DARNOLD, DE ROO AND DAMON JUST PART OF “CONNECTIONS”

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

Mike Darnold was the latest “connection.”

Throw in football’s Jim Weatherwax and Brian DeRoo.

Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright showed up here, with his team, one Saturday morning in 2003.

“Black” Jack Gardner left here in 1928.

Jerry Tarkanian lifted off from here in 1961.

How many Redlands Connections can there be?

It’s the basis for the Blog site, www.redlandsconnection.com. Dedicated to the idea that there’s a connection from Redlands to almost every major sporting event.

The afore-mentioned have already been featured. There have been others. Plenty of others.

Golf. Track & field. Tennis. Baseball and basketball. Softball and soccer. The Olympic Games and the Kentucky Derby. The World Series and the Super Bowl. You name it.

For a city this size, the connections to all of those are remarkable.

Softball’s Savannah Jaquish left Redlands East Valley for Louisiana State.

Bob Karstens was just shooting a few baskets when I saw him at Redlands High. Turned out he was one of three white men ever to play for the usually all-black Harlem Globetrotters.

Brian Billick coached a Hall of Famer. Together, they won a Super Bowl.

09_Billick_PreviewPreseason_news
Brian Billick, a key Redlands Connection.

Speaking of Super Bowls, not only was a former Redlands High player involved in the first two NFL championship games, there was a head referee who stood behind QBs Bart Starr and Lenny Dawson.

That referee got his start in Redlands.

One of racing’s fastest Top Fuel dragsters is a Redlands gal, Leah Pritchett.

LEAH PRITCHETT (leahpritchett.com)
Leah Pritchett has punched her Top Fuel dragster over 330 mph many times.

Greg Horton forcefully blocked some of football’s greatest legends for a near-Super Bowl team.

At a high school playoff game at Redlands High in 1996, Alta Loma High showed up to play a quarterfinals match. It was Landon Donovan of Redlands taking on Carlos Bocanegra.

The two eventually played on the same Team USA in the World Cup and the Olympics.

Karol Damon’s high-jumping Olympic dreams weren’t even known to her mother. She wound up in Sydney. 2000.

In the coming days, weeks and months, there will be more connections.

  • A surfing legend.
  • Besides Landon Donovan, there’s another soccer dynamo.
  • When this year’s Indianapolis 500 rolls around, we’ll tell you about a guy named “Lucky Louie.”
  • Fifteen years before he won his first Masters, Tiger Woods played a 9-hole exhibition match at Redlands Country Club.
  • University of Arizona softball, one of the nation’s greatest programs, was home to a speedy outfielder.
  • As for DeRoo, he was present for one of the pro football’s darkest moments on the field.
  • In 1921, an Olympic gold medalist showed up and set five world records in Redlands.
  • The Redlands Bicycle Classic might have carved out of that sport’s most glorious locations – set in motion by a 1986 superstar squad.
  • Distance-running sensation Mary Decker was taken down by a onetime University of Redlands miler.
  • Collegiate volleyball probably never had a greater athlete from this area.

As for Darnold, consider that the one-time University of Redlands blocker is the father of Sam Darnold, the USC quarterback who might be this year’s No. 1 draft selection in pro football’s draft.

Jaquish became the first-ever 4-time All-American at talent-rich LSU.

Jacob Nottingham, drafted a few years ago by the Houston Astros, probably never knew he’d be part of two Moneyball deals.

Gardner, who coached against Bill Russell in the collegiate ranks, tried to recruit Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas State.

Wright, whose team went into the March 31-April 2 weekend hoping to win the NCAA championship for the third time, brought his team to play the Bulldogs as sort of a warm-up test for Hawaii.

Tarkanian? Few might’ve known that the legendary Tark the Shark started chewing on those towels while he was coaching at Redlands High.

Norm Schachter was head referee in three Super Bowls, including Green Bay’s inaugural championship win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Norm Schachter with Hank Stram
Norm Schacter, wearing No. 60 (not his normal official number), synchronizes with Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram during halftime of the inaugural Super Bowl in 1967.

Speaking of Tarkanian, Weatherwax played hoops for him at Redlands. Eight years later, Weatherwax wore jersey No. 73 for the Green Bay Packers. It makes him the only man to ever play for Tarkanian and Vince Lombardi.

There will be more Redlands connections.

 

NFL DRAFT: THERE WAS A DARNOLD AT REDLANDS A FEW YEARS BACK

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

Mike Darnold, as I remember, was a soft-spoken, seemed-to-recall type of player who blended right into his college football team.

An offensive lineman. I want to say he was a right tackle.

In those days, the mid-1980s, the head coach at the University of Redlands was Ken Miller, who has a nice Redlands Connection resume of his own – a Bulldog play-calling specialist when he returned to the Bulldogs as an assistant. That came before a brilliant career in the Canadian Football League in Toronto, Montreal and Saskatchewan.

As for Mike Darnold, a spot playing offensive line for a small college team in out-of-the-way Redlands was certainly not a pre-signal to raising a son that would turn heads in both college football and the 2018 NFL draft.

That son is Sam Darnold. USC. Heisman Trophy candidate. Possible No. 1 NFL draft choice. A legend, perhaps, in the making.

Mike, Sam Darnold (Photo courtesy of Triton Football).
Former University of Redlands player, Mike Darnold, left, stands next to his son, Sam Darnold, who is holding an award from the Triton Football Club. (Photo courtesy of the Triton Football Club.)

You can never tell. Quarterback John Fouch, a Redlands High School product who took off for Arizona State in 1976, transferred back to his small-town university. He played Bulldog football for two years. A few decades later, his shotgun-throwing son, Ronnie, turned up at Washington and, later, Indiana State.

I always thought John was one of the greatest local athletes I’d ever seen. Track/football’s Patrick Johnson (Super Bowl, Baltimore Ravens, soccer’s Landon Donovan (Olympics, World Cup, European and USA pro soccer) and Heather Aldama, football’s Kylie Fitts and Chris Polk, plus softball’s Savannah Jaquish, to name a few, were among some of the others.

Ronnie Fouch tried hard – got into a couple NFL pre-season camps – but he never found that desired roster spot.

Mike Darnold’s kid did, though.

Boy, Sam turned up the heat in playing QB from his Orange County prep spot – San Clemente High School.

Instead of a career playing small-college teams from Whittier, Claremont-Mudd, Azusa-Pacific and La Verne, which were the stops on Mike’s playing career schedule for Redlands, his son was playing the likes of UCLA, Penn State, Notre Dame and teams from Arizona, Washington, Colorado and Oregon.

“Some have asked about Mike,” said current Bulldog coach Mike Maynard, “but he was before my time.”

Which is fairly hard to believe since Maynard arrived in 1988 – that’s 30 years!

It was Miller who recruited Mike Darnold to Redlands.

Miller, who assisted Maynard until leaving Redlands in 2000 after a brilliant career as a Bulldog offensive and defensive play-caller, turned the Canadian Football League on its ear. He led the Saskatchewan Rough Riders to 2009 and 2010 Grey Cup championships. Miller distinguished himself in so many ways while also working for Toronto and Montreal.

Mike Darnold, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound blocker, came from Dana Hills High School, another high school from the O.C. These days, he’s a foreman for a gas company. He’s done plumbing.

After Redlands, he went off and got married to Chris, who played volleyball at Long Beach City.

 

Their older daughter, Franki, was good enough to play volleyball at University of Rhode Island.

It’s an athletic family.

A former Bulldog hero, Brian De Roo, who made it to the NFL, said he rented out his Redlands home on nearby Campus St. to Darnold, among others.

“They lived at my home,” he said, “the summer after they had all graduated. They were working on the grounds crew and needed a place to lay their heads.”

De Roo tried to contact Mike Darnold on his son’s good fortune, “and say congrats … he’s pretty private!”

Redlands, during Mike Darnold’s day, was scrambling to rebuild a football empire. Budgets had crumbled on campus. Women’s athletics were crawling into the scene. Instead of acquiring their own budgets – coaches, assistants, all the necessary expenses for various teams – athletic money was split instead of doubled.

Miller had no fulltime assistant coaches. Plus, he was asked to coach the baseball team. Recruiting two major sports? Please.

Miller did land a couple of major college transfers – lineman Tom Gianelli from UCLA and fullback Scott Napier from Nebraska, where he was teammates with future NFL great Roger Craig.

It wasn’t enough.

Mike Darnold played alongside some good players, but Occidental College wore down everyone during the 1980s. While he was never an all-conference player, it’s hard to land players onto those elite post-season teams when your own team finishes, say, 0-9.

Over a decade after Mike Darnold left Redlands, Sam Darnold was born.

 

 

 

 

NOT EVEN AIR DAMON’S MOM KNEW ABOUT OLYMPIC DREAMS

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

Bernardine Damon, the mother of a future Olympian, overheard the youngest of her four children talk about the Olympic Games as a goal during her prep days. It was news to her.

“My jaw just about dropped,” she said. “I had no idea she had those thoughts.”

That youngest, a daughter, Karol Damon kept jumping. She’d cleared 5-feet, 1-inch as a schoolgirl in Europe.

High jump, Damon later claimed, “was a big fluke. The other girls had all their marks and I didn’t know what I was doing.” Still, she kept going. It’s the essence of the sport.

In high school, she cleared 5-4, leaping as high as 5-10 as a Redlands High School athlete. She was known as “Air Damon.”

Damon_Karol
Three decades after being known as “Air Damon” at Redlands High School, onetime Olympian Karol Damon-Rovelto is coaching track at Kansas State (photo by Kansas State athletics).

Girls’ prep track had only been established for a little over a decade. In the mid-1960s, Riverside Poly’s Rosie Bonds – aunt to eventual HR champion Barry Bonds – had to leave California during her prep days in order to find competitive girls’ meets.

Bonds wound up at the 1964 Olympics. It would take about a decade for California to upgrade its athletics program to include competitive girls’ programs.

At Redlands, Jim Scribner left the boys’ team as its coach to take the girls’ squad.

Scribner had bunked heads with the likes of San Gorgonio High’s Howard sisters in 1979. One of those, Sherri Howard, won a gold medal (4 x 400, 1984 L.A. Games).

He had to dope out meets against a high-powered Eisenhower High team from nearby Rialto.

Redlands High track & field was one of the campus’ top athletic programs. Often, the Lady Terriers had to match their depth with other teams’ top performers – winning meets, perhaps, by piling up points by flooding events with a prolific group of performers.

Few Redlands tracksters were legitimate multiple-event winners.

Triple jump star Camille Robertson, a CIF champion in 1983, might have been a multiple event star.

Long jump champion Carolyn Zeller (1977) might have been the Lady Terriers’ first female track star.

DAMON SHOWED UP AS AN AIR FORCE ‘BRAT’

Like a lot of athletes at Redlands High, Damon was there because her father was in the Air Force. Norton Air Force Base was nearby in San Bernardino.

Dean Olson had taken over as coach from Scribner. He had inherited a track & field jewel. Slim. Perky. Attractive. Lithe. Athletic. Blond. She climbed to a school record 5-feet-10 in actual meets. There were, at times, six-foot jumps … in practice.

“She wouldn’t tune you out,” said Olson. “She was just tuned into her event.”

As a prep star, she was a great interview. Alert. Humble. Knew how to size up her skills. Keen insight into her sport. Didn’t soak up many moments. There was much more to conquer. Never took away from teammates’ achievements, either.

By rule, prep coaches can only schedule an athlete into four events. That’s four events out of 14 (15, when there was pole vault). Damon was good for 20 points in most meets.

In high school duals, event winners are awarded five points.

Four events, max. Five points awarded. That’s 20 points. In a dual meet where 65 points is the magic number, that’s almost one-third of a team’s point total.

Damon was like a 30-points-a-game scorer in basketball. Or averaging 38 kills in a volleyball match. Or hitting .480 in softball.

Damon, who would someday soar into the Olympic games as a high jumper, was always good for 5 ½ feet, or better, at a Redlands meet. She could also hurdle. Sprint. There was the 400. She could run relays. And long jump.

By the conclusion of Damon’s prep career at Redlands, she had cleared 5-feet, 8-inches at the CIF-Southern Section championships held at Cerritos College in Norwalk.

Surrounded by Southern California’s most prestigious athletes, Damon soared to the 4A (big schools) championship. A week later, she won the CIF-Masters clearing 5-6.

It was AFTER Redlands that she started her ascent to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

POST-REDLANDS TO THE OLYMPICS

It was off to the University of Colorado, where she was a four-time NCAA All-American. She was Big Eight champion in 1990. That year, one season after suffering a stress fracture, Damon had finally cleared six feet.

By 1991, she won the Big Eight title again, clearing 5-11 ½. Heading into the season, she was third at the NCAA Indoors, her best ever at 6-2, third place. After winning the Big Eight, she took third at the NCAA Outdoors (6-feet, ¾-inch).

By 1992, every jump was at around six feet – second at Big Eight Indoor (6- ¾), tied for 11th at NCAA Indoor (5-11 ¼), third in Big Eight Outdoor (6- ¾), fourth at NCAA Outdoor (5-11 ½). A quick note: She was ranked ninth in Track & Field magazine.

For good measure, she tried to claim a spot on the Barcelona Olympic squad, clearing a career-best 6-1 ¼, but tying for 7th at the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials.

By this point, plenty of athletes would call it a career.

Rovelto_Karol
A member of the USA Olympic team in 2000, Redlands product Karol Damon made quality attempts to land in the Games at Barcelona and Atlanta before showing up at Sydney (photo by U.S. Track).

By 1996, Damon cleared a personal best 6-3 ½ to finish fourth, one spot out of qualifying for the Atlanta Olympic Games. Appropriately, she was ranked fourth by T & F.

Damon had married high jumper Randy Jenkins, so she was then known as Karol Jenkins in those days.

She participated in most of the big meets – USA Indoors (6- ¼, 5th), Pan Am Games (6-2, 4th), USA Outdoors (6-feet, 9th), clearing a personal best 6-3 ½ in 1995. It was one year before the Olympics. But that 6-3 ½ was one place shy of qualifying.

Veteran star Amy Acuff also cleared 6-3 ½, claiming that third and final spot on fewer misses.

The world record at the time was 6-10 ¼ (Bulgaria’s Stefka Kostadinova). Louise Ritter claimed the American mark at 6-8, twice.

Damon-Jenkins. Quit? No!

ONE LAST ATTEMPT TO QUALIFY

In 1997 through the 2000 Sydney Games Olympic year, Damon was among the USA’s top five high jumpers. Tisha Waller. Connie Teabury, Acuff.

It was training for the big meets – the USA Outdoors and Indoors, Goodwill Games, World University Games, all in preparation for the world stage.

Held at Hornet Stadium at Sacramento State University’s stadium, Karol Damon (now Karol Rovelto – she’d married her coach from Kansas State) – was soaring against the likes of Acuff, Waller and Erin Aldrich.

In a remarkable 6-foot, 3-3/4-inch effort, her lifetime best, the onetime Redlands High star had won the Trials.

It was a Trials dominated by Marion Jones.

Damon-Rovelto was ranked No. 1 by T&F.

It was on to Sydney for the Olympics.

At 1.89 meters, which is 6-feet, 2 ¼-inches, Damon’s 24th place finish wasn’t all that close to eventual gold medalist – Yelena Yelesina, of Russia (2.01 meters, which is better than 6-8). Damon, like Acuff, failed to reach the finals.

Only a dozen years earlier, Damon was just launching her career from Redlands.

Sixteen years after her Olympic experience, Damon-Rovelto was back at it.

A longtime coach at Kansas State, Rovelto coached high jumper Alyx Treasure and heptathlete Akela Jones at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

You wonder if Bernardine knew about those dreams?

 

SAHVANNA JAQUISH: CATCHING OR HOLDING COURT ON ESPN?

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

(Part of this writing came in a submission in the Highland Community News in 2017.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if Sahvanna Jaquish showed up, someday, on ESPN, holding a microphone under the nose of prominent coaches, players, managers, world class athletes – someone – as a network commentator. She’s received plenty of exposure on the sport’s network over the past couple seasons.

That’s on the field, not holding a microphone.

Jaquish, a Redlands East Valley product from a few years earlier, is Louisiana State University’s clean-up hitting catcher, a force both in the batter’s box and behind the plate. She contributed in a huge fashion to the Lady Tigers’ appearance at this year’s College World Series.

First, though, she got to finish off a brilliant collegiate softball career that took her from Highland, Mentone and Corona to Baton Rouge, where she was an All-American at LSU. She’s got a year of eligibility remaining.

Highland’s where she lived.

Mentone’s where her high school campus sat.

And Corona was home base for her club team.

All-American? She’s all-conference, all-region, a four-time all-leaguer in her REV days, All-CIF, you name it. Whether she wielding a bat, or holding a piece of leather, Jaquish is a lethal softballer – one of the best across the nation.

S JAQUISH
Sahvanna Jaquish, a Redlands East Valley High product, played four brilliant seasons at LSU, got drafted third overall in a pro softball league draft in 2017 and could be a U.S. Olympian by 2020 (Photo by LSU).

Bet on this: If she was a guy doing similar things on a baseball field, scouts would be lauding her as a possible No. 1 draft pick.

Truth is, she did get drafted in a pro softball league. First round, too.

A COLLEGE WORLD SERIES REGULAR

At the 2016 College World Series in a 4-1 elimination game win over No. 16 Georgia, Jaquish relied on teammate Bianke Bell’s two-HR game to help LSU prevail. She was catching Carly Hoover, who improved to 22-8 on the season, in a three-hit performance. The Lady Tigers beat Georgia pitcher Chelsea Wilkinson (28-9), leaving LSU to take on No. 2 Oklahoma later that night, June 5.

One game earlier, Jaquish’s two-run double – having advanced Bell two bases with an earlier bunt – were key hitting moments in a 6-4 elimination game, beating No. 6 Alabama.

LSU didn’t get off too well at the World Series, losing in the opening game to Michigan, 2-0, a game in which Jaquish went hitless. She caught Allie Walljasper’s mound effort, not a bad one, really, surrendering just four hits and a pair of runs.

Jaquish (.343 average, 19 doubles, 13 HRs, 76 RBIs, .463 on-base), is an accomplished NCAA All-American in a highly competitive national women’s softball field. She was swept away into the highest level of collegiate softball, right off the REV campus following a brilliant prep career.

At REV, you knew she was special. Just in her senior year, she batted .548, knocked in 48 runs in 25 games. Her final game as a Lady Wildcats, she went 0-for-1 in a 5-0 losing playoff game against Charter Oak High. The Lady Chargers were smart enough to walk her a few times.

Hit .443 as a junior, .565 in her junior season.

Rival coaches knew who she was, too.

Jaquish was stolen. Stolen, that is, right under the noses of USC, UCLA, San Diego State, not to mention Pepperdine, Arizona State, etc., etc., etc.

The collegiate highlights? Name them all? Jaquish blasted a three-run homer against No. 2 Oklahoma, equaling the score at 3-3, before the Lady Sooners eliminated LSU, 7-3. That came in 2016.

As for her coach, Beth Torina – the one responsible for recruiting Jaquish to Baton Rouge – LSU has long been a major force in the collegiate softball world.

Just to get into the 2016 College World Series, LSU had to endure a best-of-three series against No. 7 James Madison in the Super Regionals.

SEC FOOTBALL? SOFTBALL’S JUST AS GOOD

You think Southeastern Conference football was hotly-contested? Wait until you ingest the full force of SEC softball.

Beyond No. 10 LSU, there’s No. 11 Kentucky, No. 16 Georgia, sixth-ranked Alabama, No.11 Texas A&M, No. 8 Auburn and, uh, No. 1-ranked Florida.

It kind of makes the other NCAA Div. 1 conferences look weak. Maybe not. After all, Oklahoma was ranked No. 2.

S JAQUISH - 3RD BASE
Catcher or third base? Redlands East Valley’s Sahvanna Jaquish made every play count over a brilliant four-year career at Louisiana State (Photo by LSU).

Jaquish concluded her career last spring, 2017. LSU’s all-time RBI leader. Another All-American season. That made it four straight All-American seasons, the first in LSU’s rich history. Drafted by the Chicago Pride, third overall, 2017. National Pro Fastpitch. Hit .323, by the way, with 4 HRs. All-Rookie team.

In February 2018, she signed a two-year contract with the USSSF Pride. She could be playing Olympic ball by 2020.

As for holding a microphone for ESPN, Jaquish majored in Mass Communications, specializing in broadcast journalism. Who knows where that’ll lead? Just taking a look at her LSU publicity photo on the school’s website, you can tell it’s a camera-friendly face that could take off at a place like ESPN. FoxSports. You name it.

Just like her playing career. A Redlands Connection on and off the field.

 

PART 4: ‘ARE YOU SITTING DOWN, MR. BROWN?’

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

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.

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.

PART 2: POINT SHAVING SCANDAL SCARRED 1951 NCAA FINALE

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

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.

DeanSmithcropped2
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.