Men’s college basketball: It’s tough, but it’s fair: Demons remember Coach Wayne Yates
By Jason Pugh, Northwest State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
NATCHITOCHES — Former Northwestern State men’s basketball coach Wayne Yates died earlier this month at age 84.
Yates’ family will hold a private memorial for the internment of his ashes after Yates succumbed to a long battle with cancer.
All-American in Memphis and first-round NBA selection of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1961, Yates inherited a five-win NSU team and turned it into a 19-win team two years later. He coached a pair of NBA draft picks with the Demons – Wayne Wagoner (Dallas, 6e round, 1982) and Johnny Martin (Dallas, 4e round, 1983).
Wagoner is an N-Club Hall of Famer who credited Yates with opening the door to Wagoner’s NBA career and bringing Wagoner back to Northwestern State as an assistant coach after the end of his playing career.
“After the season there was a tournament called the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Virginia,” Wagoner said. “He said, ‘Wayne, you’re good enough to play professionally at the next level – whether it’s in the NBA or overseas.’ He made a phone call and said, “You’ll get an invitation to the Portsmouth Invitational. I went there and led my team in two games and got on the map very quickly.”
“He was responsible for this. After I got cut, he called me the next day to offer me the assistant position at Northwestern State. I wish he could know and be more certain of how I felt about what he did for me.
After his five-season demon career, which was marked by a 19-9 mark in Waggoner’s 1981-82 senior season, Yates remained in the area, coaching football and basketball at Montgomery High. School and basketball at Northwood High School in Lena.
While with the Gators, his connection to Northwestern State deepened after Clifton Lee signed with the Demons and became an N-Club Hall of Fame artist, including playing a starring role in the 2006 NCAA Tournament the Demons upset third seed Iowa.
Lee played three seasons for Yates, earning All-CENLA honors as a senior. He credited the 6-foot-9 Yates with “igniting a competitive fire” in him and his prep teammates.
“Coach Yates was something,” said Lee, the 2006 Southland Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player. “We had athletic physical education in the seventh period, and he brought his shorts and shoes and played with us. . He also didn’t hold back any punches. He would catch you with a nice nudge to the chest. He made you play hard.
“He was a coach who did everything. He dusted the floors. He had his CDL. He would drive the buses to the games. He did everything.
This included instilling values off the pitch that aligned with those he taught on the pitch.
According to Waggoner, one of Yates’ mantras at Northwestern State was, “It’s hard, but it’s fair.” Going from college hoops to the prep game didn’t change Yates’ outlook.
“He always preached that,” Lee said. “He always said that playing basketball was a privilege. If we didn’t mind our business in the classroom, there was no place for us on the floor. He also told us, ‘If you want it, go out and get it. He didn’t want us to leave that to the referees or anyone else in our lives.
– Graphic courtesy of Jason Pugh, NSU Sports Information