LARAMIE, Wyo. -
It probably wasn’t in the cards for Sam Averbuck to play anything but basketball. After all, it’s in his lineage.
Averbuck’s grandfather, Ned, played for the legendary Pete Newell at the University of California, and was a member of the 1959 Golden Bears team which produced the school’s only national basketball title. Cal beat West Virginia, whose star was Jerry West. Ned’s alma mater comes to Laramie tomorrow with an outstanding team as the Cowboys and Golden Bears meet on Maury Brown Court at 1 p.m. MT in the Arena-Auditorium.
His dad, Phillip (everyone calls him Chico), is the Director of International Scouting for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and has the most tenure of anyone in the franchise.
“I played baseball and soccer along with basketball as a kid,” says Sam, a redshirting freshman from Santa Rosa, Calif. “But I couldn’t see myself doing anything else but playing basketball. I’m extremely fortunate and grateful for the opportunities I’ve received thanks to my family. I have been exposed to a ton of basketball.
“When I was very young I remember going to basketball clinics taught by my grandpa. I was very aware of who he was, what he had accomplished and his knowledge of the game.”
Averbuck’s dad attended Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., but transferred to CSU Bakersfield with an eye on coaching. He began coaching there and would eventually wind up in the CBA. He even spent time in Greece before catching on with the NBA.
The young Averbuck understands his grandfather’s basketball history at Cal. “My grandpa was very close to Pete Newell, so I spent a lot of time around him, one of the legends in college coaching. Grandpa ran Newell’s Big Man’s Camp, so I had the opportunity to hang around. For many years it has been the foremost camp for big man in the country. It was exciting and an honor to be around Pete.”
The Cal Bears were one of the top programs in the country during Ned’s playing days. While they won the 1959 national championship, they lost in the 1960 title game to Ohio State with a roster than included Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Larry Siegfried and Bobby Knight. Cal reached the finals both years by defeating the Oscar Robertson-led Cincinnati Bearcats in two consecutive semifinal games.
“It was a great experience,” Ned says. “In fact we still get together to this day and have so much fun talking about those days. We all realize how fortunate we were to be around Pete.”
One of Ned’s teammates on those teams was long-time Los Angeles Laker center Darrall Imhoff. After those great Newell teams, however, California basketball fortunes went south. From 1960 through 1985, the Bears tallied only two winning seasons in conference play. It has certainly enjoyed a resurgence recently.
Sam got interested in Wyoming when he saw the Pokes play Cal last season in a game at Berkeley last December. “When I came out to visit, it was a place I could see myself growing as a player, student and person. I loved the staff, and the other players. It was a little bit of a surprise to my family, but I truly believe it is a great place for me.”
Grandpa Ned is certainly proud of his Wyoming Cowboy. “He’s a good person who always went his own way,” Ned says of his grandson. “Sam grew up around grapes and apples in the Sonoma Valley, and around big cities. When he told us of his choice for college, we asked him if he knew how cold it was up there. So we were a little shocked that he chose Wyoming,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m very happy he chose a different experience. It’s a wonderful opportunity to grow, and that’s what college should be all about.
“He told me that he wanted a complete college experience, and that he loved the people in the program. I told him those are great reasons, Sam, make it wonderful for you.”
While Ned did his best to “stay out of the way” when it came to his grandson and basketball, Sam appreciates his words of wisdom. “He taught me to have respect for family, other people, the game of basketball and the opponent. But most of all he told me to respect myself.”
“You have to respect who you are,” says Ned. “You have to practice hard and challenge yourself, respect the game and the competition. You will keep improving if you are passionate, do what your coaches ask, and make your teammates better with your play. If you do all that, then it’s really fun. If you don’t do all of that, it’s not going to be fun and you will ruin your own values. That’s my teaching for today,” he laughs.
As any young person would, Averbuck loves spending time with his dad and being around the Cleveland Cavaliers. “I really love watching them practice. They are such tremendous athletes, and they put in so much time to get better. LeBron is an amazing student of the game. It’s always a thrill to be around him and the NBA players.”
Averbuck’s dad suggested that redshirting might be a good idea, and while Sam wasn’t excited in the beginning, he’s realizing it’s the best thing for him. But it is hard. “It’s tough knowing you’re not going to be a part of the games,” Sam says. “But I’m starting to see how it can really help me. Lifting, conditioning and being on the scout team are beneficial. I certainly know what other teams are running,” he says with a smile.
Through his grandson’s formative years, grandpa made sure he stayed out of the way. “He has a father who has been in basketball all his life. I think grandparents should stay way in the background, and rightfully so. We are two generations away. I got involved only when asked. I think that’s the best way to go.
“But when the time comes, you can bet I’ll be there to watch him play college basketball.”
Knowing about Averbuck’s background and his grandfather’s Golden Bear connection makes tomorrow’s game even more interesting.
Don’t forget to wear your gold and come early.