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.


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.

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.


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.”

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.