October 18, 2023

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.”

NBA FINALS: 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.”

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