Court of Champions inductees share funny, heart-warming stories

Former SBCC coach and Court of Champions inductee Frank Carbajal is surrounded by former players and assistant coaches. The group includes inductees Gerry Karczewski and Jim Eyen.

Former SBCC coach and Court of Champions inductee Frank Carbajal is surrounded by former players and assistant coaches. The group includes inductees Gerry Karczewski (fifth from the right) and Jim Eyen (front row, right).

Jay Carty is a gifted storyteller, and the former UCLA Bruin and L.A. Laker shared his gift with about 170 people on Sunday night at the 2nd annual Santa Barbara Basketball Court of Champions induction banquet.

The event, held at Fess Parker’s Doubletree, saw the induction of 17 new members, with speeches ranging from highly emotional to side-splittingly funny. Carty’s was the latter, as the John Wooden disciple told the tale of a fateful game at Boston Garden during his rookie campaign in 1968.

Carty had ridden the pine all season, and spent much of the games drinking Gatorade on the bench. He was put in the game unexpectedly to start the second quarter, and hit his first four shots against the likes of John Havlicek and Bill Russell … Then the Gatorade made a comeback.

“I tossed my cookies on national TV. I appreciate you inducting me into this, but I just wanted you to know what you’re getting,” said the Santa Barbara resident.

The Court of Champions, the brainchild of Curt Pickering, was established to recognize and honor individuals with Santa Barbara ties who have made significant contributions to the sport of basketball.

The night’s first inductee, Frank Carbajal, didn’t have to say a word to move the audience. Relegated to a wheelchair and unable to speak due to a medical condition, the legendary SBCC hoops coach received multiple standing ovations while on stage. His oldest son spoke on his behalf, recognizing numerous former players, assistant coaches and family members in attendance.

One of those former assistants was inductee Jim Eyen, who started out with Carbajal’s Vaqueros as an assistant in 1979 before moving on to success at Dos Pueblos. After that was a stint at UCSB before moving into the big leagues, serving as an assistant for the Lakers, Clippers, and now once again the Lakers.

One of the most accomplished players in the newest class is Barb Beainy, who led the charge on the court as the UCSB women’s program rose from the bottom of the Big West to become a powerhouse in the mid-1990s. Her teammate from those days, UCLA head coach Cori Close, sat to her left and was also inducted. Their former coach, Mark French, was there to see his former stars.

The most poignant moment of all came late into the evening, during the induction of former UCSB player Lowell Steward. Steward was a leader for the Gauchos in the early 40s, but was barred from participating in the 1941 NAIA Tournament in Kansas City because he was black. UCSB ended up losing to to a San Diego State team it had beaten earlier in the year. Steward’s basketball career was out-shined by his military one, as he became an ace pilot and a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. He then became a pioneer in the Los Angeles real estate scene. He passed away in December, but many family members were at the Doubletree in his stead. His eldest son, Lowell Jr., spoke on his father’s behalf before receiving a special award from Westmont head coach John Moore. On behalf of the NAIA, Moore presented Steward with a posthumous honor for his perseverance as a student-athlete and human being.

With 17 inductees, the program went well into the night and included endless tales from the hardwood, with almost everything relating back to the community of Santa Barbara. Jon Korfas, a key member of the San Marcos “Runnin’ Royals” from the early 1980s, noted that his career’s early years here in town were his most cherished.

“Of all the teammates I’ve had over the years, I still consider the best ones to be my teammates from San Marcos High School, and I’m glad to call them my lifelong friends,” he said.

Sam Battistone
Barb Beainy
Tugce Canitez
Frank Carbajal
Jay Carty
Cori Close
Bruce Coldren
Jim Eyen
Chet Kammerer
Gerry Karczewski
Jon Korfas
Doug Little
Randy Pfund
Ron Shelton
Lowell Steward
Gene Snyder
Willie Wilton