As a college student, Mark Allen was reading legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s book, “They Call Me Coach,” when he was startled by the words, “the late Phog Allen.”
“He was very much alive at the time,” Phog Allen’s grandson Mark Allen said. “I said, ‘Phoggie, take a look at this.’ He looked at me and said the Mark Twain quote: ‘Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.’”
When Mark and wife Lou had the chance to get in line to meet Wooden in Kansas City in November 2006, they seized it in order to tell him that story. Wooden trumped them with a better story.
“He told us, ‘We were high school boys in Indiana in 1927 and went to Kansas to work the wheat harvest. We got to Lawrence, and the wheat wasn’t ready. We sought out Phog to find a job. Phog said he had something for us to do, got us places to stay. He put us to work pouring concrete at the (KU) football stadium (Memorial Stadium). I built that stadium.’ What a nice man he was. Sharp. His recall was just staggering.”
Wooden, who died Friday at the age of 99, was 96 when the Allens met him and talked about how the paths of two legendary college basketball coaches crossed long before Wooden became a coach.
When Mark and Lou Allen met Wooden in Kansas City, he was in town for induction ceremonies as part of the first class of the National College Basketball Hall of Fame. Phog Allen was inducted as part of the second class.
“I was impressed,” Mark Allen said. “I was just in awe of how sharp and bright he was, and his comments were great that night after this tedious and embarrassing roast of him by Bill Walton. The roast was not funny, and I didn’t think it was appropriate.”