After retrieving my footlocker from the Greyhound Bus station on my first visit to Reno, I wrestled it up to the top floor of Lincoln Hall at the University of Nevada where I had a panoramic view from a large room in the northwest corner.
When I returned Coach Aiken’s car keys, I figured it was best to tell him that I had caused a rip in his rumble seat leather. He said, “That’s alright. I’ll put some tape on it.” This was my first indication that the coach used tape for almost everything, as I was to learn that evening.
From his office I went to the registrar to sign up for classes. Following dinner that evening I got to attend my first basketball practice at the old, old gym. It was constructed like many of the YMCA facilities around the country. The ground floor contained a basketball court and very limited seating. The second floor had a running track and a doorway to the upstairs locker rooms.
The first night’s workout was a series of drills, Aiken’s favorite being to put a player on each side of the foul line while he tossed the ball up on the backboard to have the two players fight for the rebound. When my turn came, I was positioned opposite a sturdy six-footer named Ed Dirks. One thing my high school coach had taught me was that when rebounding, keep your elbows quite away from your body. In so doing, my right elbow made sharp contact with Dirks’ upper teeth resulting in breaking a couple and cutting me to the bone. While Dirks searched for his missing teeth, Aiken rushed over and covered my elbow with adhesive tape. Dirks, holding his hand over his mouth and whimpering slightly, rushed upstairs to the locker room. As he approached the open doorway, Aiken asked for the only ball we had at practice and tossed it at the retreating Dirks, hitting him in the head while noting, “You big sissy!”
It didn’t take me long to learn that as a basketball coach, Aiken was a good football coach. He had only taken the BB job because long-time coach Jake Lawlor was out of town.
Most of our scrimmages from that night on were of the full-contact variety, and I noticed that Aiken was using basketball primarily as a means of keeping some of his football players in shape. All in all, we had a very mediocre season playing military-base teams, town teams and a few colleges. The highlight of the entire schedule was a trip to Fleet City Navy Base in Oakland. We entered a huge hangar that had been converted to a basketball arena with several thousand seats. In addition to the Navy team, which consisted of a number of all-star college players, there was a large Navy band. Every time Navy scored, they would play “Anchors Aweigh”. After some 50 renditions of the tune, we were soundly defeated.