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Mourners have great memories of Jim Padgett

STEVE RANSON
Lahontan Valley News

RENO – Former University of Nevada men’s basketball coach Jim Padgett was

remembered Saturday as a man who supported his players during a three-decade

career.

A memorial for Padgett, who died at the age of 79 on Dec. 19 of congestive

heart failure, attracted former players and friends to the Silver and Blue

Room at Lawlor Events Center. They paid tribute to a coach many credit for

making the Wolf Pack competitive at the Division I level in the early 1970s.

Padgett first began his career as a coach while serving as an officer in the

U.S. Air Force. His career then took him through the ranks of junior and

senior high schools before he became head coach at San Jose City College.

From San Jose, he moved across the San Francisco Bay where he accepted a job

as the University of California’s assistant coach and then tabbed as head

coach (1968-1972) by the legendary Pete Newell.

He left Cal to become the University of Nevada, Reno’s head coach in 1972, a

position he held for four years. Years after leaving Nevada, Padgett also

headed a new high school program for the Nevada State Prison in Carson City

before retiring to Rocklin, Calif.

The memorial service was filled with stories about a man who affected those

who played for him.

Longtime friend Charlie Baker, who now lives in Tucson, Ariz. served with Padgett

at the now shuttered Larson Air Force base near Moses Lake, Wash. When

Padgett arrived at the base during the Korean War, his assignment was to

coach a basketball team.

“Jim told me he was the new basketball coach for Larson Air Force Base,”

Baker recollected. “We got acquainted. I told him I was from Kansas. He was

intrigued where people came from.”

Padgett, who not only coached but also played center, led the team to a 33-1

record. Baker said Padgett received a call from the Navy in Seattle which

needed a team to fill a spot vacated by a Navy squad.

“We played four games in the tournament and took their trophy. They booed us

all the way out the gym,” Baker said, cracking a grin.

Baker said his friend was tough.

“You didn’t screw around with Jim,” he added.

After they left the Air Force, their paths took them in separate directions,

but years later, they reunited when Padgett was coaching in San Jose.

During his tenure at San Jose City College, Padgett led the team to a

California Junior College championship.

Two of his players in San Jose remember Padgett as a fair man.

“He was a man’s man,” said Kendall “Happy” Simmons. “He did things because

they were the right things to do.”

Pete Padgett, who played for his father at the University of Nevada and

later coached basketball at Carson and Reno high schools, said a

person’s background or skin color was a non-factor with his dad.

“He would recruit a guy who had a horn coming out of his head if he could

shoot,” Pete said. “It was never black and white.”

Simmons agreed.

“He was a good guy,” Simmons said. “He didn’t care what people said about

him, but if they talked about his family or players, that affected him.”

Simmons said Coach Padgett was a big part of whatever he did in life.

“He was like a dad,” said Simmons.

Another player from San Jose City College, J.C. Eaglesmith, said he visited

his former coach in Rocklin two years ago.

“Of all the hundreds of players, he remembered me,” Eaglesmith said.

Eaglesmith, whose father was a career U.S. Marine sergeant major, also

joined the Corps after playing at San Jose and served several tours in

Vietnam. When he returned from his last tour in the early 1970s, he visited

Padgett at Cal.

“I walked into the gym, and there was coach,” Eaglesmith reminisced.

“Besides my grandfather and father, Coach Padgett inspired me to coach

basketball.”

Chalmer Dillard played on the Wolf Pack for Padgett from 1973-75. The former

guard said he felt very close to Padgett. Both had grown up in Northern

California and shared some common interests.

Dillard said Padgett was a pioneer for steering Nevada into competitive Division I

play.

“He had the vision of what Division I basketball should have been. He had a vision

what the university could become,” Dillard explained. “The lessons he taught

us have served us well. There is one common thing – we’re all good men who

have been successful in life for what coach taught us.”

Dillard said Padgett took the Pack to the big time to where they played the

top teams. The experience hasn’t been lost on Dillard.

“If you dream big, work hard, you can do anything you desire.”