February 26, 2015
Tiger Den Basketball
John Wooden: They Call Me Coach as told to Jack Tobin (1972)
I jumped center once at Martinsville in the state finals during my sophomore season. [Coach] Curtis put me in for the tip against Charles (Stretch) Murphy of Marion - a big man who stood 6 feet 7 inches tall. I believe he could play today with any man of comparable size. We later played together at Purdue. My job this time was to force as tight a jump as possible so our center could block out against Murphy. The theory may have been correct but Murphy was too much. We lost to the Marion "Giants" 30-23.
During my junior year we won the state title by beating Muncie Central, 26-23. I remember that not so much for the victory but for the beautiful silver Hamilton pocket watch that the people of Martinsville gave to each of us on the team. It's a fine watch, and I keep it at home now under a little glass bell chime. It runs as well as it did the day I got it.
Usually you would think that the championship would be the important memory of my high school career. But actualy, it is the defeat in the championship during my senior year that takes the honor. Again, we were playing Muncie Central. With moments to go, we were ahead, 12-11. A Muncie player turned his ankle and called time out. Since they had used their allowed three times out, it was a technical foul. We had the ball when time was called. When you shot the tehnical, the ball went back to the center jump if you made it. I was captain and elected to refuse the shot, thereby keeping the ball. Curtis leaped off the bench yelling, "We'll shoot it, we'll shoot it."
I argued, because under the rules then, we had the ball. And by keeping it I knew that Muncie could not get it back before time ran out. I could keep it on the dribble alone and we'd win, 12-11, for back-to-back championships.
Curtis prevailed. I shot and missed, and the ball went back to the center jump. In those days, the center could tip to himself. Charlie Secrist, the Muncie center, tipped the ball behind him, grabbed it and in a wild, sweeping underhand motion arched the ball toward the basket. To this day, it is the highest arched shot I have ever seen. It seemed to go into the rafters and came straight down the middle of the basket, hardly fluttering the net.
Indiana basketball buffs still talk about that game. They'll tell you that it ended just as the ball dropped through the basket. I have personally heard the story from more people than Butler Fieldhouse could ever hold. Actually, what happened was that I called time as the ball came through the basket. Knowing Muncie would look for me to shoot, Curtis set up a play with me as the decoy. The center tipped to me, a forward screened for the center who got wide open, I faked a shot and passed to him underneath the basket, and he laid the ball up on the board. In doing so, he gave it a little English - it went around and around and around and then out. A forward was right there, but he was so confident the ball was in that he was jumping up and down in jubilation and wasn't positioned to rebound. When he saw it spin out, all he could do was bat it back up, but it didn't go in. It seemed like a disastrous turn of events at the time but by summer vacation the hurt had worn off a bit.