The Times West Virginian

Sports

April 28, 2014

FURFARI COLUMN- Joedy Gardner improving with broken neck

MORGANTOWN — Joedy Gardner, a well-known former West Virginia University basketball player and coach, is much improved after having broken his neck in Phoenix, Ariz., several months ago.

“He’s now even permitted to drive his car,” daughter Debrah Gardner reported on Tuesday from the family’s home.

Gardner, a native of Ellwood City, Pa., was a 6-foot guard in high school there when recruited by Fred Schaus. Then that youngster became a starter, with Don Vincent of Shinnston, as arguably one of the best pair of guards WVU ever had.

That combination of playmakers, along with 6-foot-10 center Lloyd Sharrar and forwards Jerry West and Bobby Smith, formed in 1957-58 the most successful quintet in the school’s basketball history.

It finished that 1957-58 regular season ranked No. 1 in the nation with a best-ever 26-1 record. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers then were upset shockingly by Manhattan 89-84 in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Gardner, limited to just three varsity seasons during that era by NCAA requirement, helped Schaus’ teams start an all-time record of 44 consecutive wins in Southern Conference games.

Gardner and the deceased Sharrar, who earned second-team All-America status by The Associated Press, both were recruited in 1955-56 by Schaus. The two had played against each other as schoolboys, 60 miles apart.

Sharrar was a native of Meadville, Pa.

Besides lending helping hands to the 26-2 mark as seniors in 1957-58, both were named team captains as seniors. Sharrar was a 1998 inductee into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.

While Gardner is not a member yet, he recently was taken into the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame.

WVU, 21-9 in 1955-56 and 25-5 in 1956-57, won the Southern Conference regular-season titles all three years. The combined record of 72-16 is impressive, too.

Most memorable to me was the 1957-58 team’s conquest of the Kentucky Invitational Tournament. Ranked No. 8 in the nation at the time, the Mountaineers knocked off the host Wildcats 77-70 on Dec. 21, then snapped defending NCAA champ and No. 1 North Carolina’s 37-game winning streak 75-62 the next night in Lexington, Ky.

West Virginia leaped to No. 1 in both major polls two days later and stayed there.

Can any WVU fans remember a greater one-two punch?

For his three-year career as a Mountaineer, Gardner played in 85 games, averaging 24.1 minutes per outing. The 6-foot, 170-pound guard made 271 field goals in 685 attempts (.369 percent) and cashed 127 of 192 free throws (66.5 percent), for 669 points (8.0 per game).

He also pulled down 185 rebounds and dished out 87 assists.

Gardner, who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, served 10 years in the Marine Corps from 1959-69. He was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. He also played some basketball for his Marine base.

In all, he spent a total of 30 years in collegiate coaching stints. He returned to WVU and served as its head coach of men’s basketball for four years from 1975-78.

While his record was 59-53, Gardner was regarded by many observers as an excellent recruiter. Bob Huggins, the current head men’s coach, was one of his first recruits. He later served as a graduate assistant for Gardner.

Maurice Robinson, a WVU Hall of Famer, was another Gardner protege.

His biggest highlight as his alma mater’s mentor was his 1977 team’s beating favored Notre Dame and legendary coach Digger Phelps by 81-68 on national television in Morgantown. That’s still ranked among the all-time greatest victories.

Joedy and wife Ruth Ann have been married for 56 years. They have three children. Besides Debrah, those are Tammy Gardner and Joedy Jr.

Most of Joedy’s head coaching jobs were in Arizona. Another one was in Scotland, where he guided a team to the equivalent of an NCAA national championship.

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