John Impelman was born to coach basketball.
After all, it’s in his blood. John’s great grandfather is none other UCLA coaching legend John Wooden. His father, Craig Impelman, spent 12 years as an assistant in division one basketball.
As he nears the completion of his first full season as an assistant coach for the Pepperdine men’s basketball team, Impelman continues daily to form his own identity on the hardwood.
Since his freshman year in high school, when he did a career project charting his future in coaching, to today, Impelman has aspired to learn and grasp the nuances of basketball. Or, as Coach Wooden would say, the “beautiful simplicities.”
Upon graduating from Occidental College, Impelman began his coaching career at Pepperdine as a graduate assistant in the fall of 2008. He then served as director of basketball operations for two years and was promoted to assistant coach in May of 2013.
The Malibu Times caught up with Impelman recently to discuss his young coaching career and his relationship with Coach Wooden.
Describe your path to coaching; did you always see yourself doing it?
I don’t think it was destiny but rather I made it come to fruition. If it wasn’t here at Pepperdine, I would probably be coaching high school, at a junior college or even at a YMCA. I’ve been coached for such a long time and I’ve known it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
How has your first year gone as an assistant coach?
Being a part of this year’s success has been great. It starts with (Pepperdine coach) Marty Wilson. He empowers our staff. Then it trickles down to the team as far as bringing a positive attitude every day and doing things the right way on and off the court. It’s been a lot of fun. We have a great group of guys who are gym rats and hungry to get better. They are sponges on the court. I’m learning just as much as they are. Every day is a new adventure.
What kind of coach do you want to become?
I’m a junkie when it comes to coaching and learning other people’s ideas. I don’t fully know what type of coach I want to be. I’m learning on a daily basis and one day hopefully I will be a head coach. Because I have had my great grandpa’s stuff ingrained in me since such a young age, I try to look outside of that scope and look at other successful programs. I’m still forming that identity of who I want to be as a coach. It’s constantly changing, which is a good thing.
Talk about your great grandfather and the influence he had upon you.
He never coached me or tried to coach me. It was a relationship of a great grandparent and a great grandson.
He always joked around with me. Basketball was never the focus of our conversations. I guess if I knew I wanted to be a coach for so long maybe I should have made it more so. But I never looked at it that way. I’m not sure how many people are fortunate enough to know their great grandfather. We had a great relationship.
Have you adopted any of Coach Wooden’s popular maxims, and what are some of your favorites?
I’ve been hearing them from my dad since I was young. I never heard those from my great grandpa. My dad always coached our youth teams. After he stopped coaching in college is when he started to really learn and master my great grandpa’s philosophies. That was the basis for our teams; from the drills we ran to all the maxims and sayings. My favorite are:
Don’t mistake activity with achievement.
Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.
Make sure that your players put the team above themselves.
Always practice simplicity with constant repetition.
Was there ever a time when it really hit you that you are the great grandson of John Wooden?
I found out that he passed when I was going to a Dodger game with my girlfriend and now wife, Katie. Vin Scully spoke about my great grandpa and everyone gave a standing ovation. That was kind of surreal sitting there seeing that and knowing our relationship and obviously no one around knew that. That put things into perspective a little bit.