News broke late Tuesday night that Morgan Wootten, the legendary DeMatha Catholic high school basketball coach, had passed away. Since then, tributes for the Silver Spring, Maryland native have poured in.
Before becoming a legend in his own right as a broadcaster for CBS, James Brown was a standout on the basketball court. Brown starred for Coach Wootten at DeMatha before becoming an All-Ivy League performer at Harvard University.
Brown joined the Brian Mitchell show to share some of the lessons that Wootten imparted on him.
“If there were an overarching message, it would be how coach was shaping all of us who had the good fortune to play for him, for success in the game of life,” Brown told Brian Mitchell and Scott Linn.
With 1,274 career victories, 33 WCAC titles and five mythical national championships, Wootten became the first high school coach ever inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.
Despite his success, Wootten remained grounded by his faith. Brown shared the list of priorities that the coach instilled in his players.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t underscore a very simple message he had for all of us who played for him,” Brown continued. “He said ‘I would like it very much if those who played for me had these priorities … God had to be first, then family, then school and then sports.”
More than 150 of Wootten’s players made it to the college level, including 12 who made it to the NBA but he didn’t always have the most talented roster relative to his competition.
On January 30, 1965, DeMatha prepared to take on New York City’s Power Memorial Academy and their 71-game win streak. Power’s star play was none other than Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Brown believes the story of what happened that day truly encapsulates the preparation and sense of belief that Wootten developed in his athletes.
“(Wootten) is one of the best motivators I have ever been blessed to know or even see. There were many times when we weren’t the best team on that floor but … he appealed to our excellence in having prepared for those opportunities and we came out with some improbable victories,” Brown remembered. ”Clearly one of the biggest was when (Wootten) guided the DeMatha team to that victory of then Power Memorial high school led by then named Lew Alcindor, a.k.a Kareem Abdul Jabbar. They weren’t the best team on the floor but they were the best prepared and (DeMatha) won. That’s coach, he prepared us for the game of life.”