Spotlight on Santa Barbara Basketball Stars

Report from Sunday’s Court of Champions Induction Ceremony

Onetime Golden State Warrior Vic Bartolome (left) checks in with former Santa Barbara High coach Gene Snyder.
Paul Wellman

On a night of heartfelt but lengthy speeches, a man who did not utter a word drew an outpouring of affection and applause at the second annual dinner of the Santa Barbara Court of Champions. “I really think this night is about Frank Carbajal,” said Gerry Karczewski, the last speaker at the Sunday-night event that featured the induction of 17 new members into the city’s basketball-specific hall of fame.

Carbajal, a proud man of Mexican heritage who coached Santa Barbara City College to four conference championships in the 1980s, made a lasting impact on his players and other coaches who worked with him. “You didn’t walk into the gym without learning a lesson,” said Karczewski, a standout guard at San Marcos High and a junior college All-American at SBCC. “He taught us to take the emotion out of the game, be patient, and be poised.”

Jim Eyen began a 35-year coaching career — he’s currently on Byron Scott’s staff with the L.A. Lakers — as Carbajal’s assistant. “Thirty-six years ago, I walked into your office,” Eyen said, addressing Carbajal across the room at Fess Parker’s resort. “At that point is where my education began. You involved me, and to learn coaching and teaching at such a high level was invaluable.”

DeRon Carbajal wheeled his father onto a platform and revealed that he has progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), a rare disease that degrades eyesight and other bodily functions. But the old man, who retired 10 years ago at Hartnell College with 662 victories at all levels under his belt, could hear the plaudits, and he was able to engage in one-on-one conversations before and after the dinner.

The power of coaching was a theme of the evening. Barb Beainy and Cori Close, acclaimed for their playing careers at UCSB, paid tribute to former head coach Mark French. Beainy recalled how a pregame drill known as “the Gaucho shuffle,” which would draw smirks from opponents, became an inspiring force for the Gaucho women, teaching them to “face the bullies.” Close, the fourth-year coach of UCLA’s women’s team, said Santa Barbara is where “I got my deepest lessons” in basketball and life.

Karczewski and Jon Korfas were another pair of teammates — from the San Marcos Runnin’ Royals — to enter the area’s highest basketball court. Also linked together were a deceased coach and player, Willie Wilton and Lowell Steward, who put together one of UCSB’s greatest seasons in 1940-41. Mike Wilton told how his father made it work despite a meager budget. Each player had one pair of Converse shoes, and the coach brought them home when they were worn down and scored the soles with a razor blade to add more traction.

Steward, an African-American, was barred from playing in the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (later the NAIA) Championships in Kansas City because of segregation. He piloted more than 100 missions as a Tuskegee Airman in World War II. On behalf of the NAIA, Westmont College coach John Moore presented Steward’s son, Lowell Jr., the organization’s Champions of Character Award, though as Moore said, “Nothing can repair the injustice of 1941.”

Golden State or Cleveland? Not surprisingly, über-guard Stephen Curry and the Warriors garnered considerable support from Santa Barbara hoop-heads asked to predict the outcome of the NBA Finals.

Holly Ford Emerson, a 2014 Court of Champions inductee, likes Golden State’s youth and depth. “Their shooting is streaky,” she said, but she thinks the streaks will be more hot than cold. Barb Beainy said, “The Warriors are my team and always have been. NorCal, you know.” Beainy played her last game for Burlingame High in the Warriors’ home, Oracle Arena, leading her team to the state championship. Close agreed with her former UCSB teammate. “I enjoyed watching [Golden State] play the team game,” she said. “It was a departure from one-on-one, isolation basketball.”

Vic Bartolome is a Warrior alum, having played for the team in 1971-72. “I still have two of my old practice jerseys,” the seven-footer from Santa Barbara High and Oregon State said. “We didn’t have a shot at the championship then, not with Wilt Chamberlain playing for the Lakers.” The Warriors did win the title in 1975 with the help of NBA rookie of the year Jamaal Wilkes, another former Don and Court of Champions charter member.

Jerry Pimm is pulling for Golden State’s first-year head coach Steve Kerr. “Kerr played for our 1986 world championship team with [UCSB star] Brian Shaw,” recalled Pimm, the former Gaucho coach. Pimm was on the coaching staff of that U.S. team, which won one of the last epic sports battles between America and the former Soviet Union.

Chet Kammerer, the Miami Heat’s vice president of player personnel, cast his vote for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “The reason is the best player in basketball, LeBron James,” said Kammerer, who was Westmont’s coach for 17 years. James had the same birthplace — Akron, Ohio, on the outskirts of Cleveland — as Santa Barbara’s NBA maestro Bill Bertka, still a scouting operative for the Lakers after collecting a fistful of championship rings as their assistant coach. “Akron was my home,” Bertka said. “I know how LeBron feels about Akron. That area’s gone through some tough times. I’d like to see them have something to be proud of.”

<b>HONORING ATHLETES:</b> Shari Cathcart is presented with a ceremonial flag at the memorial for her father, Sam Cathcart.
Paul Wellman

CATHCART FARWELL: Sam Cathcart, who died on April 3 at 90, was honored by a celebration of his life Sunday at Peabody Stadium, where he achieved many of his 163 victories as head football coach at Santa Barbara High. A military ceremony, including a three-volley gun salute, preceded the telling of tales about the war hero and leader of the Dons.

Cathcart singlehandedly took out a German machine-gun nest during the Battle of the Bulge, and in football, his fellow coach Mike Moropoulos recalled, “His philosophy was: Attack. His offense never stopped. It didn’t matter, down or distance. Just go for it.”

That philosophy prevailed off the field, too. Moropoulos told about a trip to play in Orange County, where the team bus encountered a chain-link gate outside the stadium, and efforts to unlock it proved futile. Cathcart ordered, “Drive right through it,” Moropoulos said. “That was Sergeant Cathcart.”

GAUCHO BASEBALL: Even though things went badly for its team, UCSB staged a terrific show as host of the NCAA baseball regional at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore last weekend. The first day produced two ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 highlights, including, much to the Gauchos’ grief, a steal of home for the winning run by San Diego State’s Steven Pallares. The regional ended at 1:19 a.m. Monday as Virginia, the national runner-up last year, outlasted USC, 14-10, in 11 innings. UCSB’s leadoff hitter Andrew Calica made the all-regional team. He had five hits and reached base seven times in nine plate appearances; but the fact that he scored only one run illustrated the Gauchos’ offensive drought since they hammered UC Riverside, 20-2, on May 21. They lost their last four games since then and finished with a 40-17-1 record.

PERSONAL BESTS: Barbara Nwaba of the Santa Barbara Track Club ran her fastest 800 meters in 2:07.37 to cap a new personal best of 6,342 points in the heptathlon and finish 11th overall in the Hypo Meeting at Gotzis, Austria. Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who trained in Santa Barbara this spring, won the competition with a new Canadian record of 6,808, the 15th-best mark in the world all-time. Her hubby, Ashton Eaton, the world record holder in the decathlon, pulled out of the meet because of a back injury he incurred while practicing the shot put. … San Marcos High sophomore Erica Schroeder is heading to the State Meet after winning the CIF Southern Section Masters 800 meters in a new school record of 2:09.85.

SPECIAL OLYMPICS: The annual Law Enforcement Torch Run will come through Santa Barbara on Wednesday, June 10, preceding the Southern California Special Olympics Summer Games at Long Beach State on June 13-14. Representatives of six different agencies will carry the torch from Refugio Beach State Park to Ventura during the day’s run. It is expected to reach downtown Santa Barbara at 2 p.m. The run is a major fundraiser for the Special Olympics movement.


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