BEEMAN’S COACHING ‘BUG’ STARTED DURING HER REDLANDS DAYS

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

I remember Laura Beeman, barely.

I knew her dad, Jerry, a lot better.

The guy lifted San Gorgonio High School into the highly competitive boys’ soccer world.

Laura was probably hanging around a gym, dribbling, shooting, learning to play basketball. No soccer for this kid, I’m guessing.

Jerry Beeman, competing in a hard-nosed Citrus Belt League soccer world, probably showed up in the Spartans’ gym every so often – San Bernardino High in Laura’s final seasons. Little did anyone realize, perhaps, is that Jerry’s little girl might’ve been laying the groundwork for her own coaching career.

She was a terrific player.

After a playing career that shifted from UC Riverside to Cal State San Bernardino between 1987-91, Beeman’s career eventually settled into coaching.

A Hall of Famer at Cal State, she had been that good of a player during the Lady Coyotes’ NCAA Division 3 days.

Laura Beeman Hall of Fame plaque
Laura Beeman, a homegrown San Bernardino basketball player, went on to become an All-American, a school record-holder and an eventual Hall of Famer (photo by Cal State San Bernardino).

Fast forward a few years: Beeman led Mt. San Antonio College to a myriad of women’s state championships and powerhouse status – 390-110, 4 California championships between 1995-2010.

Alongside Laker legend Michael Cooper, Beeman held a key role on the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks. She was Cooper’s assistant coach. Beeman had a hand in coaching the likes of Tina Thompson, Candace Parker (though on maternity leave one season) and the sensational Lisa Leslie.

One footnote: It wasn’t until Cooper’s second season, the Sparks going 10-24 in 2007, that he brought in Beeman as an assistant. The team responded with back-to-back playoff seasons in 2008 and 2009, losing in the conference finals both years.

By 2010, the Cooper-Beeman coaching combo wound up at USC, where the Women of Troy responded with 19-12 and 24-13 seasons with that duo running the sideline.

Laura_Beeman_and_USC_basketball_players_in_2011
This was March 2011. During her two-year stint as a USC assistant coach, Laura Beeman stands in a group of Women of Troy players. Left to right: Briana Gilbreath (15), Jacki Gemelos (23), Beeman, plus Cassie Harberts (11) (Photo by Flickr).

In 2012-2013, Beeman took an open coaching position at the University of Hawaii, the goal of turning around its women’s hoops program beckoning her to the islands.

All these coaching gigs, dreams and all, had all started in Redlands.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d seen her play – first in high school, later at Cal State. Never interviewed her. Never got her aside to talk about her future. Never even saw a feature story on this dynamic player who turned basketball into a nice academic career – a graduate at Cal State, plus two Masters degrees.

Mickey McAulay, hired by Redlands in 1989 to try and turn the Lady Bulldogs into solid-class contenders, went from 7-19 to 16-9 in one season. A year later, Redlands took second place in a conference long since dominated by other schools.

By 1992, Beeman had been invited to join the Lady Bulldogs’ staff as a graduate assistant. It was a chance to get her first Master’s degree, this in counseling.

“When I started coaching,” she told Hawaii media in recalling her roots, “the basketball coaching bug; it bit. You know, I loved playing, but I had no idea I would want to coach.”

Jerry, the soccer coach, had his own pharmacy. Soccer was only a sideline for him. But his daughter worked the pharmacy, probably sharing no desire to ever become a pharmacist.

Watching McAulay, among others, coach – what worked, what didn’t, how kids responded, how they didn’t respond – Laura was thinking, “Okay, this is kinda cool.

“You know, I can kinda figure this out as I go.”

Before she left Redlands, the Lady Bulldogs notched their first-ever SCIAC championship. McAulay, her recruiting and coaching style – she had huge success at Anaheim Katella High before showing up at Redlands – probably deserves most of the credit.

Beeman’s presence at Redlands, however, deserves some attention.

It’s curious that, after her departure, the Lady Bulldogs’ yearly records started to get worse.

She spent two seasons as Mt. SAC’s assistant before she took over as head coach. Those stops with the Sparks and USC only added to her coaching resume.

At Hawaii (102-84, six seasons), in Beeman’s first four seasons, there was a third place finish, two ties for second place and an outright 2015 Big West Conference championship.

So far, only one trip to the NCAA Tournament has come for the Rainbow Wahine. No success in the post-season, but she’s working on it.

Those early coaching years at Redlands was the beginning of the coaching connection – or a Redlands Connection.

DE ROO WATCHED DISASTROUS MIRACULOUS HORROR

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 and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, 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

They called it the Miracle at the Meadowlands.

Redlands’ Brian DeRoo had a front row seat for the “miracle,” an infamous and highly replayed conclusion to an NFC Eastern Division game between the New York Giants and the visiting Philadelphia Eagles.

On this date, November 19, 1978 – exactly 40 years ago today – Giants’ QB Joe Pisarcik mishandled a snap in the waning seconds of a game seemingly won by New York.

Onetime All-Pro fullback Larry Csonka couldn’t quite get to Pisarcik’s handoff.

Joe Pisarcik
N.Y. Giants’ QB Joe Pisarcik made the ill-fated handoff attempt that led to the Miracle at the Meadowlands on Nov. 19, 1978 (Photo courtesy of the Calgary Stampeders).

Fumble!

Eagles’ defensive back Herman Edwards recovered. Twenty-six yards later, Edwards had scored. Philadelphia had an unexpected 19-17 victory. It should’ve been a 17-12 Giants’ triumph.

DeRoo, who had been drafted by the Giants in the fifth round of the 1978 NFL draft out of the University of Redlands, who had been placed on injured reserve durng his rookie season.

“I was standing on the sidelines for that play,” said DeRoo, “ducking and dodging pieces of headsets that were splintering from being smashed on the ground by various assistant coaches.”

That was the reaction to one of pro football’s biggest late-game blow-ups. Pisarcik had been taken from the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

Edwards, who would eventually become a head coach at both the pro and collegiate level, changed the Eagles’ fate. It turned out to be a huge boost to an eventual Super Bowl berth two years later. Philly, who went into the game at 6-5, used that win over the Giants to reach that season’s NFL playoffs.

Herm Edwards (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Herm Edwards may have singlehandedly lifted the Philadelphia Eagles into a new era with his fumble return at the Miracle of the Meadowlands (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

“Helmets were also rebounding off the turf,” said DeRoo. “John Mendenhall (a Giants’ assistant) went the highest!!!”

It was a simple play. Pisarcik was expected to take one more snap. Kneel with the football. Running out the clock. Preserving a 17-12 Giants’ upset. Instead, he botched the handoff.

The Giants-Eagles rivalry dated back to 1933.

As for the Giants in 1978, it was another step in the team’s growing era of mediocrity – 6-10, fifth place in the NFC East that season.

The Eagles, meanwhile, finished 9-7 and reached the playoffs as a wild-card. They lost to Dallas in the playoffs.

Giants’ head coach John McVay, who would eventually move on to an executive position with the Bill Walsh-coached San Francisco 49ers, lost his job in New York.

DeRoo, meanwhile, was traded to the Baltimore Colts after the season.

Brian DeRoo (Photo by Canadian Football League)
Redlands Connection Brian DeRoo had a view of the disastrous Miracle at the Meadowlands. He was a New York Giants’ rookie in 1978. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Football League).

“I always wanted to thank John,” said De Roo, “for allowing me to go on the road trips with the team. In those days, most of the guys on IR just stayed home during road trips. I always wanted to find John and thank him for that.”

 

 

BRIAN SABEAN: IN REDLANDS TO WATCH HIS SON PLAY AT 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: San Francisco Giants’ General Manager Brian Sabean.

No interviews with this guy. I had a job to do and Brian Sabean was being a Dad.

It was my habit to cover University of Redlands football games from the visitors’ grandstand.

NCAA rules prevented me from being on the sidelines in between the 30-yard-lines. It’s OK. I understand. That’s reserved for players, coaches and referees. But I needed better vision.

In the school’s well-constructed press box, there was too much unprofessional behavior (footnote: Maybe that’s all changed in later years), rooting for favorable Bulldog plays, snarling at officiating calls — you get the picture.

You might not think it gets in the way, but it’s a distraction in covering highly-competitive games.

It chased me to the visiting side’s grandstand.

On a sparkling, cold Saturday night, Redlands was playing Occidental College, from Eagle Rock near Pasadena, in 2008.

Game about to start. Both teams ready. Appearing out of the stairwell was a familiar face. As a lifetime San Francisco Giants’ fan, I couldn’t believe who I’d spotted. What in the world was Brian Sabean doing at Redlands? This was football, not baseball.

Brian Sabean
Brian Sabean, a longtime executive with the San Francisco Giants who helped construct four World Series teams and three champions, was spotted at a University of Redlands football one night while watching his son play for visiting Occidental College (photo by San Francisco Giants).

Quickly, I scanned Oxy’s roster.

Sean Sabean, a six-foot, 210-pound freshman linebacker from San Mateo Serra High School, was on the Tigers’ roster. It was Brian’s son.

What a great Dad, I thought. This was an out-of-the-way location, for sure.

I had a list of questions formulating for Sabean — if only I could get to him. I was covering a game. On deadline. He wasn’t working.

The San Francisco Giants had just parted ways with Barry Bonds. Years of getting close, including a 7-game World Series loss to the Angels in 2002, had frustrated Giants’ fans everywhere.

Sabean had started rebuilding the Giants with draft picks like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Buster Posey would soon come onto the scene.

The questions:

  • Barry Bonds.
  • Performance enhancing drugs.
  • Drafting ball players.
  • Any trades he might be working on.
  • Free agents?

Sabean was constructing a team that would win three World Series championships in the coming years.

At Redlands, 2008.

 

 

PART 3: WILLIE … ALMOST MICKEY … AND THE DUKE

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 and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, 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

That was Jordan Snider out in center field, wearing jersey No. 44. The site was The Yard, which is the home field for the University of Redlands. Snider was a senior Bulldog.

Temecula Chaparral High, located about an hour’s drive from the University of Redlands, was where this right-handed ballplayer had come from only a few years earlier.

Batted .295 in 2008, .361 as a sophomore in 2007, .252 in his frosh season right out of the Pumas’ Varsity program, where he’d hit .305 with two HRs in Temecula.

Starting all 36 games as a Bulldog senior in 2009, he’d played four straight seasons with winning teams, hitting .321 with 4 HRs.

His grandfather watched him play a plus number of games.

I’d shown up to chat with University of Redlands baseball coach Scott Laverty. Game still taking place. I’d have to wait. Sitting on the first base side of the bleachers, I took a seat near an older gentleman, wearing a hat to keep the sun off his head.

Seemed to be a nice guy. You run into that occasionally at ball games. Nice guys. Friendly. Talkative. It’s always fun to talk a little baseball, right?

After the game, I approached Laverty for a little post-game chat.

We talked a little about the game. At one point, he said, “I saw you out there talking to Duke.”

Duke?

There was no need to explain. The second he said that, I knew he’d meant Duke Snider. Something told me. I was a little tongue-tied, though. I’d been talking to a baseball Hall of Famer and didn’t even know it. I was a little ashamed.

Duke Snider (Photo by Wikipidia Commons)
Duke Snider, from his Brooklyn Dodgers days, wound up in Fallbrook, where he drove from to watch his grandson play at the University of Redlands.

“That’s his grandson out there in center field,” said Laverty.

Well, that adds up, doesn’t it?

It was a Snider from Temecula.

Edwin “Duke” Snider, the Duke of Flatbush, lived a little south of there. The kid was all-conference one year. A good fly-chaser out in center – just like his grandpa.

There might’ve been something symbolic about Jordan wearing No. 44, especially since his grandfather wore No. 4 in Brooklyn for the Dodgers. A tribute, most likely.

DUKE OF FLATBUSH ORIGINALLY FROM COMPTON

The Duke of Flatbush really came from Compton, Calif. At the end of his life, he lived near Temecula in the San Diego County city of Fallbrook – a nice retirement area.

A couple games later, I showed up … looking for Duke. Sure enough, he was there.

“Do you have a minute?” I asked him.

You always hesitate when asking someone – a Hall of Famer, celebrity, well-known, you know – if they’d mind an interview. He was there to watch his grandson who, at that moment, was playing in the same part of the field he’d played in 45 years earlier.

“For crying out loud,” I could just hear anyone say, “I’m here to watch my grandson play. Maybe later.”

But he didn’t say that.

Brooklyn, L.A., New York Mets and, finally, the Giants in San Francisco.

I’ve got to say it. There was nothing all that special about the interview. My questions would’ve been stale and useless. What do you ask a guy like that? Nothing that hasn’t been asked a hundred times before, right?

I settled on an angle about how he finished his career in a Giants’ uniform, 1964. Sold to San Francisco by the Mets. I tried to have a conversation rather than an interview.

“I can’t say I was all that upset at the trade,” he said at Redlands’ The Yard with a few people listening to the chat. “I was friends with a lot of those guys, anyway, Willie (Mays), Al Dark (Giants’ manager), Don Larsen …”

Besides, he said, “I lived out here on the West Coast.”

Oh, man – Don Larsen! The guy who’d pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series?

How many times must he’d have been asked about Larsen?

I skipped the topic.

Did he remember his last home run?

“I do,” he said. “Candlestick Park. San Francisco. Jim Bunning, a very good pitcher. Yeah, that was my last one. Only hit four that year. Fourth of July game, I think, pretty sure. I never hit another one.”

That was his 407th.

You play much center field?

Duke laughed. “For the Giants? Not quite. Somebody named Willie Mays was already playing there.”

Though he was mostly a pinch-hitter, he said, “I played either left or right.

“I remember being in the lineup one day … can’t remember where we were playing, though. Dark had me leading off. Mays was second. McCovey was third and Cepeda was hitting clean-up. What’s that? A couple thousand home runs between us, or something like that?”

Mays at 660, McCovey’s 521, Duke’s 407 and Cepeda’s 379 equals 1,967 lifetime bombs. There may not have ever been another quartet in major league baseball hitting back-to-back like that with those kinds of impressive numbers.

Said Snider: “I can’t remember anything about the game, though – who won, nothing.”

Upon reflection, I should’ve asked him about Jackie Robinson.

Or Leo Durocher. Roy Campanella. Gil Hodges. Don Newcombe. Sandy Koufax, mystery man.

That would’ve been a nice tack. What was it like to have Koufax on the Dodgers for those six or seven years before he started blazing away?

Never got another chance, either.

A couple years later, the Duke died in Escondido.

We’d talked baseball in Redlands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TENNIS STAR DARRELL HUDLOW HAD THE HOTTEST DRIVE-IN AROUND

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 and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, 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

I wished there were more guys like Darrell Hudlow.

Redlands, the city where football tried to be king, soccer and softball became high-level sports, while swimming, baseball, track & field and golf willed its way to prominence, there was an original Mr. Tennis.

It might’ve been Hudlow.

In a city that’s produced multitudes of high school and collegiate tennis champions, Wimbledon and U.S. Open players, Hudlow comes quickly to mind.

Darrell Hudlow, one of the first top-flight players at the University of Redlands back in the 1930s, had quite a list of opponents that could have included Bobby Riggs and definitely included Jack Kramer and Gardner Malloy (photo submitted by Rachel Roche, assistant athletic director and head sports information at the University of Redlands).

I wasn’t even aware he played tennis. The place to go dancing, said once-young lovers, was Hudlow’s drive-in, located on “the highway to Redlands.”

 

He was Hudlow’s proprietor. Upon moving to Redlands in 1979, you couldn’t miss the greenish sign out there on a Redlands Blvd. building — where the Bank of America now sits, I think.

Hudlow was a University of Redlands Hall of Famer.

It was stressed to me by someone –  probably by my City Editor, Dick West –  that Hudlow had been a tennis player. A damned good one at that.

Jim Verdieck may well be the name associated with championship tennis around Redlands, but Hudlow showed up on the scene long before Verdieck came to the city.

Verdieck’s teams won an unheard-of 921 tennis duals over a 38-year span. In 35 of those years, Redlands copped the conference championship. There were plenty of top players, namely Verdieck’s sons, Doug and Randy, not to mention Ron and Richard Bohrnstendt.

Hudlow may have set an early tone for high level tennis in Redlands.

Hudlow’s, incidentally, is a now-disappeared liquor store over on that Redlands Blvd. site. The old-timer just laughed.

“I went into the liquor business,” he said. “I quit tennis because I didn’t have time anymore.”

The liquor business, at least in Redlands, was taboo in those days of the 1940s and 1950s.

“The university fought me,” said Hudlow, who carried a grudge against his alma mater for years. “It was a staid old school. You couldn’t even dance up there.

“Anyway, they took this liquor thing to the city council.”

Hudlow won when the school turned over a new leaf, he told me.

When the school inducted him into its relatively new Hall of Fame in 1984, they extended a familiar hand. “The university,” he said, sarcastically, “is having a cocktail hour before the (Hall of Fame) dinner.”

Maybe, I told him, he ought to provide the liquor.

“If I did that back when I was going to the university,” he said, “I’d have gotten kicked out of school.”

The UofR had long been a dominant tennis program.

Hudlow was conference singles champion from 1937-39.

It was curious timing. Verdieck, who hailed from nearby Colton, was playing football for a dynamic group called the Vow Boys up in Palo Alto. Stanford University had vowed that it would never lose to USC.

Following a loss to USC in 1932, Stanford players vowed they would never again lost to the Trojans.

Hudlow, for his part, was playing championship-level tennis while Verdieck was making football his mission.

He’d won amateur singles titles in Arizona, Michigan and Arkansas.

Some of his opponents were Frank Kovacs, a Wimbledon champion who later lost to Bobby Riggs in the 1941 U.S. Tennis Championship finals.

Bobby_Riggs_at_1939_Wimbledon_Championships
Bobby Riggs, a 1930s and 1940s tennis star, might have played Redlands’ Darrell Hudlow along the way. “I can’t remember if I played Bobby Riggs,” he said (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Hudlow also played Gardner Mulloy, the four-time U.S. Tennis Champion (with William Talbert) in doubles.

Then there was Welby Van Horn, who lost to Riggs in the 1939 U.S. Tennis Championship finals. Hudlow beat Van Horn at Ojai, Calif.

Another big name opponent was Frankie Parker, a former U.S. Tennis champ.

Said Hudlow: “I played Jack Kramer in an exhibition in the university gym,” he said, “to raise money so I could go back east. I think we played to a tie that night.”

Jack_Kramer_portrait
Jack Kramer might have been the biggest name in tennis for a few decades. Kramer and Redlands’ Darrell Hudlow once played an indoor tennis exhibition (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Kramer, who would become a huge tennis executive in years ahead, was a U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion.

“I can’t remember if I ever played Bobby Riggs,” said Hudlow. “I knew him. You know, on rainy days at country clubs, all people do is sit in the clubhouse playing poker. I held his one-dollar bills for him.”

Hudlow was in the second class of UofR Hall of Famers.

The headliners had to be Verdieck himself, along with football coach Frank Serrao.

Lee Fulmer (baseball, basketball), John Fawcett (cross country, football and track), Charles Gillett (football), Lee Johnson (track), faculty member S. Guy Jones, track’s Samuel Kirk, Donald Kitch (football, basketball), Sanford McGilbra (football, basketball, baseball), Robert Pazder (football, basketball, baseball), football and tennis star Randy Verdieck.

While Hudlow was inducted, so, too, was his coach, Lynn Jones (1928-44).

There was a lengthy list of names, likely trying to catch up with a near century’s worth of athletes and other sports-related contributors that needed to be enshrined.

Hudlow, who died on June 19, 1998, said he didn’t play tennis for nearly 40 years before he sold his liquor store.

When he decided to return, he played recreationally.

Darrell Hudlow, in his later years, put aside playing tennis because he had plenty of other activities to take care of, including business-related items. His tennis-playing lifestyle took him to places and opponents that eventually made him a Bulldog Hall of Famer.

“I could tell you lots of stories,” he said, chuckling. “I think I’ll hold off for awhile.”

 

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.