Jim Wooldridge has been coaching since 1978 and has been a head coach for 24 years in the NCAA, accumulating over 400 wins. Wooldridge is entering his sixth season at UC Riverside’s men’s basketball program after being named the sixth head coach in team history on May 2, 2007. Ever since, he has turned around a program that went 7-24 with one win in Big West Conference play in 2006-07 and had yet to experience a winning season after making the transition to Division I in 2001-02.
In 2007, the first year that Wooldridge was in Riverside, the team exceeded all expectations by finishing seventh in the league and defeating Cal Poly 62-54 in the first round of the conference tournament for just the second Big West Tournament win in the program’s history.
The 2008-09 season saw the Highlanders cement their standing as a team on the rise in the Big West, breaking numerous Division I-era program records including posting the team’s first-ever winning season (17-13), winning the most games ever at home (11) and on the road (6), winning the most conference games ever (8) and finishing in a tie for fourth place in the Big West.
Two years later, UC Riverside once again made Division I history as the Highlanders upset second seeded Cal Poly in the first round of the 2011 conference tournament, advancing to the semifinals in Big West postseason play for the first time ever. The 2011-12 squad entered its name in the record books by earning its highest seed ever for the Big West Conference Tournament.
Before coming to UCR, Wooldridge traveled across the country, building up a diverse basketball resume in both college and professional levels. His first shot at a head coaching job came at Central Missouri State in 1985. At the time, he was a member of Lynn Nance’s staff as the programs chief recruiter. When Nance left in 1985 after winning a championship, Wooldridge was named the head dog. “They promoted me to the head coaching position at a very young age. I think I was 28 years old at that time,” Wooldridge said. “It gave me my first head coaching break.”
After taking two other head coaching jobs with Texas State (1991-94) and Louisiana Tech (1994-98), Wooldridge took the step up to the pros as an assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls from 1998-2000. “I thought it was something in that juncture of my life that I wanted to leap into. It was a real learning experience for me, one that I will always cherish; I think it made me a better basketball coach.” Wooldridge was considered the staff authority on the triangle offense, having taught it at Louisiana Tech, and learning it from friend and triangle “guru” Tex Winter.
While in Chicago, Wooldridge helped the development of 1999-2000 Co-Rookie of the Year Elton Brand and Ron Artest, who earned All-Rookie team honors that same year. “They were talented players,” Wooldridge recalls. “They were fun to be around. The talent level we have seen throughout their long careers in the NBA is very high.”
The development that Wooldridge brings out of players has shown here in Riverside. This season he has helped the junior Chris Patton into a star player for Riverside. He is averaging 10.6 points a game on 47.4 percent shooting and 65.7 percent from the free throw line. He averages 5.4 rebounds and uses his six-foot-ten body to bang in the paint.
After being an assistant with the Bulls, Wooldridge took a head coaching job with Kansas State in 2000-2006. He lead the Wildcats to their first winning season in six years in 2004-05 when the team posted a 17-12 mark in the Big 12. Wooldridge said there wouldn’t have been another type of situation that would have drawn himself away from the NBA besides that kind of Job.
This season the men’s basketball team has been struggling. They are an exceptionally young team with eight freshmen on the squad. Coach Jim Wooldridge has been a winning coach throughout his long coaching career, but this season has posed a particular challenge for him. For now, the team’s success for the rest of the season remains a question unanswered. “I don’t think about anything other than trying to make this program better and do the things within this program I think that need to improve and be better. Take it day by day.”