Not only was he an incredible player, but he was even a better person and friend. I'm glad they are honoring him. —LaDell Andersen, on Wayne Estes
ST. GEORGE — When Utah State University cut the ribbon on its new Wayne Estes Center last week, it brought a broad smile to LaDell Andersen's face.
Andersen, who turns 85 this October, read about the ribbon-cutting in the Deseret News as he relaxed on the living room couch in his southern Utah home. Andersen lettered as an Aggie basketball player from 1949-52, was the head coach from 1962-71, and served as the school's athletic director from 1973-82. Seeing the name "Wayne Estes" jogged several memories for the old coach.
"It's quite a story," Andersen said. "Do you want to hear about it?"
Newly hired in 1962, Andersen needed to find players for his team. He enlisted the services of Nog Hansen, a former assistant who had coached football in Montana. The athletic director gave Andersen a credit card and two stipulations.
"Here is a credit card to buy your gas to make the trip, but you'll have to sleep in the car. You also have to recruit for all sports," Andersen said. "Fine, but we bought our own motels."
While traveling from Missoula to Butte, Hansen suggested they stop in the small town of Anaconda.
"There is a great track man over here in Anaconda. I think his name is Estes," Hansen told Andersen. "He had won state in the shot put and discus. He was an all-state center for the football team and a good shooter in basketball."
Andersen said he did his best to sell USU's track program to the young athlete, which then included Olympian L.J. Silvester and coach Ralph Maughan. At one point, Estes held up his hand.
"He says, 'Coach, let me stop you right there. Yeah, I enjoyed football, and track was all right, but I want to play basketball,'" Andersen said.
Estes also said he needed a summer job. Andersen instructed him to get on a train and he would pick him up at Cache Junction.
"You will have a summer job and a full-ride scholarship," Andersen said. "The rest is history. Four years later he's a first team All-American with Rick Barry."
Andersen said he helped Estes to trim his weight down and refine his game.
"He could really shoot the ball, as well as anyone I ever coached," Andersen said.
Sadly, a promising career took a tragic turn on Feb. 8, 1965.
Estes had just scored 48 points to lead the Aggies to a 91-62 win over Denver. In the process, he had surpassed the 2,000-point mark in career scoring by one point, a new record.
Afterward, Estes and some friends happened upon an accident where an automobile had crashed into a utility pole. As they approached the vehicle, Estes accidentally made contact with a power line and was electrocuted. (For more details on the accident, read a 1999 Deseret News column by Doug Robinson.)
Andersen had just finished his postgame radio show and was driving home with his wife. Along the way, they noticed a crowd had gathered in the street. The coach walked over to find out what was going on.
"What's the deal?" the coach asked at the scene of the accident.
"It's Estes," someone replied.
"He's all right, isn't he?" Andersen had said.
"They just shook their heads," Andersen said. "Oh, that was a terrible tragedy, probably the worst of my life."
Beyond his athletic talent and ability, there is something else people should know about Estes, Andersen said.
"Not only was he an incredible player, but he was even a better person and friend," Andersen said. "I'm glad they are honoring him."
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