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Large UCLA crowd gathers to mourn John Wooden

June 4, 2010 |  9:23 pm


They weren’t even born when revered UCLA basketball coach John Wooden had his glory days and string of national championships. But hundreds of students at the Westwood campus still gathered in his honor and mourned his death Friday night.

As word of Wooden’s passing spread, a small group of students across from the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center grew rapidly to more than 500. They clustered in somber remembrance of the legendary coach, who had just died inside that hospital.

"He was bigger than just our school," said Carie Spidel, a UCLA junior who helped organize the vigil. "He was college basketball."

She carried a sign that quoted Wooden: "It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen."

Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, a graduating senior who was a guard on the UCLA basketball team, joined the group and recalled how Wooden would often visit players at practices and games. He called Wooden a "memory bank" who regaled the athletes with poetry and tales from past competitions.

"This is somber here, but the 99 years of life weren’t," Abdul-Hamid said of Wooden’s life. "I don't know if anyone can live a perfect life but he pursued it passionately"

At one point, Wooden’s children and other relatives stepped out of the medical center. They watched in with tears as the crowd greeted them with chants of "Wooden, Wooden."

"We’re sad and we’re happy" said daughter Nan Wooden.

Jim Wooden said his father had been suffering badly the last few months and "was ready to go be with my mother, who he's been missing dearly for 25 years."

The students originally had planned an 8 p.m rally in support of Wooden, who was reported earlier in the day to be in grave condition at the hospital. His death changed the focus of the event, according to sophomore Theresa Gio, another organizer.

"It is heartbreaking but we were doing this for him. So we're still going to do it," she said.

Gio said she got the chance to tell Wooden that he inspired her when she competed in gymnastics, a favorite sport of the legendary basketball coach.

Decades removed from Wooden’s championships in the 1960s and ‘70s, the students nonetheless said the coach transcended sports and will be remembered for his set of principles, famously summed up in his "Pyramid of Success" and its emphasis on cooperation and responsibility.

--Robert Faturechi at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center

For more coverage, read The Times' Wooden obituary

Also see a Times Wooden photo gallery for images of the famed coach.

Photo: UCLA students gather Friday night outside Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after hearing that former UCLA Coach John Wooden had died at the hospital. Wooden, 99, won 10 national titles between 1964 and 1975.

Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Remembering John Wooden: Full Times Coverage: