It’s hard, but it’s fair: Demons remember coach Wayne Yates

Former Northwestern State men’s basketball coach Wayne Yates passed away earlier this month at age 84.

Yates’ family will hold a private memorial for the internment of his ashes after Yates succumbed to a lengthy battle with cancer.

An All-American at Memphis and a 1961 first-round NBA Draft selection of the Los Angeles Lakers, Yates inherited a five-win NSU team and turned it into a 19-win squad two years later. He coached a pair of NBA Draft picks with the Demons – Wayne Waggoner (Dallas, 6th round, 1982) and Johnny Martin (Dallas, 4th round, 1983).

Waggoner is an N-Club Hall of Famer who credited Yates with opening the door for Waggoner’s NBA career as well as bringing Waggoner back to Northwestern State as an assistant coach after his playing career ended.

“After the season, there was a tournament called the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Virginia,” Waggoner said. “He said, ‘Wayne, you’re good enough to play professionally at the next level – whether that’s in the NBA or overseas.’ He made a phone call and told me, ‘You’ll get an invitation to the Portsmouth Invitational.’ I went and led my team in scoring for two games and got on the map really quickly.

“He was responsible for that. After I got cut, he called me the next day to offer me the assistant job at Northwestern State. I wish he could have known and been more certain about how I felt about what he did for me.”

Following his five-season Demon career, which was highlighted by a 19-9 mark in Waggoner’s senior season of 1981-82, Yates remained in the area, coaching football and basketball at Montgomery High School and basketball at Northwood High School in Lena.

While with the Gators, his connection with Northwestern State grew deeper after Clifton Lee signed with the Demons and became an N-Club Hall of Fame performer, including playing a leading role in the Demons’ 2006 NCAA Tournament upset of third-seeded Iowa.

Lee played three seasons for Yates, earning All-CENLA honors as a senior. He credited the 6-foot-9 Yates with “lighting a competitive fire” inside him and his prep teammates.

“Coach Yates was something,” said Lee, the 2006 Southland Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player. “We had athletic PE in seventh period, and he’d bring his shorts and shoes and play with us. He didn’t hold any punches back either. He’d catch you with a nice elbow to the chest. He made you play hard.

“He was a coach who did everything. He dusted the floors. He had his CDL. He’d drive the buses to games. He did everything.”

That included instilling off-the-court values that dovetailed with those he taught on the court.

According to Waggoner, one of Yates’ mantras at Northwestern State was, “It’s hard, but it’s fair.” Moving from college hoops to the prep game did not change Yates’ outlook.

“He always preached that,” Lee said. “He always said playing basketball was a privilege. If we didn’t take care of our business in the classroom, there was no place for us on the floor. He also told us, ‘If you want it, go out and take it.’ He didn’t want us to leave it up to the refs or to anyone else in our life.”

Graphic by Jason Pugh/NSU Sports Information