Here's a Real Sports Phenom: a Coach with a 606-85 Record Who Also Builds Character
Wootten has sent seven players to the pros and all his seniors to college
DeMatha High School of Hyattsville, Md. had just lost a tough basketball game, 55-45, to a school they had come a long way to play, Beaver Falls, Pa. High. DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten was unhappy, of course, and told his team, "We laid a great big egg in front of all those people. We committed a fatal sin of basketball—we stood and watched the ball game." But then he added, "When you're on the road as much as we are, you're bound to have a night like we did. We'll be a lot tougher to beat by the end of the season."
That sort of calm perspective is rare-for any losing coach. For one whose team has just ended a 42-game winning streak, it reflects a patience of saintly dimension. In Wootten's case it may also represent a lack of practice at being defeated.
In the 23 years he has coached DeMatha, a Roman Catholic school just outside Washington, Wootten has compiled an astounding 606-85 won-lost record. His team has been ranked No. 1 nationally four times; it finished first last year and has been first again much of this season. The 47-year-old coach has sent Adrian Dantley and Kenny Carr and five others to the pros. And, perhaps most remarkable, literally every DeMatha graduate who played for Wootten as a senior in the last 18 years, either as star or sub, has won an athletic scholarship to college.
Wootten's formula for success? His answer is phrased in coaching clichés: "They're all good kids. That's what it takes—you win with good kids." There are other reasons too. Dantley told one reporter, "Wootten is just a classy guy who makes a better person out of you. He can communicate with ball players, especially black ball players." It helps also that Wootten insists on dealing personally with the flocks of college scouts who descend on DeMatha—thus taking the pressure off the kids. "Some players shoot a lot so they'll be noticed," he explains. "Our players don't have to worry about that. They play for the team. They know they'll go to college."
Wootten's concern is not limited to basketball. He receives weekly grade reports on his players throughout the school year, and in 1977 took the team to Brazil on a State Department-sponsored goodwill trip. A player who recently applied to colleges was urged by Wootten to add Harvard to his list—"I don't want him to come to me in 10 years and say, 'Coach, why didn't you tell me about all the opportunities?' "
Raised in Hyattsville, Wootten started coaching while still a student at Montgomery Junior College, where he led a football team from a nearby orphanage to a 22-3 record over two years. He moved to St. John's High School in Washington as a junior varsity basketball coach, compiled a 62-7 record over three years, and in 1956 settled at DeMatha. For the first 13 years there Wootten also coached football, winning three league championships.
Wootten supplements his income considerably by lecturing at coaching clinics, where he sells his two privately printed books, DeMatha High School Basketball Notebook and DeMatha High School Blitz Defense. "I try to keep the clinics down so I'm only gone every other weekend during the off-season," he says. "I spend a lot of time with the kids to make up for the time I'm away. We like to go camping."
Home for Wootten and his wife, Kathy, 38, is a rambling, six-bedroom colonial near College Park, Md. They have five children, two of whom have recently taken up CYO basketball.
Wootten has turned down scores of college coaching jobs and says only one might tempt him—at nearby University of Maryland. But Lefty Driesell is an institution there. "I don't know how much longer I'll keep coaching," Wootten says. "When the time comes, I'll know it and just go back to being a history teacher. That's the best thing I do."
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