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.


“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.

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.

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.