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.”

 

 

PART 3: “BLACK” JACK PART OF 10 HALLS OF FAME

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

“Black” Jack Gardner’s Kansas State record, 147-81 (.645), was largely built over his final seven seasons when his mark improved greatly to 127-47 (.730). There were a pair of 20-win seasons and two Final Four appearances.

After helping the squad to back-to-back second-place conference finishes in 1952 and 1953, he handed the reins of the program to his assistant coach, Tex Winter, in 1953.

Yes. That’s the same Tex Winter of Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball fame, pioneer of the Triple-Post offense – assistant coach to Phil Jackson in both spots.

Tex_Winter
Long before he became a fixture in developing the Triple Post offense for Phil Jackson in 11 NBA championship seasons in both Chicago and Los Angeles, Tex Winter was an assistant coach for Redlands’ Jack Gardner at Kansas State, taking over when Gardner left for Utah (Photo by Commons).

Yes, the ex-Redlands High star from the 1920s, Gardner, coached against the greats.

His Utah team (23-3, 1961-62) beat John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins, 88-79, at the L.A. Sports Arena. Those were UCLA’s pre-dynasty days, in fact. In that same building a few years later, the eventual NCAA champion Bruins (28-2) posted a 30-point win over the Utes (17-9).

Times were changing.

Gardner left Manhattan in 1953 for Salt Lake City. Handed the coaching reins at the University of Utah, where he remained for 18 years, “The Fox” led the Utes to six appearances in the NCAA Tournament and two Final Four appearances.

Remember, this was an era when only 23 teams reached the NCAA field — not the 68-team tournament it is in modern times.

“The Fox” concluded his Utah career at 339-154. The Utes won seven conference titles. Between 1959 and 1962, his teams won 51 out of 56 at home. Like his days in Manhattan, where Gardner’s influence helped create the Ahearn Field House, again, Gardner’s presence led to the construction of a new basketball facility at Utah.

Against intra-state rival Brigham Young University, coached by Stan Watts, Gardner’s Utes held a narrow 19-17 mark against the Cougars in what was considered a highly intense rivalry.

Gardner (lifetime coaching record, 486-285) was inducted into 10 separate Halls of Fame.

  • Southern Utah Hall of Fame
  • Kansas Sports Hall of Fame
  • Utah All-Sports Hall of Fame
  • State of Utah Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Helms Foundation Hall of Fame
  • Kansas State University Hall of Fame
  • Crimson Club (University of Utah)
  • Modesto Junior College Hall of Fame
  • Redlands High School Hall of Fame
  • He was also the recipient of the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ Golden Anniversary Award.

He was a consultant for the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association from 1979 (when the team moved from New Orleans to Salt Lake City) until 1991. Gardner, who died on April 9, 2000, is credited with discovering Stockton while working for the Jazz.

That part of the story? Gardner wintered in Malibu, near the Pepperdine University campus. When Gonzaga (Wash.) University came to Pepperdine for a Big West Conference game, Gardner was watching. Stockton was a Zag.

498px-John_Stockton
Utah Jazz scout Jack Gardner, whose basketball life began a half-century earlier while in Redlands, was the man that recommended Stockton by drafted by the Jazz in 1984. An eventual Hall of Famer, Stockton was part of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team (Photo by Commons).

In 1984, Stockton’s selection as the 16th player – the same draft as Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, among others – it was Gardner’s strong recommendation that left the Jazz with an eventual Hall of Famer.

That same year, 1984, was when Gardner himself was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. At that point, he was in the midst of a record-setting attendance performance.

Between 1939 and 1997, Gardner never missed a Final Four – whether it was coaching or attending.

In 1966, after Utah beat Oregon State, 70-64, the Utes found themselves up against a rather historical team – Texas Western University, later known as Texas-El Paso. In the 2006 motion picture, Glory Road, the story focused on coach Don Haskins’ decision to lead an all-black team into the 1966 season. They wound up in the championship against an all-white Kentucky squad.

There was no mention of the NCAA semifinals between Texas Western and Gardner’s Utes in that movie. Though Jerry Chambers, of Utah, was selected as that year’s Final Four MVP despite losing, 85-78, to Kentucky, the role of “Black Jack” was curiously absent in every movie theater.

Haskins may have changed the way basketball was played, but Gardner’s career seemed far deeper.

Part 4 on Thursday.