With his beloved UCLA Bruins back for the first time since 1980, John Wooden is thinking about returning to the Final Four himself.
After first telling everybody, including Jim Harrick, the current coach at UCLA, that a trip to Seattle was out of the question, John Wooden was having a rare change of heart Thursday afternoon.
"Don't say that I'm definitely going," Wooden said from his hotel room in St. Louis, where he was scheduled to speak at a banquet for the McDonald's High School All-American basketball team.
"The last thing I want to do right now is draw any attention away from what's going on. So just say that I might. But if UCLA comes through all right Saturday, and if I feel pretty decent, and if the traveling back to Los Angeles and then up to Seattle isn't too hard," he added, "I might make it."
Wooden's UCLA teams won the NCAA Tournament an amazing 10 of 12 years from 1964 to 1975, including a run of seven years in a row.
Initially, Wooden informed Harrick and anyone else who asked that he found it too painful to return to the Final Four. He and his wife, Nell, had attended the event 36 years in a row until her death in 1985. Their last one together was in Seattle the year before.
Wooden attended the Final Four in 1991, when it was back in his home state of Indiana and he was being honored with the Heritage Award. But he hasn't returned since.
"Seattle is a little tougher for me to go back to than some other sites because the memories are a little stronger," Wooden said.
He then recalled how Nell, confined to a wheelchair, watched the games on TV in their room, but insisted on being at his side in the crowded hotel lobbies, directing the traffic around him. While Wooden could -- and still can -- recognize every offensive and defensive scheme, he never hesitated to credit Nell with keeping track of most of the other details in his life.
Now he relies on a daughter to help get him back and forth from UCLA games.
Many in college basketball still call Wooden for advice. And he still begins most of his answers with, "This is just my opinion . . ."
Meanwhile, the Bruins may be based 1,200 miles away, but when UCLA arrived Thursday, it was like home.
"We're in the Pacific Northwest. We've come here many times and that's what's so good about it," Harrick said. "It's very familiar surroundings for us."
The Bruins, as in the West Regionals in Oakland, should draw the largest contingent of fans. The school sold its 3,500 ticket allotment in six hours.
The Bruins also are familiar with the Kingdome. Harrick took his team on a tour Feb. 9 when the Bruins were here to play Washington. A UCLA team has never played there, however.
The Bruins are 14-4 in NCAA games played in the Northwest, such as Pullman, Portland, Boise, Pocatello, Corvallis and Eugene, including victories in 14 of their past 15 games.