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Basketball’s First Wizard

By Chic Hess

John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, is the coach by whom modern-day coaches are measured. Winning ten of twelve NCAA Championships has immortalized his place in basketball history. History, on the other hand, has not been as kind to another basketball wizard. Ernest Blood, who dominated his peers to an even greater degree a few generations earlier in New Jersey, was called the Grey Thatched Wizard.

Not many basketball purists are aware of this first wizard of the hardwood. "Prof" was a shortened version of Professor, and it was the name his players and students called him, but they spoke it reverently. Passaic High School’s Grey Thatched Wizard was known for his all-around coaching acumen.

His teams enjoyed six unde-feated seasons under his tutelage, and during another season, his team lost one game. His truncated stay at Passaic High School was a nonpareil188-1, and his teams would have undoubtedly won many more if jealous administrators and school board members hadn’t interfered.

A book soon to be published investigates the life of Prof Blood from his precocious athletic youth to the development of his avant-garde system of coaching. In Prof Blood and the Wonder Teams: The True Story of Basketball’s First Great Coach, coaches can learn how and why this man was a generation ahead of his peers. Unfortunately his methods and philosophies, which are not always followed today, are still very much worth learning and implementing.

Winning streaks followed these two coaching wizards. Wooden’s UCLA teams once compiled 88 consecutive victories, while a couple of generations earlier, Blood’s boys went five seasons in-a-row in-route to 159 straight, topping the latter-day wizard’s mark by 71 games. Besides the length of their winning steaks, these two coaching wizards had much in common.

For starters, Blood and Wooden were astrological Libras. Their birth dates were October 5, 1872, and October 14, 1910, respectively. If self-confidence is an essential ingredient to be a successful coach, then that explains the reason for their success, and their confidence was reflected in their teams’ demeanor. Other similarities of these two Naismith Memorial Hall of Famers include:

  • Excellent, accomplished athletes—one of Wooden’s two inductions into the hall of fame was for his accomplishments as a player.
  • Great free throw shooters--Wooden once made 134 straight in professional game competition with the Kautsky Athletic Club, while Blood at age seventy-four, calmly sank 484 out of 500 after a practice session.
  • Physical conditioning enthusiasts. With Wooden, it was an obsession.
  • Adherence to clean living was a must.
  • Adamantly stressed the importance of teamwork.
  • Recognized the importance of speed and quickness as essentials.
  • Strange eating habits.
  • Proponents of a controlled offense, fastbreak, and full court pressing defense. Blood pioneered these innovations and referred to his full court defense as "offensive defense."
  • Shy in social situations.
  • Honest to a fault.
  • Far ahead of their time as basketball tacticians.
  • The only enemies they had were people who were jealous of their success.
  • Neither believed in charging a team up before a game. They wanted a calm assurance in the dressing room and in the pre-game warm-ups.

Bart Starr, the great Green Bay Packers’ quarterback compared Wooden’s coaching to that of his mentor Vince Lombardi. Starr mentioned this about the Wizard of Westwood: "Wooden equates basketball to the game of life. He says you have to be unselfish, that you have to play for the good of the team, that you have to be disciplined and do what he wants you to do as a team, that he will tolerate no individuality within that team. He wants you to play as a unit. This is what you end up doing in life because sooner or later you end up on a team."

Prof Blood, the Grey Thatched Wizard, was often quoted saying that "I train boys for the game of life—not to win basketball games. If I succeed in that, I have accomplished something worthwhile." In Prof’s way of thinking, winning was incidental.

Before little John Wooden was a twinkle in Joshua Hugh Wooden’s eye, Prof was equating basketball to the more important game of life. While reading John Wooden’s book They Call Me Coach, you could insert Blood’s name for Wooden’s, and you would be accurately describing Blood’s philosophy as well.

The major differences between the two behemoths of the game were their eras of dominance (20s and 60s) and their arenas (high school and college). They had their priorities straight; they were teachers of the game of life. The differences between the two lay in society’s memory.

Wooden has become a household name synonymous with basketball coaching excellence while Blood’s story has never accurately been told until now. His accomplishments, contributions to the game and tribulations that have been lost in the annals of basketball have been resurrected in Prof Blood and the Wonder Teams: The Story of Basketball’s First Great Coach.

There isn’t a basketball coach who knows an X from an O who wouldn’t benefit from becoming more familiar with basketball’s first great coach. The book is available at any bookstore or by calling 800/247-6553.

Chic Hess, Ed. D., the author of Prof Blood and the Wonder Teams: The True Story of Basketball’s First Great Coach, is a former NAIA College District and NABC-Kodak National Junior College Coach of the Year who is now serving as the Vice President for the Division of Physical Education in the Southwest District of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.