John Wooden was one of the greatest coaches ever and tonight he passed away at the age of 99. He coached "his boys" but that doesn't mean he wasn't a huge influence on hall of fame women's basketball legend Ann Meyers-Drysdale who is now the General Manager of the WNBA Phoenix Mercury. The news of his passing broke while Ann's team was on the floor battling for a much needed win.
Coach Wooden was an influential figure in the development of many great basketball players and while Ann Meyers-Drysdale never played for him, Wooden clearly had a tremendous impact on her both personally and helped her become the hall of fame player and legend in her own right.
Countless times I've heard Annie make reference to Coach Wooden and "UCLA ball" while talking about the game she loves. Tonight, I spent a few brief moments with her while she tearfully and gracefully shared these thoughts on a man she loves dearly.
General thoughts on John Wooden:
"I'm crying inside, but my heart is happy that he's with Nellie. And I think that's what he's wanted all along -- didn't know it'd be this hard because I'd been expecting it. I just know that he's at peace and that's what we were all hoping for. The fact that he was with us 99 years is very impressive and he knew what was going on. The stories were always incredible. You could never spend enough time in his presence -- he just made you feel like a better person. So, love him, miss him, but I know he's happy."
On what Wooden meant to Meyers-Drysdale personally and to the game:
"Well, he's my papa. My brother David played for him and I didn't play for him -- I wasn't one of his boys -- but certainly felt like I was one of the family, which I know a lot of people did. So he will always be with me, my children are very close to him too. The whole family's been great but I'm grateful for the fact that every time I spent with him, deep down -- it could have been the last time, but -- I just always cherished every moment I had with him."
More on Ann Meyers-Drysdale and her UCLA career