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.


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.



When the Harlem Globetrotters tip off for their Feb. 17, 2018 appearance at Ontario-based Citizen’s Bank Arena, probably few people know the full history of Abe Saperstein’s creation from the 1920s. There were two shows, one at 2 p.m., the other at 7.

The ‘Trotters are nearly a full century old. Part of their rich history surfaced eastbound from Ontario, about 30 miles away, in Redlands – a long way from Harlem, a New York City suburb.

Around 20 years ago, a man was spotted shooting baskets at the outdoors court at Redlands High School.

The man, who looked to be in his 70s (he was actually in his 80s), was shooting hook shots from half court. If they didn’t swish through the net, his shots at least hit the rim.

There he was, hiking the ball through his legs – in the manner of a football center – at the hoop. Again, if his shots didn’t go in, they were close.

He broke out three basketballs, dribbling them simultaneously, as if he were hoops-playing magician. I was waiting to cover a high school baseball game a couple hundred feet away. Something was up with this guy, though.

Friendly. White. Outgoing. Gentle. The man spoke in respectful terms.

“I’m Obrey Brown. I write for the local newspaper, covering that baseball game over there. Saw what you were doing and decided to come over.”

BOb Karstens - 2
Bob Karstens, photographed around 1942 and ’43, during which time he was one of three white men to play for the all-Black Harlem Globetrotters. (Photo by Harlem Globetrotters.)

“I’m Bob Karstens,” he said.

“Bob, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Thanks. Likewise.”

There was something about this guy that was a little different. I have an inner sense about things like these. As we continued to chat, this smallish man who stood a couple inches shorter than my 5-foot-10 height, seemed to brighten up when I told him I was from the local newspaper.

“You might be interested in this …” he started saying.

After three decades in the newspaper business, it’s a phrase I heard often enough. Usually, it might come from a pushy parent, or a publicity-seeking coach, or a public relations/Sports Information Director informing me about a once-in-a-lifetime story that I just couldn’t miss. Hey, I came after him, though. Okay, Bob, finish what you were saying. “I might be interested in this – in what, Bob?”

Karstens, who was standing in front of me, was not black. As a matter of fact, without his shirt on, I could tell that he needed a little sun. It pays to listen, though.

“I spent a year with them back in the 1940s,” he explained, “during the war. When Reece “Goose” Tatum was taken into the Army, the Globetrotters needed a clown prince.”

Goose Tatum
Harlem Globetrotters’ Clown Prince Reece “Goose” Tatum went into the military in 1942, opening up a spot for Bob Karstens, who became one of three white players ever to suit up for basketball’s magicians. (Photo by

Saperstein, the Hall of Fame orchestrator of the ‘Trotters, apparently tapped Bob on the shoulder and said, “You’re it.”

Abe Saperstein, the Hall of Fame founder of the Harlem Globetrotters, was the man who signed Bob Karstens to fill in for Goose Tatum during the 1942-43 season. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

Karstens himself had been a gifted ball handler from the House of David, the famous traveling bearded baseball team that barnstormed the country. Not known for anything in sports beyond baseball, Karstens told me, but the House of David had dabbled in some hoops during the late 1930s and into the 1940s.

Here’s the rub: I didn’t believe him – at first. In my business, you’ve got to hold people at arm’s length when they tell you stories like this. I could, literally, tell you stories. He invited over to his house a couple blocks away – down Roosevelt, across Cypress, over on Lytle. When he opened his garage door, he led me to three huge boxes full of stuff.

It was Harlem Globetrotters’ memorabilia. Karstens was seen in photos with Saperstein, Tatum, Meadowlark Lemon … Wilt Chamberlain!

Suddenly, my notebook was produced. Pen, in hand, scribbling madly, all the ramblings and utterings he’d voiced over at the high school – you know, when I didn’t believe him. I had a lot of catch-up to do, including a bunch more questions.

“How long have you lived in Redlands?”

“Where’d you learn to play basketball?”

“What kind of money did you make?”

“Did you really start that pre-game Magic Circle routine?”

Truthfully, I didn’t have to ask many questions. Bob was spinning tale after tale. I could pick and choose. What a story – and I had it! My pen just had to keep up with his stories.

Karstens, who was from Davenport, Iowa, took over for Tatum on the ‘Trotters’ 1942-43 roster while he served in the military. When the ‘Trotters took the court in Ontario, they probably met at mid-court, pre-game, for the Magic Circle routine.

It’s recorded: This was Karstens’ invention. He organized this ritual. He played on the all-black ‘Trotters eight years before the NBA was integrated. Part of the ‘Trotters’ history is that by playing doubleheaders with those early NBA teams, it allowed the league to grow into prosperity.

Karstens invented the “goof” ball, the ball that bounces in all different directions because of various weights placed inside, not to mention the “yo-yo” ball. ‘Trotter fans know the routines well.

This guy lived in Redlands?

He loaned me some photos from his stash for my next day’s sports section. I had gold mine of a notebook – quotes, stories and prime history. I sent our photographer, Lee Calkins, over to Bob’s house for an updated mug shot of my new best friend; the guy I had cynically, though silently, doubted. I made up with myself, though.

Karstens. The Globetrotters. Tatum. Saperstein. Chamberlain.

Hook shots from half court! You name it.

Karstens, for his part, stayed on his ‘Trotters’ team manager until 1954, having coached the infamous Washington Generals along the way. After the ‘Trotters, Karstens went into construction. By 1994, he was inducted into the ‘Trotters’ Hall of Fame. At 89, Karstens died on Dec. 31, 2004. I covered his Redlands funeral that was attended by former ‘Trotters Geese Ausbie and Govonor Vaughn.

It was another Redlands Connection.