By David Hughes
TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State basketball fans who haven’t been inside Hulman Center for a while will notice something new about the floor.
The words “Nellie & John Wooden” are painted on two different locations.
A ceremony to officially name the floor after John Wooden, the legendary retired UCLA coach who got his collegiate start at Indiana State from 1946 to 1948, and his late wife will take place at 6:45 p.m. today. Although the 98-year-old Wooden won’t be there in person, a taped message from him will be shown on the video board.
At 7, the ISU men’s team will play its exhibition opener against NCAA Division III Albion (Mich.) College, which finished 19-6 last season.
ISU coach Kevin McKenna said before Friday afternoon’s practice that Albion has a new head coach, Jody May, who previously had been an assistant with the Britons.
“We’re assuming they’re going to run similar things,” McKenna said. “I know they’ve had a lot of success there. They won 19 games last year. They’ve got some experienced guys. From the little film I’ve seen, they can shoot the 3[-pointer]. Hopefully our guys will be excited about playing a basketball game, regardless of the opponent.”
McKenna plans to start 6-foot-8 senior Jay Tunnell at center, 6-8 sophomore Isiah Martin at forward and 6-1 freshman Tyler Cutter, 6-4 freshman Jordan Printy and 6-4 sophomore Aaron Carter at guards tonight.
In anticipation of the Wooden ceremony, McKenna said he met the former ISU/UCLA coach when McKenna was a member of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers in the early 1980s.
“I played with a couple guys he coached at UCLA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes, so I was fortunate enough to meet him a long time ago,” McKenna recalled. “I just really respect, not only the success he had as a basketball coach here and at UCLA, … but what he tried to do as a guy who taught young men how to grow up and be responsible and how to live their life. I think his players appreciated that and I’ve tried to impart that in my coaching philosophy as well.”
Tunnell, the lone senior on the Sycamores’ roster, is not old enough to remember Wooden winning NCAA championships at UCLA. But he is familiar with the coaching legend and he looks forward to tonight’s ceremony.
“My freshman year, we were required to read one his books just to get an idea of how he was and how he coached,” Tunnell mentioned. “Obviously, it’s a big deal anytime that something you’re a part of is named after probably the greatest coach ever in college basketball.”
Among those expected to attend the Wooden ceremony are their daughter Nancy Muehlhausen, a granddaughter, four of John’s former Indiana State players and one of his former student-managers.
John Wooden compiled a 44-15 record in his two seasons with the Sycamores.
What: Indiana State will dedicate its basketball floor to ‘Nellie & John Wooden’ before tonight’s men’s exhibition game.
Why: John Wooden served as the men’s basketball coach and athletic director for two years before moving to UCLA where he won 10 NCAA titles as a coach.
Who: John Wooden, now 98 and living in the Los Angeles area, will appear in a video message. Several of his former team members will also be present.
When: The ceremony will start at about 6:45 p.m. on the court.