Morgan Wootten, Hall of Fame high school hoops coach, dies at 88

Hall of Fame high school basketball coach Morgan Wootten, considered one of the best coaches in the history of the sport, has died at 88, according to DeMatha Catholic High School, where Wootten coached for 46 years.

The Hyattsville, Maryland school announced Wootten's death on its Twitter account early Wednesday morning.

"The Wootten Family is saddened to share the news that their loving husband and father Morgan Wootten passed away yesterday evening at 9:50 p.m.," the school's tweet said. "Morgan was surrounded by his family in prayer and passed away peacefully as he wished.

"The Wootten Family would like to extend their deepest gratitude for all the prayers and overwhelming support they have received during this time. Arrangements will be forthcoming."

Wootten won five national championships and more than 1,200 games at DeMatha. During his time at DeMatha, the Stags won at least 20 games in every season but 1957-58, Wootten's second season at the helm. They won 33 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2000, the third high school coach to earn that honor, and retired with a 1274-192 record in 2002.

Wootten's coaching career began while he attended Montgomery Junior College (Maryland). He coached baseball at St. Joseph's Home for Boys, and then coached the football and basketball teams. After enrolling at the University of Maryland, Wootten began coaching the junior varsity football and basketball teams at St. John's High School. Upon graduation in 1956, Wootten took a job at DeMatha as a history teacher and football and basketball coach. He wouldn't fully focus on basketball until 1968 -- after DeMatha already had won three national championships under Wootten.

The turning point for DeMatha basketball came when the Stags faced Lew Alcindor's Power Memorial Academy team in 1965. Power Memorial entered the game on a 71-game winning streak, which DeMatha ended.

"That game put high school basketball in the national picture," Wootten told USA Today when he retired in 2002. "And it put DeMatha in the national picture."

Wootten stayed at DeMatha despite constant attention for college-coaching positions. According to a 1979 Sports Illustrated story, Wootten received offers from Georgetown and American, as well as interest from Duke, Wake Forest and Virginia. He also once turned down NC State. Wootten had interest in one college job -- Maryland -- but nothing ever materialized. The Chicago Tribune reported in 1998 that Wootten was the second choice for the Terrapins when they hired Lefty Driesell in 1969.

While Wootten ultimately never left the high school ranks, he was widely recognized as one of the best basketball coaches of all time at any level.

"People say Morgan Wootten is the best high school basketball coach in the country. I disagree," legendary UCLA coach John Wooden once said. "I know of no finer coach at any level -- high school, college, or pro. I've said it elsewhere and I'll say it here: I stand in awe of him."

DeMatha produced at least a dozen NBA players and more than 150 college basketball players in Wootten's tenure. Among the best were Adrian Dantley, a six-time NBA All-Star who was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Danny Ferry, who spent 13 seasons in the NBA and won a championship in 2003.

Wootten's time at DeMatha also led to more than 20 former players becoming basketball coaches, including current Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, who played and coached under Wootten.

"You think about him, and you think about John Wooden and Dean Smith, and you stop there," Brey told USA Today when Wootten retired.

Wootten received a liver transplant in 1996 after collapsing at a basketball camp, and received a kidney transplant from his youngest son, Joe, in 2006.