LOS ANGELES—John Wooden, college basketball's gentlemanly Wizard of Westwood who built one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports at UCLA and became one of the most revered coaches ever, has died. He was 99.
The university said Wooden died Friday night of natural causes at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized since May 26.
Jim Wooden and Nancy Muehlhausen issued a statement shortly after their father died, saying, "He has been, and always will be, the guiding light for our family.
"The love, guidance and support he has given us will never be forgotten. Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he has gone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love and cherish."
They thanked well-wishers for their thoughts and prayers and asked for privacy.
With his signature rolled-up game program in hand, Wooden led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships, including an unmatched streak of seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.
Over 27 years, he won 620 games, including 88 straight during one historic stretch, and coached many of the game's greatest players such as Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor - later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
"It's kind of hard to talk about Coach Wooden simply, because he was a complex man. But he taught in a very simple way. He just used sports as a means to teach us how to apply ourselves to any situation," Abdul-Jabbar said in a statement released through UCLA.
"He set quite an example. He was more like a parent than a coach. He really was a very selfless and giving human being, but he was a disciplinarian. We learned all about those aspects of life that most kids want to skip over. He wouldn't let us do that."
Wooden is the only person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
"He was always the boss. He always knew what to say," former UCLA star Jamaal Wilkes told the Associated Press. "Even in the heyday of winning and losing, you could almost discuss anything with him. He always had that composure and wit about him. He could connect with all kind of people and situations and always be in control of himself and seemingly of the situation."
Walton and Wilkes were among former players who visited Wooden in the hospital this week. Wilkes came twice and said Wooden recognized him and that the coach's mind was "sharp as a tack" until the end although his body was "very, very frail."
Wilkes said he recognized what he called "that little glint" in Wooden's pale blue eyes. He was in the room with Wooden's son when Wooden asked to be shaved.
"His son made the comment that when he got shaved he was getting ready to see Nellie," Wilkes said, referring to Wooden's late wife.
During his second visit Wednesday night, Wilkes asked Wooden if he recognized him.
"His glasses fogged up and he had to clean his glasses," Wilkes said. "He looked at me and said, 'I remember you, now go sit down."'
St. John's coach Steve Lavin followed a similar career path as Wooden, coaching seven years at UCLA after serving as an assistant at Purdue.
"Even though we anticipated this day, the finality still strikes with a force equal to a ton of bricks," Lavin said. "There was the common affinity we shared for Purdue and UCLA and that forged a unique bond. I turned to him for perspective at every critical juncture over the past 20 years. Ninety-nine years of goodness and now he's back with Nell."
Wooden was a groundbreaking trendsetter who demanded his players be in great condition so they could play an up-tempo style not well-known on the West Coast at the time.