By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director, Strategic Communications
Northridge, Calif. – At the recent College Tipoff Basketball Luncheon at the famed Los Angeles Athletic Club, CSUN head basketball coach Reggie Theus emerged from the elevator en route to the banquet room for one of the biggest pre-season events in the area.
No sooner did he walk out of the elevator, Theus spotted a dear friend that helped the CSUN head coach launch his coaching career following a highly successful 13-year NBA career and more than eight years in the broadcasting booth as a basketball studio analyst.
Theus and Dave Yanai embraced each other like long, lost brothers. Priceless.
Dave Yanai might be a name you might not have heard before.
But for Reggie Theus and almost every collegiate and high school coach in the Los Angeles area and nationally as well, Yanai is a "living legend."
Yanai gave Theus his first coaching job as a volunteer assistant at Cal State Los Angeles in 2002-03. Yanai was a highly respected head coach who carved out a distinguished 28-year career at Cal State Dominguez Hills (1977-78 through 1995-96) and another nine years at Cal State Los Angeles.
Theus had an itch to get into coaching despite his hectic television schedule that included commentary on Fox Sports, Prime Ticket and TNT.
Theus called Yanai at CSLA. They talked and Yanai offered Theus a job as an assistant volunteer coach.
"He was still working full time in broadcasting so I only expected him to be at practice only once or two times a week," remembers Yanai. "But he started coming to practice every day. Reggie discovered he loved coaching so much. He had a love for teaching, interacting and communicating with the players. He showed his competitive side as a teacher. Reggie embraced his coaching role on the team. We had a wonderful year together during the 2002-03 season."
Shortly after the 2002-03 season, Yanai was conducting a coaching clinic in Japan when he received a phone call from the mainland from Theus. An assistant coaching job had opened at the University of Louisville under head coach Rick Pitino. Theus wanted the Louisville job.
"From a pay phone in Japan, I called coach Pitino with my wife putting coins in the phone box to keep the phone line active," laughs Yanai. "I told Pitino why he needed to hire Reggie. One of the things I told coach Pinto was that Louisville would be in the Final Four with Reggie as one of Louisville's assistants. Reggie's name recognition and the fact that he knew a lot of people would help him get players to Louisville. This was a no-brainer."
When Yanai and his wife returned to Los Angeles from Japan, Theus called his mentor. "I got the job. I got the job."
Theus spent two seasons at Louisville (2003-04, 2004-05). Yanai was right. Louisville reached the Final Four in 2004-05.
"Reggie was everything I hoped," Pitino said. "A great teacher, a tireless recruiter."
Yanai was the highly successful head coach at Fremont High School and coached against Theus when he was emerging as a star player at Inglewood High School in the mid-1970's.
"When Reggie was a youngster during his early years at Inglewood High School, he was only a 5-foot-10 point guard," remembers Yanai. "Then Reggie started to grow, and with his size (6-foot-7) and his ball skills, he obviously became a great player."
Theus and Yanai still see each other during the year. "We play golf," said Theus. "Coach Dave only hits the ball 200 yards but it goes straight down the fairway."
Theus says he will always be grateful for the opportunity Dave Yanai gave him to kick start his coaching career.
"Coach Yanai is a great mentor, a great basketball mind, a great philosopher," said Theus without reservation. "He understands the game, he understands people. He is a great teacher of life in general."
Footnote Fact …
In the summer of 2000, Dave Yanai was honored as an outstanding coach at the John R. Wooden Award ceremony held at the Los Angeles Athletic Club … The award is given annually to an individual who exemplifies the outstanding qualities set by the legendary coach (John Wooden), such as placing the highest standards of commitment to student-athletes; significant contributions to the community, as well as being a quintessential teacher with the ability to embrace various cultures in understanding the sport of basketball.