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For years, the spot where Wayne Estes launched the last shot of his life was stuffed in a closet.
Jim Laub knew former Utah State coach and athletic director Ladell Andersen had saved that section of the old George Nelson Fieldhouse court, and he wondered what happened to it. When a USU staff member told him of the discovery in the Spectrum, Laub was thrilled.
The square of hardwood now is prominently displayed in an adjacent building that symbolizes Laub's quest to preserve Estes' legacy. In the 50 years that have followed Estes' death on Feb. 8, 1965 the night when the 6-foot-6 forward scored his 2,001st career point for the Aggies Laub encountered too many fans who were unaware of Estes. Eric Laub knows better. The teenage son of USU's longtime benefactor has heard all the Estes stories. He suggested the name of the school's new facility for basketball practice and volleyball competition: the Wayne Estes Center.
So an athlete who created some of Jim Laub's best childhood memories lives on in Logan. Estes' basketball exploits are legendary, and the circumstances of how he died remain eerie. Yet this is what everybody associated with Estes wants you to know, above all: He was a good guy.
That's why the news of Estes' walking into a sagging power line at the scene of an hours-old auto accident was so overwhelming to the campus and community. Students liked him, children idolized him, teammates enjoyed being around him and he was approachable to everyone, in an era when college athletes lacked a sense of entitlement.
Especially a lightly recruited player from the mining town of Anaconda, Montana.
"Not pretentious at all," said Del Lyons, his teammate and roommate, labeling Estes "a magnet to little kids."
Estes was known to stop and chat as he walked across the playground of the on-campus Edith Bowen Laboratory School, where Laub attended, and he responded to letters from young fans. As Estes watched USU's freshman team play the night of his last game, Laub, then 14, got his autograph.
In his good-natured manner, Estes created nicknames for his teammates. Phil Johnson became "Philsey;" other monikers seemingly had no logical connection. Estes was "just a happy-go-lucky guy," Johnson said, "a normal college student, having fun."
Estes arrived in Logan in summer 1961, during USU football's glorious Merlin Olsen era. In his sophomore and junior years (freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition), Estes powered the Aggies to NCAA tournament success by averaging 20 and 28.3 points, respectively.
USU's talent level dropped off in his senior season as the team relied more on Estes, who averaged 33.7 points. In a December tournament in Hawaii, Estes poured in a school-record 52 points in a loss to Boston College coached by Bob Cousy, who marveled about him.
The Aggies had lost six straight games entering a Monday game vs. Denver. Estes started slowly, missing some shots badly after citing the numbness in his arms. And then he started making everything. By halftime, he had scored 24 points.
With about five minutes remaining and the Aggies comfortably ahead, Estes took a pass from Hal Hale in the right corner, dribbled once and delivered a 20-foot shot that gave him a Fieldhouse record of 48 points for the game and 2,001 for his career. As the visiting Pioneers brought the ball downcourt, officials stopped the game and Estes' achievement was recognized.
A couple of hours later, he was dead. In the years that followed, so many versions of the incident were told that Lyons once said, "I've wondered if I was there or not."
He was there, with two other friends who joined Estes for late-night pizza. Having previously passed the accident scene at 400 North and 700 East, at the southwest entrance to the campus, they stopped on their way home, curious about the car wrapped around a light pole.
As they returned to their own car, Lyons ducked under the power line and turned back to warn Estes, who brushed it with his forehead and then instinctively tried to swat it away. He could not be revived.
USU canceled a home basketball game, scheduled five days later, in addition to swim meets and wrestling matches. Memorial services were held in Anaconda and Logan, with mourners packing the Fieldhouse to hear tributes, including Estes' being declared a 1965 All-American by The Associated Press.
Fans and teammates including Johnson, who became a longtime NBA coach will always wonder how Estes would have performed in pro basketball. "I've never seen as good a shooter as Wayne Estes," Andersen said in 2002 documentary produced by Jim Godfrey as a USU master's thesis.
"The best shooter I have ever seen," Lyons said. "Nobody's ever going to convince me differently."
The film clip of the last shot is part of the presentation in the Wayne Estes Center lobby. The $9.7 million, 32,000-square-feet facility is "breathtaking, when you walk in," Mia Estes said.
The legend's niece is a USU javelin thrower. She grew up in Anaconda as a daughter of Ron Estes, who was born 10 years after Wayne. "I was scared to come here because of how well he did," she said. "I didn't want to let anybody down. My dad told me not to think like that, just to go where my heart feels right."
An alumni reunion on March 7 will bring back players from Estes' teams and the 17-year Stew Morrill era for the retiring coach's last scheduled home game.
Last May, Ron Estes and his family attended the Wayne Estes Center's dedication. Wayne's brother "lit up and he cried and he was happy," Mia Estes said. "I've never seen him that happy. It was really touching."
That's a good word for her uncle's legacy. In a director's cut of his documentary, Godfrey said, "I hope [viewers] sense how dramatic of an effect that one person can have on a lot of people's lives."
Jim Laub never will forget Wayne Estes, and he's well on his way to making sure he's not the only one.
Utah State's gold standard
Utah State basketball records held by Wayne Estes:
Career scoring average: 26.7.
Career free throws made: 469.
Consecutive double-figures games: 64.
Season points: 821.
Season scoring average: 33.7.
Points in a game: 52.
Rebounds in a game: 28.
USU's career scoring list
Player, years Games Points
Jaycee Carroll, 2004-08 134 2,522
Greg Grant, 1982-86 115 2,127
Wayne Estes, 1962-65 75 2,001