UCSB is primed for a late-season run in basketball now that the No. 1 Gaucho is off the injured list.
Not senior guard Max Heidegger. We’re talking about senior citizen Dick Powell.
Powell, 81, and younger brother Fred, 80, are believed to be the team’s longest-running fans. Their attendance dates back to the 1950s when UCSB’s home court was the National Guard Armory gymnasium on East Canon Perdido St.
“You had to sit in a balcony on the end of the court,” he recalled. “It wasn’t a real great place to watch basketball.”
The Thunderdome’s new, cushiony, theater seating felt like royal thrones to the Powell brothers as they cheered on the Gauchos during Saturday night’s game against UC Davis.
“It’s been good for my back,” Dick said.
He’d only missed a handful of games since becoming a season-ticket holder nearly 60 years ago. His number of absences nearly doubled this season, however, after he underwent back surgery five days before Christmas.
“I’ve been back for about the last three or four home games,” he said.
UCSB, which lost three of its first four Big West Conference games without Powell, had won five of six entering Saturday’s contest. He was back in time to watch three-straight home wins, including the Gauchos’ 64-61 victory over first-place UC Irvine on Feb. 8.
“That was a good one,” Powell said. “I think they can beat anybody when they play up to their potential. It doesn’t happen as much as you’d wish it would, but that’s basketball.”
Dick, a 1956 graduate of Santa Barbara High, and brother Fred have seen plenty of Gaucho basketball since their own playing days with the Dons. Although he’s unsure of when he saw his first game, he does remember that future Gaucho coach Ralph Barkey — UCSB class of 1958 — was one of the players.
Powell and his brother became season-ticket holders just a few years after Art Gallon took over as UCSB’s coach in 1957.
“He went to our church and I knew his daughter,” he said. “We were really into basketball and played on a couple of City League teams.
“More or less, we just became real enthusiastic Gaucho fans.”
Some of his best early memories include the only visit UCLA ever made to Santa Barbara, during coach John Wooden’s first national championship season of 1964. The Gauchos, who were in their first season of Division 1 basketball as members of the new West Coast Conference, lost to the Bruins at Robertson Gym, 107-76 — their worst loss in an otherwise successful, 18-11 season.
“I remember Gallon saying that the only way we could beat them is if we threw sand onto the court,” Powell said.
He also witnessed Jerry Tarkanian’s early coaching days at Long Beach State, from 1968 to 1973.
“I remember holding up a sign that said, ‘It pays to play at Long Beach State,’” Powell said, referring to the NCAA recruiting violations that occurred during Tarkanian’s watch.
He liked the way Jerry Pimm turned the Gauchos around when he was hired as UCSB’s coach in 1983.
“He took his lumps, too, when he first got here, but he got them headed in the right direction,” he said. “He was a little more deliberate than I preferred — I like it when it’s a little more up-tempo — but he knew his way around basketball.
“He also never did anything to get into trouble with the NCAA.”
Powell was at the Thunderdome the night — 30 years ago to the day next Wednesday — when Pimm’s Gauchos beat eventual national champion UNLV.
“On a good day, they could beat just about anybody in the country,” he said.
He believes the actual turning point of that season came a month earlier. The Gauchos rallied from a deficit that was as large as 18 points — and was still at 11 points with 2½ minutes left —to beat Cal State Fullerton in overtime, 74-66.
“We were way behind and everybody started leaving,” he said. “Somebody (Idris Jones) hit something like three or four three-pointers in a row, and we ended up winning.
“The place was always packed in those days. Back then, the Thunderdome really was the Thunderdome.”
Carrick DeHart, the senior star of that 1990 team, remains one of Powell’s all-time favorite Gauchos.
“He was so poised when he came in as a freshman that you’d swear he’d been there forever,” he said. “He’s a really good guy, too. I met him when he came down to the garage that my brother and I ran.”
The Powell brothers had as much staying power as mechanics as they’ve had as fans. Powell Garage, located at 1327 De La Vina Street, was founded by their grandfather, Arnold, in 1938.
Their father, Everett, took over the business before passing it on to Dick and Fred. The Powell brothers retired at the end of 2004, selling the garage to their long-time employees, brothers Paul and Fred Ledesma.
Dick’s son Steven began coming to the games with his father and uncle when Pimm took over as coach.
“He was about 5 years old, and he’d have to sit in my lap to see over the guy in front of us,” Powell said.
He hopes the electricity inside the Thunderdome can increase to the amperage of those days.
“It’s hard to say if it can because the students these days are more into soccer and things like that,” Powell said. “It does kind of go into cycles.
“But this coach, (Joe) Pasternack, is a really good recruiter and a pretty good coach.”
“He is young,” Powell added, “but then, everybody around here looks young to me now.”
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.