All the other coaches would just bring the ball up and set up the offense. He liked to run every time. On every possession, you ran hard.” Fifteen years after Boulding left UCLA, Doug Stryker arrived on campus and got a taste of Wooden’s style. The Placer High teacher was a walk-on in the UCLA program from 1964 to ’68. He played on the freshman squad in ’64 and was a part of the scout team for his next three years in Westwood, rubbing elbows with Lew Alcindor, among others. Wooden is often seen as an easy-going, gentle sage by younger generations, but Stryker saw a different side of the coach. “He was a very principled individual,” Stryker said of Wooden. “And he was dynamic. Most people think he was laid-back, but he really got after people. It was eye-opening to be in his practices. Away from the court he was very approachable. At his practices, you did what he said.” Stryker starred at Riverside Poly High School before going to UCLA. He said 1965-66 was the Bruins’ one poor season under Wooden – the team missed the NCAA Tournament. Of course, the next year, Alcindor and company started UCLA’s remarkable run of seven straight national titles. Stryker agreed that Wooden’s fast-break offense changed the game. “He was one of the first coaches that didn’t need a shot clock,” he said. “He really believed in an up-tempo form of basketball and he required that his players be in excellent shape to play that way.” Stryker, a 6-6 small forward, went on to play professionally in Germany for three years before moving to Auburn and embarking on his teaching career. Stryker and Boulding traded Wooden stories often from 1971 through 1977. Stryker was teaching and coaching basketball at Placer while Boulding served as the superintendent of Placer Union High School District. Boulding went on to serve as a superintendent for the Burbank School District before retiring in 1987 and returning to Auburn. Boulding’s one season under Wooden left a lasting impact, but he had no idea at the time that he was learning from the game’s ultimate teacher. “After I left his teams were always in contention for the championship of the conference, but he did not get to that level until the ’60s,” Boulding said. “But you always knew he was going to be successful.”