CAZZIE RUSSELL: FORMER NO. 1 NBA PICK BROUGHT SCAD TO REDLANDS

This is part of a series of mini-Redlands Connections. This is Part 3 of the series, Quick Visits. Magic Johnson and John Wooden showed up at the University of Redlands as part of a Convocation Series. This piece on Tom Flores was another one. Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, former NBA player John Block, legendary high school coach Willie West showed up. There are others. Cazzie Russell, for instance, came to Redlands with an NCAA Division III basketball team from Savannah, Ga. Russell, out of Michigan, was the NBA’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966.

Today’s feature: None other than Cazzie Russell.

Truth is, there aren’t many NBA No. 1 draft choices that pass through Redlands.

Not just a No. 1 draft pick. We’re talking No. 1 overall.

Truth be told, Shaquille O’Neal showed up at the University of Redlands to film a commercial. Model Cindy Crawford was on that scene, too. It had been written up in the local press — nothing much to it.

Cazzie Russell comes to mind.

The Chicago native was a three-time All-American at Michigan in the mid-1960s.

At 54 years of age, Russell was coaching Savannah (Ga.) College of Arts & Design (SCAD).

In December 1998, SCAD came out west for a three-game trip to play Westmont College (near Santa Barbara), Univ. La Verne and Univ. Redlands.

“This school was founded in 1979 with 71 students, said Russell, “and a credit card.”

By 1998, it had grown to a campus of 4,000 students.

At the time of his hiring, SCAD’s Chairman of the Board was none other than Dr. Bernie Casey, who had been an NFL All-Pro receiver. Onetime major league pitching hero Luis Tiant was the school’s baseball coach.

As for Russell, hoops fans might recall that 6-foot-5 pure shooter who helped lead the Wolverines to the 1964 and 1965 Final Four, losing in the 1966 Regionals to eventual finalist Kentucky. A short time later, the New York Knicks made Russell the No. 1 pick.

Cazzie Russell

Cazzie Russell, a No. 1 overall draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966, coached a small college team from the visitor’s bench in 1998 at the University of Redlands (photo by Savannah College of Art & Design).

Thirty years later, including an NBA title in 1970 — Knicks over the Lakers — Russell was sitting in an Ontario hotel, the midway point between La Verne and Redlands.

“I love coaching here,” he says. “Nobody expects anything from us. We’re a bunch of cartoonists, graphic designers, architects. We come into another school’s gym and they’re thinking they’ve got us.

“When the get us on the court, we fool ‘em.”

Someone else could write the connections between Russell had with a variety of NBA legends, including teammates though plenty of opponents that included Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, Willis Reed and Walt Frazier, Nate Thurmond and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and John Havlicek.

“I just saw Oscar two or three weeks ago,” said Russell. “I remember when he came to my high school and tried to get me to go to Cincinnati, his old school.”

Russell was traded by the Knicks to the San Francisco Warriors for legendary rebounder Jerry Lucas in 1971.

Three decades later at SCAD, Russell laid the groundwork for recruiting, basketball, getting his team a chance for an education at an NCAA Division 3 institution.

No one sees us at practice, he says. “We’re working on defense, shooting, fundamentals … just like everyone else, I suppose.”

At SCAD, Russell’s recruits are playing for a former No. 1 draft pick, a onetime NBA champion who played against the best basketball players in the world.

“A lot of kids are in awe of the fact that I was drafted No. 1,” he said.

Teaching those fundamentals at practice, he said, “is like trying to introduce them to a new cereal.”

That list of overall number one picks — O’Neal, Kareem, Robertson, Baylor, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes or Bill Walton — does NOT include Michael Jordan or Chamberlain, Russell or Karl Malone.

Russell’s in rare company.

Joked Russell: “I don’t want to get into the difference in the amount of money we made then and what they make now.”

During his post-playing career, Russell coached at every level — high school, CBA, assistant in the NBA, collegiately in both NAIA and NCAA — before settling in at SCAD.

In its three-game swing out west in 1998, the Bees swept Westmont, La Verne and Redlands.

It seemed strange to see Russell seated on the bench as SCAD warmup up to play the Bulldogs inside Currier Gymnasium on that December 16, 1998 night.

It was a far cry from the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum when, playing for the Warriors, the smooth-shooting Russell was swishing shots in a rare win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Averaging 15 points a game over a 10-year career, Russell not only played in the New York and Golden State, but also the Lakers and Chicago Bulls. When the Lakers signed him away from the Warriors, according to the rules of the day, Russell’s former team received draft compensation.

That pick turned out to be Robert Parrish, the 7-foot center later traded by the Warriors to the Boston Celtics.

As for SCAD basketball, Russell’s coaching career in Savannah lasted 13 seasons. The school cancelled the sport in 2009.

Russell was as well-versed in spiritual necessities as he was setting up a jump shot. He seemed to make as much joy in reporting that God was a huge factor in his life.

“If God is first in your life,” he told me, “then you’re going to be successful. I’m not talking about making money. I’m talking about faith in everything you do.

You can run from God, he said, “but you can’t hide. When I decided I was going to be obedient in 1989, it was the best thing I ever did.”

“I’ve got no plans to leave.”

 

 

ELGIN BAYLOR STATUE AT STAPLES WAS REDLANDS REMINDER

When the Los Angeles Lakers unveiled the statue of NBA legend Elgin Baylor at Staples Center on April 6, there must’ve been nostalgic reminders about the moments when he was twisting his way to the basket against the likes of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

In those Southern California days, Baylor was as highly regarded as Dodger legend Sandy Koufax, the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome, UCLA’s John Wooden and his center, Lew Alcindor, not to mention Baylor’s teammate, Jerry West.

Baylor, in fact, came to Redlands.

Elgin Baylor drives vs Celtics Bill Russell cropped
Elgin Baylor, 22, goes up against Boston great Bill Russell in a 1960s duel between the Lakers and Celtics. On April 6, 2018, the Lakers honored Baylor with a statue outside Staples Center (Photo by nba.com).

It was back in the early 1970s when Baylor, along with UC Riverside coach John Masi, Gail Goodrich, his father, Gail, Sr., plus Redlands coaches ran a weeklong clinic at Currier Gymnasium in that early 1970s setting.

“After the last night of camp,” said Sal Valdivia, a lifetime Beaumont resident, “I invited them to my parents’ house for dinner – and they came.”

Baylor, Goodrich, Sr. and Masi, along with Redlands coaches, showed up at the Valdivias’ home, corner of 10th and Palm in nearby Beaumont.

Gail, Jr. had been invited, too, “but he had something else going on,” said Valdivia, who had been a Beaumont player, later its coach before spending 25 seasons as the assistant to Mt. San Jacinto College legend John Chambers.

Goodrich, Sr., in fact, was an All-American at USC in 1939.

Baylor and Goodrich, Jr., of course, were the headliners at the Redlands camp. Both are NBA Hall of Famers. Valdivia said he took part in the camp’s scrimmage.

“It was the highlight of my life,” said Valdivia, who spent 32 years teaching juveniles in Beaumont.

On that night at 10th and Palm, Valdivia’s mother, Palmita, made tacos, enchiladas, rice and beans.

“And beer,” said Sal, laughing.

That 5-day Redlands camp had been incredible, said Valdivia.

On the final day inside historic Currier Gym, the younger Goodrich gathered about 100 campers around the basket. He told them, “Here’s what shooting 500 times a day will do for you.”

Valdivia said the Lakers’ sharpshooter told them he’d take 50 shots from different spots on the court – corners, wings and top of the key – “and he guaranteed he’d make 90 percent.”

His recollection: After nailing a shot from the corner, Goodrich missed from the wing, then proceeded to drain 46 straight.

Goodrich
Laker legend, Gail Goodrich, hit 48 out of 50 long-range shots at a youth basketball clinic at the University of Redlands in the early 1970s (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Said Valdivia: “He made 48 out of 50. The kids were going nuts. They were jazzed. He hit nothing but net.”

Baylor, who retired just prior to the Lakers’ NBA championship season in 1972, served as an executive for the Los Angeles Clippers for 22 years. During his 14-year playing career, having been selected as the NBA’s first overall pick in 1958, he averaged 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds.

During his on-court days, Baylor was associated with a Laker franchise that reached the NBA finals on eight occasions – only to lose against the Boston Celtics seven times. The other time came in 1970s when the New York Knicks beat L.A.

Baylor became the sixth Laker honored with a statue. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Alcindor), West, Shaquille O’Neal and announcer Chick Hearn, all having preceded Baylor.

All of which reminded Valdivia of that 1970s time at Redlands, plus the night at his parents’ home when his presence created a festive occasion.

“I told my mom I was going to invite them,” said Valdivia, “but that I didn’t think they’d come. I was surprised when they did.”

 

 

 

 

DARNOLD, DE ROO AND DAMON JUST PART OF “CONNECTIONS”

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Mike Darnold was the latest “connection.”

Throw in football’s Jim Weatherwax and Brian DeRoo.

Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright showed up here, with his team, one Saturday morning in 2003.

“Black” Jack Gardner left here in 1928.

Jerry Tarkanian lifted off from here in 1961.

How many Redlands Connections can there be?

It’s the basis for the Blog site, www.redlandsconnection.com. Dedicated to the idea that there’s a connection from Redlands to almost every major sporting event.

The afore-mentioned have already been featured. There have been others. Plenty of others.

Golf. Track & field. Tennis. Baseball and basketball. Softball and soccer. The Olympic Games and the Kentucky Derby. The World Series and the Super Bowl. You name it.

For a city this size, the connections to all of those are remarkable.

Softball’s Savannah Jaquish left Redlands East Valley for Louisiana State.

Bob Karstens was just shooting a few baskets when I saw him at Redlands High. Turned out he was one of three white men ever to play for the usually all-black Harlem Globetrotters.

Brian Billick coached a Hall of Famer. Together, they won a Super Bowl.

09_Billick_PreviewPreseason_news
Brian Billick, a key Redlands Connection.

Speaking of Super Bowls, not only was a former Redlands High player involved in the first two NFL championship games, there was a head referee who stood behind QBs Bart Starr and Lenny Dawson.

That referee got his start in Redlands.

One of racing’s fastest Top Fuel dragsters is a Redlands gal, Leah Pritchett.

LEAH PRITCHETT (leahpritchett.com)
Leah Pritchett has punched her Top Fuel dragster over 330 mph many times.

Greg Horton forcefully blocked some of football’s greatest legends for a near-Super Bowl team.

At a high school playoff game at Redlands High in 1996, Alta Loma High showed up to play a quarterfinals match. It was Landon Donovan of Redlands taking on Carlos Bocanegra.

The two eventually played on the same Team USA in the World Cup and the Olympics.

Karol Damon’s high-jumping Olympic dreams weren’t even known to her mother. She wound up in Sydney. 2000.

In the coming days, weeks and months, there will be more connections.

  • A surfing legend.
  • Besides Landon Donovan, there’s another soccer dynamo.
  • When this year’s Indianapolis 500 rolls around, we’ll tell you about a guy named “Lucky Louie.”
  • Fifteen years before he won his first Masters, Tiger Woods played a 9-hole exhibition match at Redlands Country Club.
  • University of Arizona softball, one of the nation’s greatest programs, was home to a speedy outfielder.
  • As for DeRoo, he was present for one of the pro football’s darkest moments on the field.
  • In 1921, an Olympic gold medalist showed up and set five world records in Redlands.
  • The Redlands Bicycle Classic might have carved out of that sport’s most glorious locations – set in motion by a 1986 superstar squad.
  • Distance-running sensation Mary Decker was taken down by a onetime University of Redlands miler.
  • Collegiate volleyball probably never had a greater athlete from this area.

As for Darnold, consider that the one-time University of Redlands blocker is the father of Sam Darnold, the USC quarterback who might be this year’s No. 1 draft selection in pro football’s draft.

Jaquish became the first-ever 4-time All-American at talent-rich LSU.

Jacob Nottingham, drafted a few years ago by the Houston Astros, probably never knew he’d be part of two Moneyball deals.

Gardner, who coached against Bill Russell in the collegiate ranks, tried to recruit Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas State.

Wright, whose team went into the March 31-April 2 weekend hoping to win the NCAA championship for the third time, brought his team to play the Bulldogs as sort of a warm-up test for Hawaii.

Tarkanian? Few might’ve known that the legendary Tark the Shark started chewing on those towels while he was coaching at Redlands High.

Norm Schachter was head referee in three Super Bowls, including Green Bay’s inaugural championship win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Norm Schachter with Hank Stram
Norm Schacter, wearing No. 60 (not his normal official number), synchronizes with Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram during halftime of the inaugural Super Bowl in 1967.

Speaking of Tarkanian, Weatherwax played hoops for him at Redlands. Eight years later, Weatherwax wore jersey No. 73 for the Green Bay Packers. It makes him the only man to ever play for Tarkanian and Vince Lombardi.

There will be more Redlands connections.

 

PART 4: ‘ARE YOU SITTING DOWN, MR. BROWN?’

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Redlands. USC. Alhambra. Modesto. Kansas State. Utah. U.S. Olympic team? The NBA’s Utah Jazz?

“Black” Jack Gardner’s basketball insight was apparently so keen that he was selected as the 1964 tryouts coach for the U.S. Olympic team. Princeton’s Bill Bradley, North Carolina’s Larry Brown, UCLA’s Walt Hazzard and a few other future NBA players were on that gold medal-winning squad.

A few years earlier at Utah, 6-foot-9 center Billy McGill led the NCAA in scoring (38.8), 1961, including a memorable 60-point game in a 106-101 rivalry game win over BYU.

Gardner, also known as “The Fox,” knew how to coach against the biggest names in basketball – nearly against Kansas’ Wilt Chamberlain and went up against University of San Francisco’s Bill Russell. If Gardner hadn’t moved on to Utah from Kansas State, he’d have had to scheme against Wild twice a year.

Truth is, he tried to recruit Wilt when he was in high school.

As for Russell, imagine the excitement in Utah when Gardner called Russell’s Dons “the greatest team ever assembled.”

BIll Russell (Photo by Commons)
University of San Francisco’s Bill Russell, who led the Dons to a pair of NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956, went up against Utah in one of those tournaments. Unable to stop Russell, Utah coach Jack Gardner watched his team lose, 92-77 (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

His top player at Utah, McGill, had scrimmaged in Los Angeles summer leagues against Russell and Chamberlain. McGill was one of the L.A. best players when he led Jefferson High to a pair of city titles. Scrimmaging against Chamberlain? Russell?

“That was a player I had to have,” said Gardner, referring to McGill.

Bill_McGill_basketball (Photo by Commons)
Billy McGill, one of Utah’s greatest players during the era when Redlands’ Jack Gardner coached in Salt Lake City, led the NCAA with 38.8 points. He scored 60 in a narrow win over BYU as a senior. While in high school, McGill scrimmaged against the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Scheming against Chamberlain and Russell was another matter.

During a 1998 phone chat, Gardner asked, “Are you sitting down, Mr. Brown?”

As a matter of fact, I was. He was about to offer insight into the background in coaching against two of basketball’s greatest icons. Sitting down? I should’ve called for some oxygen. Or sedation. This was a dream for a small-town reporter: Moments like these.

“Is it possible in anyone’s thinking out there,” mused Gardner, “that Mr. Russell and Mr. Chamberlain could be considered as equals in this sport?”

Russell’s 1956 USF squad, which took a 29-0 record into the NCAA Tournament, knocked off ranked teams – No. 8 UCLA, Gardner’s 18th-ranked Utah, No. 7 Southern Methodist and No. 4 Iowa – and the Dons beat them all by at least 11 points.

Iowa, the Big Ten champ for the second straight year, came into the NCAA final on a 17-game win streak of its own before losing, 83-71.

Utah lost, 92-77, to the Dons in the West Region final.

“You had to figure a way to score against Mr. Russell,” said Gardner. “What’d we have – 77 points? It’s not bad, but their defense led them to score a lot of points.”

Hal Perry, an All-Tournament player, along with future Boston Celtic guard K.C. Jones was part of the Dons’ mystique, not to mention Russell.

“No one plays this game alone,” said Gardner.

“Regardless of what anyone else says, including Mr. (Red) Auerbach in Boston. It’s a team game, always has been a team game and, for the winning teams, always will be a team game.”

Include Chamberlain on that discussion.

Wilt Chamberlain (Photo by Commons link)
Wilt Chamberlain, who left Kansas one year early to play for the Harlem Globetrotters before settling in on an NBA career, played against L.A. school phenom Billy McGill in summer leagues. Redlands’ Jack Gardner recruited McGill to Utah, saying, “That was a player I had to have.” (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

“Anytime you played a team with Mr. Chamberlain on it,” he said, “you had to draw up a defense to stop him – just like you had to devise a good offensive game plan against Mr. Russell. You see the similarity there?”

Playing against Russell was mythic. Gardner’s teams never had a chance to play against Wilt.

But Russell versus any other team, or Chamberlain against other teams posed remarkably similar problems, reflected Gardner. “You really have to be good at both ends,” said the Redlands-based Hall of Famer, “no matter who you’re playing against.

“If you’re going to be a good team, you’ve got to be able to score and you’ve also got to be able to stop the other team. Coaches have to have defense and offense in the court.”

He came close to coaching against Chamberlain, a Kansas sophomore, in 1957. Utah finished 16-8 overall in 1956-57. “You had to win your conference to get into the (NCAA) tournament,” he said, “which was only 32 teams then.”

The headline was this: Chamberlain, still at Philadelphia’s Overbrook High School, had been promised to Kansas back in the days when Gardner was still coaching at Kansas State.

“Yes. I was after him,” said Gardner. “I had my ways. KU was better than Kansas. They hid him from me. I couldn’t get to him.

“I think you know what I mean, Mr. Brown.”

That 1957 season, though. Lost some close Mountain States Athletic Conference games – by five to Denver, by four to BYU, plus a four-point loss to Utah State.

“Turn those games around,” Gardner said, “which we should’ve won – I remember all of them – and we’d have gone up against Kansas. I can tell you that.”

Out of the blue, I asked Gardner a fairly personal question, basketball-related, of course. “You’re a USC guy. Did you ever think of coaching there?”

The answer was quick. “Never had a chance,” he said. “Things didn’t work out. I was a USC guy … you’re right about that.”

“Black” Jack coached against his Trojans – 3-8 against them, in fact.

gardner_jack (Photo by Utah Jazz)
“Black” Jack Gardner, who started playing basketball at Redlands High School in 1928, capped his hoops career working for the NBA’s Utah Jazz in 1991. (Photo by Utah Jazz).

Gardner-at-Utah was legendary. There was another Redlands Connection. Shortly after serving his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, onetime Long Beach State recruit Jon Hansen, a 6-foot-5, sharp-shooting Redlands High alum, decided to transfer to Utah.

For years, Hansen saw the likeness of Jack Gardner at Utah – heard the stories, even met the man.

Years after graduation, Hansen learned something new about Gardner. They were both Terriers. He seemed overwhelmed by such a notion. Said Hansen: “He graduated from Redlands High School?”

It was a surprising revelation about a man he’d only viewed from afar – having graduated 56 years apart from the same high school campus. It was in 2000 that Gardner died, age 90, in Salt Lake City.

There was a list of Top 100 college coaches released in 2011. Most basketball fans would know the names. Gardner was slotted in at No. 27, one spot ahead of Kansas legend Phog Allen and four spots behind Tarkanian.

At the top, of course, was John Wooden.

PART 2: POINT SHAVING SCANDAL SCARRED 1951 NCAA FINALE

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

There was 1948 and 1951. Again in 1961 and 1966.

All four of “Black” Jack Gardner’s trips to the NCAA Final Four came without a national championship – 1948 and 1951 at Kansas State, 1961 and 1966 at the University of Utah. Three times his squads lost in the semifinals.

It was in 1951 that his team came closest. That season, though, was a disaster for college basketball. It involved point shaving.

Kentucky, coached by legendary Adolph Rupp, beat Gardner’s K-State team by 10 points, but there was more to it. K-State had beaten Arizona, Brigham Young and Oklahoma A&M to earn its spot in the Final Four.

Adolph-Rupp-1930 (Photo by Commons)
Adolph Rupp, shown here in 1930, would eventually become one of college coaches greatest champions. Rupp’s Kentucky team took on Redlands’ Jack Gardner in the 1951 NCAA finals – a game scarred by a point-shaving scandal. (Photo by Commons.)

Kentucky’s involvement in the point-shaving mess was still to be uncovered when No. 1-ranked Wildcats arrived in Minneapolis in search of their third NCAA championship in four years. Gardner’s No. 4-ranked Kansas State, the champion of the Big Seven, awaited.

Led by 7-foot junior All-America Bill Spivey and sophomore Cliff Hagan, the Cats won, 68-58. Rupp, the legendary Kentucky coach, had his third title.

The celebration didn’t last long. Shortly after winning the title, the point-shaving scandal broke in New York.

The real reason for Kansas State’s loss

Five of Kentucky’s players, including Alex Groza, Ralph Beard and Spivey were implicated. Groza and Beard, stars of the 1948 U.S. Olympic basketball team and eventual professionals, were thrown out of the NBA. Spivey fought the charges, but never played another game in college or the pros.

The 1966 season was Gardner’s last in leading his team into the NCAA Tournament.

Gardner, upended by Rupp in ’51, nearly squared off against him in ’66 when Texas Western hit stride, inspiring Glory Road a few decades later. But Utah, and Gardner, lost to Texas Western. Utah’s bid to take on Rupp and Kentucky for the national championship disappeared.

Rupp was portrayed by Academy Award winner Jon Voight. Haskins was played by Josh Lucas. Tons of actors portrayed various roles – reporters, rival players, boosters, racists, students, you name it. There were no roles to depict Gardner, or even Chambers.

As for Utah, there was a consolation game in those days. After losing to third-ranked Texas Western, the unranked Utes lost to second-ranked Duke, 79-77, to finish a 21-8 season.

Gardner took on college hoops’ biggest names

Marquette’s legendary coach, Al McGuire, brought his team into Madison Square Garden (N.Y.) to beat “Black” Jack’s Utes by 20 at the NIT in 1970. Marquette capped a 24-3 season with the NIT championship.

A 24-3 team? NIT? Remember, NCAA tournaments had just expanded to just 32 teams a year earlier.

Gardner’s final career game from the sidelines was a loss – by 11 points. Against BYU. At home in the Huntsman Center.

Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels got him in 1965. By five points.

DeanSmithcropped2
Dean Smith, of North Carolina, was among the coaching legends that Redlands’ Jack Gardner went up against. (Photo by Commons.)

Speaking of North Carolina. In 1956-57, Frank McGuire’s unbeaten Tar Heels beat Utah on Dec. 27, 1956 by 21 points en route to an NCAA championship a couple months later.

That was the crazy tournament in which UNC beat No. 11 Michigan in the semifinals before knocking off Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas team in the finals – both triple overtime victories.

There was a 1964 game in which Utah knocked off a Cal-Berkeley team by 25 points. On that Golden Bears’ team was another Redlands product named Danny Wolthers (17.7 point average), who had played for Jerry Tarkanian during his Terrier days.

A couple years earlier, though, Cal tagged Utah with a 72-66 loss in the 1962-63 season opener at Berkeley’s Harmon Gym. Wolthers’ averaged 6.7 points.

That must’ve been a nice win for No. 5 Utah when the Utes outdueled No. 8 Utah State on Feb. 27, 1960 in Logan, 77-75. Aggies’ coach Cecil Baker had a 24-5 team that season while Gardner’s squad finished 26-3.

No. There was never a matchup with Jerry Tarkanian, the ex-Terrier coach who took the same pathway to major colleges as Gardner – through the junior college ranks, namely Riverside and Pasadena. Tark wound up at Long Beach State during Gardner’s final years in Salt Lake City.

Jerry_Tarkanian_with_LBSU_players_in_1970-71 Photo by Long Beach State
Jerry Tarkanian, in this 1970-71 photo with three of his top Long Beach State players, including future NBA players Ed Ratleff and George Trapp, had coached Redlands High School about one decade earlier. But Tark’s teams never played against Utah teams coached by Redlands’ Jack Gardner. (Photo by Long Beach State)

Long Beach State never played Utah in that five-year span.

“The Fox” had quite a career.

Even Sports Illustrated got into the mix on Gardner.

That magazine once wrote that “he could win with an old maid on the post and four midgets.” A proponent of fundamental basketball, Gardner was an expert in fast break basketball. His Utah teams were accordingly known as the Runnin’ Redskins, later the Runnin’ Utes.

Part 3 next week.

PART 1: “BLACK” JACK GARDNER, 1928 TERRIER GRAD: HUGE CONNECTION TO HOOPS WORLD

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

If you want to talk basketball, maybe “Black” Jack Gardner – a 1928 Redlands High alum – could be good for a story, or two. Or three, or more. Also known as “The Fox,” Gardner’s departure from Redlands led him on an odyssey in which he would eventually wind up in 10 different Halls of Fame.

Jack Gardner (Photo by Commons)
“Black” Jack Gardner, a Redlands High product of 1928, may have set a Terrier record by being part of 10 different Halls of Fame. (Photo by Commons)

He’d coached against the likes of Bill Russell and Adolph Rupp, against his former college, USC, logging one of the most impressive basketball-coaching careers in the annals of the college game. In 1998, Gardner spoke by telephone with me from Salt Lake City.

Revelations from that conversation, plus another couple of contacts, were eye-opening.

Credited with the discovery of another Hall of Famer, John Stockton, Gardner watched plenty of hoops, even in retirement. In fact, he showed up at every Final Four between 1939 and 1997.

The man has quite a resume. Even today, after the remarkable successes of John Wooden, Bobby Knight, Dean Smith, Mike Kryzewksi, Larry Brown, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Adolph Rupp and Jerry Tarkanian, Gardner qualifies among the elite of collegiate basketball coaches.

To date, he remains one of three coaches – Pitino and Williams are the others – to lead two different programs to the Final Four on two occasions. Though he was born in New Mexico in 1910, the path began in Redlands, where he was a four-sport athlete.

Long before Kansas became a major force in collegiate basketball, especially under legendary coach Forrest “Phog” Allen, Gardner’s K-State Wildcats regularly outplayed the Jayhawks.

“Yes,” said Gardner in a telephone interview with me in the late 1990s. “Coach Allen didn’t recruit much in those years. I think I got better players because I recruited. When he got going, boy, things got better for them.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Statue of Forrest “Phog” Allen, a legendary Kansas basketball coach, went up against Redlands product Jack Gardner, who coached Kansas State to some prominent times in the 1940s and 50s. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

One word: Chamberlain! More on Wilt later. As for Gardner, off he went to USC after his Redlands days, the 5-foot-11, 160-pounder becoming an All-American during his 1928-1932 stint as a Trojan – long before basketball became an iconic sport.

He was All-Coast, USC’s high scorer for two seasons, Trojans’ team captain and MVP during a successful collegiate playing career. His hoops future wasn’t in a uniform.

Coaching career begins

After coaching at Alhambra High School (29-11 over two seasons) to a 1934 Southern Section runner-up spot (losing to Santa Barbara, 19-14, at Whittier College) and Modesto Junior College (three state titles over four years), Kansas State hired Gardner as coach in 1939.

Gardner, who is enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame, coached the K-State Wildcats in two stints – first from 1939-42, again from 1946-53.  After posting just 20 wins in his first three seasons, Gardner returned to Manhattan, Kansas in 1947 and led the team to its first winning season in 16 years with a 14-10 mark.

One season later, the Wildcats made the most of their first NCAA Tournament appearance, advancing all the way to the 1948 Final Four, where they lost to eventual national runner-up Baylor, 60-52, in the Western Regional Finals.

That squad became the first in school history to win 20 games en route to capturing the Big Seven crown. K-State tied for the Big Seven title in 1950-51, finishing 25-4. Gardner guided the ’Cats to arguably their greatest season.

With first team All-American Ernie Barrett leading the way, Gardner’s Wildcats rattled off a 25-4 record en route to capturing the Big Seven crown for the third time in four seasons.

Entering the NCAA Tournament ranked fourth in the nation, K-State survived a scare from No. 12 Arizona, winning 61-59, in the first round before beating No. 11 Brigham Young University, then No. 2 Oklahoma State to reach the 1951 finals against Rupp’s No. 1-ranked Kentucky.

What a spot for a guy that had graduated from Redlands some 23 years earlier. All those days playing in that old Terrier Gymnasium couldn’t have predicted something like this.

It was a battle of Wildcats in the finals – No. 1-ranked Kentucky taking on Gardner’s K-State Wildcats. K-State had the halftime lead, 29-27.

Barrett was injured during the game, though, and K-State got overwhelmed in the second half, losing 68-58. What a story that would turn out to be. Point shaving. Kentucky players were branded. Arrested. Jailed. Barred for life.

In looking ahead to Gardner’s career, consider that he coached against the likes of Smith and Wooden, Rupp and Allen, plus both McGuires – Frank and Al.

Gardner’s Utah team went up against Bill Russell, then played the foil of Kentucky in Glory Road movie fame, scouted Stockton for the Jazz and had the edge in a pair of Utah-based rivalries against Utah State and Brigham Young University.

Part 2 next week.

 

GEORGE YARDLEY WAS NBA’S FIRST 2,000-POINT KING

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Curiously, there was a direct link from the NBA to the University of Redlands basketball program.

He came in the form of a role player in the late 1979s, early 1980s. His name was Rob Yardley, an outgoing, intelligent and seemingly Christian-living soul. Basketball historians, incidentally, might recognize the name of Yardley.

It was George Yardley who was the first player in history to score 2,000 points in a season. Newport Harbor High School. Stanford. Seventh pick, NBA draft, 1950.

George_Yardley, 1959
George Yardley, wearing the NBA uniform of the old Syracuse Nats, was the league’s top scoring threat until Wilt Chamberlain came into the league. Yardley was the first NBA player to surpass the 2,000-point milestone. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

In 1958, Yardley, then of the Detroit Pistons, scored 2,001 points. At 6-5, Yardley was a good-sized forward in 1950’s basketball, and was “an offensive-minded player with a knack for scoring,” he said in his basketball Hall of Fame biography.

Described as a “flamboyant” and “gregarious” player who “never did anything without flair,” Yardley had a stellar seven-year career, making the NBA All-Star team every year except for his rookie season.

He led the Fort Wayne Pistons to two NBA Finals before the team moved to Detroit in 1957.

In 1957-58, the Pistons’ first year in Detroit, Yardley led the league in scoring, averaging 27.8 points, thus surpassing George Mikan’s previous record of 1,932 points in 1958.

That year, Yardley also set NBA records for most free throws attempted (808), most free throws made (655), and was named All-NBA First Team for the first and only time in his career.

Following a sixth all-star season in 1959-60, averaging 20.2 points, George Yardley retired from basketball at the age of 31. He was the first player in NBA history to retire after averaging at least 20 points in his final year.

Although Alex Groza had a 21.7 scoring average in his final NBA season in 1951, his career ended as a result of a lifelong ban for point shaving, instead of a voluntary retirement like that of Yardley’s.

A year later, 1959, St. Louis Hawks’ center Bob Pettitt broke Yardley’s mark. By 1962, Chamberlain’s single-season total in 1962 eclipsed that of Yardley and Pettitt combined. Chamberlain wiped every scoring record off the books, averaging a shade over 50 points a game.

Who was this Yardley guy again?

George Yardley, incidentally, was Rob’s dad.

Rob Yardley (Photo credit, LinkedIn)
Rob Yardley, looking a little older and grayer than in his University of Redlands days in the early 1980s, was the son of an NBA great (Photo credit: LinkedIn.)

“No,” said the younger Yardley, who stood 6-foot-6, “he never did (pressure me) to play basketball. I thought I was going to be a tennis star, and he introduced me to tennis. I think he likes tennis more than basketball, anyway.”

One night, Yardley came off the bench to score eight points – hardly in Chamberlain’s class, or that of Pettitt, or even his dad – in a 63-52 win at Occidental College, a campus located just outside Pasadena.

But he did hit all four of his shots, eventually fouling out. He said, “I was a butcher out there. I kept leaning. Coach (Gary) Smith has told me a thousand times to keep my hands off the guy on the baseline.”

George was in Eagle Rock, Occidental’s home city, to watch his son play that night. In fact, the former NBA star was often seen at Currier Gym.

Think about it: George Yardley played against the likes of Chamberlain, Pettitt, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Elgin Baylor. There were wire service photos of George Yardley going up against Russell and Cousy. At 31, he retired. He played a little in 1961-62 with the Los Angeles Jets, a much-forgotten team from the old American Basketball League.

By contrast, Rob Yardley was neither an NBA player or even an All-Conference player at Redlands. Like his dad, it was Newport Harbor High. Then it was off to Orange County Junior College, then a two-year stint at Redlands.

For locals, it was an interesting Redlands Connection.