Tony Yates: Former University of Cincinnati basketball player and coach dies at 82

Published: May. 17, 2020 at 9:07 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) -Tony Yates will go down as an important figure in University of Cincinnati basketball history, having been a part of the program for three decades, our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer said.

He had two distinct careers with the Bearcats: His mega-successful time as a player in the 1960s and his frustrating years as UC’s head coach in the 1980s.

Yates, a member of the UC James P. Kelly Athletics Hall of Fame (inducted in 1985) and the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame (2020), died Saturday night at age 82, it was confirmed by JC Battle & Sons Funeral Home.

Born in September 1937 in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Yates was a 1954 graduate of Lockland Wayne High School and helped lead the school to the 1952 state championship with his brother Fletcher.

Yates turned down partial scholarship offers to play basketball from Cincinnati and Xavier University because he was disappointed not to get full scholarship offers. He worked and played for a barnstorming all-star basketball team for the year, then joined the United States Air Force. In 1958, he got married, and in 1959, he accepted a partial scholarship offer from UC, with a chance to play with all-time great Oscar Robertson.

“Who wouldn’t want to be associated with him?” Yates said in the book “Tales from Cincinnati Bearcats Basketball.”

Yates was considered an instant leader on the Bearcats freshmen team and went on to average 7.4 points (1960-61), 8.2 points (1961-62) and 7.6 points (1962-63) in his three seasons on “varsity.” As a senior team captain, he was chosen third-team All-America by The Associated Press and first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference.

As a sophomore, Yates was 23 years old and nicknamed “Gramps.” He assumed the role of starting point guard and was considered Ed Jucker's coach on the floor.

When George Wilson arrived to play for UC in 1960, he said, there were only a few African American players, including Yates, Paul Hogue and Tom Thacker. They were all older than Wilson. He said Hogue and Thacker “were like my big brothers and Tony was like papa.”

Wilson looked to Yates for guidance about life as a minority in Cincinnati.

"We always did what he said to do and always followed his advice,” Wilson said.

Yates helped lead the Bearcats to their national championships in 1961 and 1962 and a runner-up finish in 1963. He won UC’s team Best Defensive Player award all three years during which UC’s teams went 82-7. Yates and Thacker are the only players in program history to play in three NCAA championship games.

The St. Louis Hawks was selected Yates 41st overall in the fifth round of the 1963 NBA draft.

At UC, Yates was also a member of Sigma Sigma men’s honorary.

Yates was an assistant coach at UC under Tay Baker and Gale Catlett from 1972-74. He left to become an assistant to Gene Bartow at the University of Illinois in 1974-75. He then became Lou Henson’s assistant and was at Illinois for a total of nine seasons, earning a reputation as strong recruiter and helping the Illini to two NCAA Tournaments and two National Invitation Tournaments.

But what Yates always wanted was to be UC’s head coach. He said he applied for the job in 1972 when Catlett was hired and in 1978 when Ed Badger was chosen. Finally, in 1983, Yates was hired to replace Badger.

“It was a very happy moment,” Yates said in the UC basketball book. “I was going home.”

Yates was tearful at his introductory press conference when he received a standing ovation.

That day Robertson told The Enquirer: “Am I happy? You bet. He knows the game. He knows how to recruit. He’s just what we need.”

Yates' six years as head coach did not go as planned. His teams finished 70-100 overall with just two winning seasons – 17-14 with an NIT berth in 1984-85 and 15-12 in 1988-89. He was then fired and replaced by Bob Huggins.

He did not coach again.

“I had my fling,” Yates said in the UC basketball book. "I did what I wanted to do. I wanted to coach at the University of Cincinnati. I’m very pleased, very blessed, and very happy about what we had done. There were a lot of very special moments with a lot of special people. There are a lot of great, great memories.”

He will forever be remembered as the architect behind UC’s stall-ball game against the University of Kentucky in December 1983. UK ended up winning 24-11. It was Yates’ eighth game as a head coach. The Bearcats were 1-6, and the Wildcats were No. 2 in the country.

The game was on national TV. On game day, Yates told the players the plan was to hold the ball on every possession until they had a chance for a layup. “I thought the only way we had a chance to win, was to do what we did,” Yates said in the book. “… And they did it to the letter.”

Yates also will be remembered for recruiting three of UC's 1,000-point scorers: Roger McClendon, Louis Banks and Levertis Robinson. McClendon and Banks are among the program's top 10 all-time scorers.

Yates contributed to the community, as well, with the Tony Yates Caring For Kids Foundation, a non-profit designed "to uplift, assist, and train youth and their families."

There also is the Tony Yates Junior Golf Academy. According to the Cincinnati Recreation Commission web site, it “uses the game of golf to teach discipline, encourage personal growth and self esteem and also fosters personal success for the boys and girls attending. The program provides golf instruction along with life skill training to enable participants to become better, more productive citizens.”

Copyright 2020 Cincinnati Enquirer. All rights reserved. FOX19 contributed to this report.