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Wildcat basketball turns 100

Nick Reddy

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Award shelf in front of the Chico State men's Basketball team office inside Acker Gym, December 12, 2014. Photo credit: John Domogma

Coming off its best season in history, the Chico State men’s basketball team has another reason to shoot for a return to the NCAA Elite Eight this year: The 2014-2015 season marks the 100th year in the program’s existence.

“This season is a celebration of one of the longest running college basketball programs on the west coast. There is so much history in this program and it is exciting for me to be part of it,” said seventh-year head coach Greg Clink.

The Chico State athletic department will be putting on a season-long celebration for the team’s centennial season. A special end-of-season alumni function will take place prior to the ‘Cats last regular season home game on Feb. 28.

According to Clink, the athletic department is also in the process of selecting an all-century team recognizing some of the program’s top players of the past.

One player who is a guaranteed selection to the all-century squad is George Maderos. A four-sport athlete from 1951-1955, Maderos remains the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,377 points scored and a 20.85 point-per-game average, records that have stood for 59 years. Adding to the significance of Maderos’ scoring prowess is that he put up those spectacular stats without the benefit of the three-point shot, which did not exist when he played.

Basketball may not have even been his best sport, as Maderos went on to play two years of professional football with the San Francisco 49ers before becoming the head coach of Chico State’s football team.

“George is obviously the greatest athlete to ever don a Chico State uniform. I have had the pleasure of getting to know George and he is such a humble man. He accomplished so much and as far as his scoring record for basketball, I don’t think it will ever be touched,” Clink said of the Chico State Sports Hall of Fame inductee.

As the only former player to return as a head coach in the team’s ten-decade history, Clink’s path to leading the ‘Cats was not the traditional one. He knew as a sophomore in junior college where he wanted to play the rest of his collegiate career, and that was Chico State.

“My parents and I drove to San Francisco State and Cal State Stanislaus during my sophomore year to watch Chico State play,” Clink said.

Clink was not recruited to play for the ‘Cats, but he took matters into his own hands.

“I called Coach (Puck) Smith and came to Chico one Saturday and told him I wanted to try out for the team,” Clink said.

Clink played for Chico State from 1992-1994.

“Playing for Puck Smith was one of the greatest experiences of my life. He is such a tremendous person and one of my best friends now. I learned a lot from him — not just about basketball. I also learned a lot about myself playing for him. He brought out a lot of characteristics in me while I was playing for him,” Clink said.

He and Smith are the only Wildcat coaches who have won Conference Coach of the Year honors.

“To look back on all that 23 years later, now as the head coach of the program, makes me feel very lucky and honored,” Clink said. “I always looked at this job as my dream job and I just have so much pride in this program and university.”

The first collegiate basketball game was played in 1896. Eighteen years later, Kerchival Thomas coached the Chico State’s men’s basketball team in their first season. Thomas led the ‘Cats for four years, before World War I forced the inexperienced program to go on hiatus from 1917-1919.

Six head coaches make up 93 years of the program’s history with the other seven years being split amongst another half dozen coaches. Smith coached the ‘Cats for 21 seasons, second in program history behind Art Acker, the namesake of the Wildcats’ home court.

Acker guided the team for 24 years starting in the 1920s, through the Great Depression and up until two years after World War II. He is the winningest coach in program history with 334 victories.

Entering their 100th season, the Wildcats have amassed 1,304 wins and 1,134 loses, for a respectable .535 overall winning percentage. The ‘Cats always seemed to up their play against conference foes, posting a .543 winning percentage.

Chico State has been a member of four conferences in its 100 years of existence and joined the California Collegiate Athletic Association in 1998. Chico State leads the all-time season series against seven of 11 opponents.

“The program has changed a lot since my time here as a player. We are in a different league, now offer scholarships and play a completely different schedule,” Clink said.

Men’s basketball at Chico State has been through it all, and the program’s future will stay in the hands of Clink.

“I am excited about this year’s team and the potential we have. We have an extremely young and inexperienced group, but they are working hard and have really bought into the philosophy of getting better every day. That makes it rewarding for me to have a group that wants to improve daily,” Clink said.

Nick Reddy can be reached at [email protected] or @NickIsReddy on Twitter.

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Wildcat basketball turns 100