The Portland Pilots of the West Coast Conference play basketball in a really nice arena, the Chiles Center. Seats about 4,500 and not a bad seat in the house. For years they had some pretty bad basketball, which started to decline rapidly following the resignation of their fine coach Jack Avina in the 80s, but now are starting a comeback, under outstanding coach Eric Reveno.
Reveno has done such a great job, that when there were many stories coming out following the last basketball season that Mike Brey might leave Notre Dame, you can bet the Irish would have taken a long look at Reveno to replace Brey. (Notre Dame and Portland have a long history in many areas).
The Chiles Center is also part of a great trivia question. What famous person opened Chiles Center in 1984, after the Pilots moved out of their longtime home court, Howard Hall? None other than President Ronald Reagan. Try that one on your friends.
As we approach the start of the NBA finals a famous Pilot graduate will be heavily involved. Erik Spoelstra coach of the Miami Heat, was an outstanding basketball player for the Pilots and in 1989 was named WCC freshman of the year.
When I got to thinking about the Spoelstra being connected to the Portland Pilots it also got me thinking about some other people who have played basketball for the Pilots, who might be forgotten, but had some pretty good careers in sports after leaving the tiny North Portland, Oregon school.
Ray Scott--- No not the famous Packers broacaster, Ray Scott the basketbal player who had a good 11 year pro career in the NBA, mainly with the Detroit Pistons. Scott was so loved in Detroit, after his playing career he was hired as their head coach and in 1974 was named NBA coach of the year. Popularity in coaching does not last long sometimes, he was let go in 1976 and replaced by none other than Dick Vitale.
Cincy Powell---An outstanding player for the Pilots who had a 10 year career in the American Basketball Association with the Dallas Chaparrals. Over his professional career Powell averaged double figures in both points and rebounds, in what is now commonly referred to as the double-double. You have to be good to accomplish a double-double standard.
Darwin Cook--Played in the NBA from 1980-89, most of the years with New Jersey Nets and for years was a starter with them. Known for his sharp passing and and tenacious defense, Cook was one of the best college basketball players ever on the west coast.
Gary Vitti--Gary who? Had to put him in the mix, no he did not play for the Pilots, he was instead their trainer in the early 80s. In 1986, he left the Pilots to become the head trainer of a team you might have heard of, the Los Angeles Lakers. Vitti just completed his 26th year with the Lakers.
Pat Casey--- While Casey did play on the hardwoods for the Pilots, after graduating he went the coaching route, but in his first love, baseball. Obviously he made a good choice, in 2006 and 2007, Casey's Oregon State Beavers won back to back NCAA baseball championships, one of the greatest sports fetes ever in the state of Oregon and in the history of NCAA baseball.
William Garner----After a great basketball career for the Pilots, Garner was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1968, did not make the team, but did play two years for the Anaheim Amigos of the ABA. Upon leaving the Amigos, Garner found success with the Harlem Globetrotters, where he was dubbed, Bill "The Orbit" Garner for his tremendous leaping ability. Very few players can claim to be a star with the Globetrotters.
The Portland Pilots are a small school, which has gained its athletic fame from its women's soccer teams, but as you can see has had some pretty good success with its basketball program as well.
I hope once again you enjoyed a little bit of west coast college basketball history.
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