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Wooden has served as a mentor for Bennett
John Wooden, Don Meyer
John Wooden, Don Meyer

Monday, June 07, 2010

There are a number of plaques and photos, accumulated over more than 30 years as a college coach, covering the walls of Lipscomb Lady Bisons’ coach Frank Bennett’s office.

Everything on those walls holds a special significance. But there is one item, nailed beside his office door, which is truly something special _ a letter from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.

Wooden passed away last Friday at the age of 99. A man of great faith and wisdom, Wooden passed along some of his philosophies in a letter to Bennett dated April 8, 1995. The contents of that letter follow:

Your words of commendation were very kind and deeply appreciated. Many thanks for taking the time to express yourself.

There can be no greater joy than to learn that another feels that you have helped them in some way, especially when it was done with no thought of something in return.

“You can’t do a kindness without a reward, not in silver or in gold but in joy from the Lord.”

Please convey my best wishes to Don.

Sincerely,

John Wooden

The “Don” referenced is another basketball coaching legend known for his wisdom, former Lipscomb Bisons’ coach Don Meyer. Not surprisingly, Meyer and Wooden worked together on camps and exchanged philosophies.

Bennett has 11 of Wooden’s books in his office. He has another one at home that he reads from on almost a daily basis. Each day he sends his players a thought for the day via a text message. Sometimes the text might contain a scripture from the Bible, but more often than not they contain a saying from Wooden.

“I guess any player I have had from junior high through college will tell you that I have always quoted John Wooden’s sayings,” Bennett said.

One of Wooden’s books They Call Me Coach had a profound effect on Bennett’s life. While taking a trip as a member of the Bisons tennis team he carried the book along to read.

“I was a senior and reading that book is what made me decide to teach and coach,” Bennett said. “I was really planning on going to graduate school and then seeing what would happen after that. I had been an assistant girl’s basketball coach at the high school during my four years in college. I enjoyed that, but I wasn’t completely sold on it.

“Wooden decided to go into coaching after reading about Amos Alonzo Stagg, the famous football coach. Stagg considered being a minister, but he decided to make football a ministry to young men. Wooden thought that was a great thing, and it appealed to me as well. That is the first concrete impact he had on me.”

In St. Louis at a coaches clinic Bennett had a brief time to meet Wooden, Bennett’s wife, Jan, spent time with Wooden’s wife, Nell, in meeting of the coaches’ wives.

“I wrote to him another time thanking him for his influence,” Bennett said. “I mentioned that my daughter, Laura, was in the eighth grade and she was going to read They Call Me Coach as part of a class assignment. He sent her some autographed pictures and an autographed copy of his `Pyramid for Success'.

“We were watching the ESPN news coverage and Laura was just boo-hooing, especially when he talked about his wife, Nell, and the love letters he left for her each day.”

Bennett also admires Bobby Knight as a teacher and innovator in basketball as well, but Wooden is his favorite.

“Knight had his own way and did some good things, but I related more to Wooden’s style and the way he taught people,” Bennett said. “I was surprised when he sent me the letter. But he was very gracious. It was not uncommon for him to respond to letters.

“I haven't really used his approach with his high post offense or his 2-2-1 press so much. But I liked his approach to people and bringing out the best in people.”

Bennett, preparing to start his 31st year as the head basketball coach for the Lady Bisons, still finds wisdom in Wooden’s sayings.

“He has influenced a lot of people,” Bennett said. “He has been like a mentor from afar for me.”

Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.