During a three-hour flight from Raleigh to New York, former N.C. State guard Dereck Whittenburg made a case to Carrboro filmmaker Bill Hayes for Durham-born Morgan Wootten as one of the greatest coaches ever.
In their documentary, Morgan Wootten: The Godfather of Basketball, they explore the legend behind the first high school coach to be enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
With 1,274 wins over 46 seasons, Wootten’s 87 percent winning percentage at Maryland’s DeMatha High School stands as the highest in basketball history. He entered the Hall of Fame in 2000 and retired from coaching in 2002.
Coaching many players who went on to careers at Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State, such as Danny Ferry, former general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, Joseph Forte and Kenny Carr, Wootten maintained his connection to the Triangle.
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Wootten coached both Whittenburg and Sidney Lowe, both of whom won the 1983 national championship playing for N.C. State, and was offered the school’s head coaching position before Jim Valvano was hired. He also received interest from Duke, Wake Forest and Virginia.
“His DNA is all over the darn game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Wootten gained national acclaim for ending Lew Alcindor’s – now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 71-game winning streak with New York’s Power Memorial in 1965. Later, Adrian Dantley, a Wootten disciple and hall of famer, helped end UCLA’s 88-game winning streak in 1974 while playing for Notre Dame.
“I know of no finer coach at any level – high school, college or pro,” the late John Wooden, a 10-time national championship winning coach at UCLA, once said. “I stand in awe of him.”
Wootten, now 86, won five high school national championships, 22 Washington D.C. championships and 33 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships. His early success came from inventing the modern “charging” offensive foul and the concept for the fast break while continually adapting to new strategy.
The Hall of Fame annually awards two high school coaches the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Morgan Wootten: The Godfather of Basketball” features interviews with Krzyzewski, North Carolina coach Roy Williams and a number of Wootten’s former players. It is available for streaming on Youtube, iTunes and Google Play and will premiere at Silverspot at Chapel Hill cinema starting Aug. 7.