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.

 

PART 2: VILLANOVA PLAYED TEMPLE, GEORGETOWN, SIENA … AND REDLANDS?

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

Villanova’s Allan Ray hit for 38 points, Randy Foye had 25, Will Sheridan 23 and Mike Nardi had 19 in the Wildcats’ 114-103 triumph over the University of Redlands. The date was Nov. 3, 2003.

Amir_Mazarei (Photo by University of Redlands)
Amir Mazarei, who is the University of Redlands’ all-time leading scorer, had 15 as a Bulldog freshman in his game against Villanova in Nov. 2003. (Photo courtesy of the University of Redlands.)

Amir Mazarei eventually became Redlands’ all-time leading scorer, even leading the entire NCAA – that’s D-1 through D-3 – with an average of 6.2 three-point field goals per game in 2005. He was second in Division 3 with a 28.6 scoring average.

He was only part of Redlands’ counter-attack against Villanova.

Redlands, playing its up-tempo defensive and offensive brand of organized mayhem, led 51-50 at halftime and really put the scare into the onetime NCAA champions. It was a game that included six ties and five lead changes.

Afterward, Wildcats’ coach Jay Wright reflected that Redlands “put the scare into us.”

“They should’ve been scared,” said Bulldog coach Gary Smith, moments after the game.

Smith, for his part, rotated his much larger roster in and out of the game against the eight-man Wildcats’ squad. Villanova needed every ounce of skill and discipline to knock off the physically smaller Bulldogs.

“I started my career coaching at Division 3 University of Rochester,” said Wright, “so I know how good those players are – very skilled, very talented. They maybe aren’t as big or as athletic.”

Redlands’ Donald Brady remembered his first play in the game, “coming down the court with Randy Foye guarding me. He deflected a pass. I couldn’t believe how quick he was. Luckily, someone came up with it. I almost committed a turnover.”

Wizards v/s Clippers 03/12/11
Randy Foye, the No. 1 draft pick by Boston in 2006, scored 25 points at Currier Gymnasium in Villanova’s win at the University of Redlands. Here, Foye is shown when he played for the Los Angeles Clippers from 2010-2012. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

Villanova had more turnovers (23) than Redlands (18).

Redlands led by 10 points with nine minutes left. Ray hit a pair of difficult baseline jumpers, eight-footers that helped the Wildcats back into the game. “We missed a lot of lay-ups,” said Redlands’ Carson Sofro, whose team shot 36 percent to Villanova’s sizzling 63 percent.

“We might’ve had the advantage on talent,” Wright told me afterward, “but you and I know that. It doesn’t matter what a coach tells his players. What matters is what they hear.”

In that 2003 game, Derek Flegel and Billy Shivers combined for 51 of Redlands’ points. Mazarei, a freshman who would eventually become the school’s all-time leading scorer, added his 15, while Ryan Pelo netted six. Brady and Sofro barely saw action.

Flegel hit a game-opening three-pointer, lifting the smallish-gym’s capacity crowd to its feet. “The place erupted,” said Sofro, “after he hit that shot.”

In a way, I guess some of Redlands’ players were saying, it might’ve been an honor to lose such a game.

Fast forward some 27 months: The Wildcats, at times ranked No. 2 in the nation in 2005-2006 season, were a No. 1 seed in that year’s NCAA Tournament.

Several key members of that team were inside Currier Gymnasium, in uniform, in that November 2003 game. Villanova is still coached by Wright, who is still considered one of the bright coaching stars.

Mike Nardi, Ray and Will Sheridan were still playing when Villanova won its national championship in 2005-2006. Foye, a 6-4 senior, and Ray, a 6-2 senior, were the team’s top scorers at 20.3 and 18.9 points a game. Nardi, 6-2, a junior, was hitting at 11.5. Sheridan, a 6-foot-8 junior, netted five points a game. Ross Condon was another current Wildcat who played at Redlands.

Baker Dunleavy, son of then-Los Angeles Clippers’ coach Mike Dunleavy, was then a freshman. Dunleavy, a 6-5, red-shirt junior, was held scoreless at Redlands in a limited role. The brother of Warriors’ onetime No. 1 draft pick Mike Dunleavy, Jr., had played limited roles throughout his career.

He was not a factor against Redlands.

In 2005-2006, Villanova, ranked No. 2 behind Duke heading into a Big East loss at Connecticut, was 22-2 after that game. Wright’s team was gunning for an NCAA Tournament championship to cap the March Madness.

The Wildcats (18-17 in 2003-2004) failed to reach the NCAA Tournament field that season, losing to Rutgers in the NIT quarterfinals. “They’ve come a long way,” said Brady, a couple years later, “since they played us.”

Redlands finished 8-14 overall that season, taking fifth place in the Southern California Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

“A lot of us became Villanova fans after we played them,” said Mazarei, adding with a chuckle, “If they beat someone (like Duke or North Carolina), it makes us look better.”

Foye became a No. 1 pick in the 2006 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics, but started his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ray played an NBA season with Boston.

And A Redlands Connection was struck forever.

 

PART 1: VILLANOVA PLAYED TEMPLE, GEORGETOWN, SIENA … AND REDLANDS?

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

Villanova University basketball coach Jay Wright seemed perfectly content to discuss why the Wildcats were playing at Redlands – a major college program with full-ride scholarships against a small-college team that isn’t allowed to offer athletic scholarships.

As open-minded as anyone, Wright spoke openly and honestly about the Wildcats’ trip to Redlands.

Jay Wright
Villanova University coach Jay Wright brought his Wildcats to small University of Redlands in Nov. 2003 to clear his team for the Maui Tournament (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

Philadelphia-based Villanova, ranked No. 3 on this date – Feb. 20, 2018 – might be an interesting topic for A Redlands Connection. Back in November 2003, the Wildcats showed up to play a 10 a.m. matchup at Currier Gymnasium.

That was the home court of the University of Redlands.

In a rare duel between a major-college, scholarship-backed program against a small-college, non-scholarship team, Villanova beat the Bulldogs in that Saturday morning match-up. That game had since taken on additional significance. Four of the Wildcats’ current starting five – seeded third in the 2005 NCAA Tournament – played prominent roles in that game at Currier Gymnasium.

The Wildcats, No. 1 seed in that year’s Minneapolis Region, seemingly had a strong shot at a national championship. For a Redlands-Villanova game to have taken place was an unlikely scenario.

“It was,” said Bulldog senior Carson Sofro, then a sophomore, “the craziest, most memorable time I’ve ever had in basketball.”

“That was my first college game,” said Amir Mazarei, who scored 15 against Villanova, third highest among the Bulldogs. “I didn’t know what to expect going in.”

“I’ve played in a few big games,” said Bulldog player Donald Brady, “and I’ve been to The (Anaheim) Pond (site of high school’s championship games). But nothing compared to playing Villanova.”

Adding to the flavor was major media coverage – TV, radio and large daily newspapers.

“We brought eight kids,” said Wright. “Five were on scholarship. The other three were walk-ons (non-scholarship players).”

At Redlands, every Bulldog player is a “walk-on.” There are no scholarships.

Yes, it was a game completely out of the ordinary, a middle-of-the-road small college team taking on a powerful presence in college basketball.

For visiting Villanova, it was a glance at small college basketball. Mazerai himself noted that Redlands plays in a 1,100-seat gymnasium – “nowhere close” to the 10,000-plus seat arenas that normally house Wildcat games.

For Redlands, it was a chance to rub elbows against a major college, Big East Conference program.

“They needed to dial up a win,” said Bulldogs’ longtime coach Gary Smith. “Originally, they were going to play Claremont (one of Redlands’ conference rivals) on Friday and then us the next day. But Temple was on their schedule and they forced Villanova to play that game. Claremont got aced out of a chance to play them.”

The game had come about due to a strange set of circumstances. Some Villanova players had unauthorized use of a telephone, making calls that were deemed “extra benefits” by an NCAA ruling. Sanctions were imposed. Some players had been suspended for six games. The school chose to take those suspensions over a six-game stretch – the final three of 2002-2003 and the first three games to start 2003-2004.

Wright spoke to me as if we were old friends – charming, personable, honest, you name it. If there’d been classes for dealing with the media, he probably got an A-plus.

“They had asked us to bring a representative team to Maui,” said Wright. “A lot of our alumni and boosters had bought tickets to that. It was up to us to field a decent team.

“All because of the phone issue.”

In order to carry its full roster in Maui, Villanova needed to get rid of that six-game sanction and clear its players.

When Villanova’s undermanned roster blasted Temple in a late Thursday night game back east, it seemed as if Redlands might be in for a worse beating early on Saturday.

Gary Smith (Photo by NorCal WIldcats)
Former University of Redlands basketball coach Gary Smith — wearing a Wildcats’ T-shirt — led his Bulldogs up against powerhouse Villanova at Currier Gymnasium in Nov. 2003. Redlands lost, but it wasn’t an easy win for the eventual NCAA champions. (Photo courtesy of the NorCal Wildcats.)

“A Big East team, of all things,” said Smith. “For them to be (competitive) in the game (against Temple), I think, was just amazing.”

Smith, said Sofro, “had warned us we could blown out of the gym.”

They played at Currier Gymnasium on Nov. 22, 2003. It was, said Smith, “the first time we’d ever played a D-1 (Division 1) school in our gym.”

Fifteen years after that, Villanova’s still the only D-1 team to show up and play Redlands.

Part 2 tomorrow … Villanova’s short team beat full-rostered Redlands.