SoCal coaches honored to be at Wooden lunch

LOS ANGELES – Making his debut at the John R. Wooden Tipoff Lunch four years ago, Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero did something that most may be ashamed to admit. In retrospect, it’s something he can look back on and laugh about now.  

“Four years ago when I first got the chance to come here and speak, I stole a little advertisement out of the elevator and framed it and put it in my office from the Wooden Lunch,” admitted Callero on Wednesday.

Clearly, being able to take back some form of Wooden paraphernalia meant a lot to him. Callero was proud to announce to those on hand at the Los Angeles Tipoff Club for this year’s John R. Wooden Tipoff Lunch that he has since been able to replace his stolen souvenir with a “nicer one” he later asked for because he felt bad.

All for Wooden.

Of course, the bond Callero has tried to forge over the years with the late UCLA coach is one that’s shared by many of his colleagues that made it point to be in attendance Wednesday.   

“Anything that speaks the name Wooden, you want to be a part of,” said San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher. “When you attach that name to it we all want to be a part of it.”

UC Santa Barbara head coach Bob Williams echoed those sentiments.

“I think it’s an honor to be at this,” Williams said.

Just days before Midnight Madness kicks off at various school throughout the country to signal the start of official practice, college coaches from throughout the Southland gathered at the Wooden Tipoff Lunch to show their excitement about the season to come.

There’s the joy of a potential turnaround of your program and your conference if you’re USC head coach Kevin O’Neill. The story is similar for Cal State Northridge, trying to improve on a 7-21 record from a season ago to go along with an NCAA-imposed one-year postseason ban that was endured, as spoke of by longtime Matadors assistant Danny Sprinkle who filled in for head coach Bobby Braswell.

There’s the anxiety of entering the season with the youngest team in the country, as is the case for Williams and his Gauchos. For Loyola Marymount head coach Max Good, it’s an opportunity to gloat about his point guard Anthony Ireland, whom he feels is one of the top players in the country.

“There aren’t five to seven to 10 better point guards in the country than him,” Good said.
He has the backing of his colleagues.

“I think Max’s guy is a pro for sure,” O’Neill said, “without question.”

Fierce competitors throughout the season, coaches were awarded the luxury of being able to let their hair down, at least momentarily, and show their respect for others who share in their craft.

“I want to wish all the coaches in here the best,” said O’Neill at the podium speaking to the entire room. “Everybody knows coaching is difficult at times but it’s a great privilege to be a coach and lead young men. And it’s a great privilege to come here and speak to this group because this is a long standing tradition that needs to keep going.

“I’m proud to be a part of it.”

As evidenced, the Wooden name carries a lot of weight.