Vin Yokabaskas

Year: 1949 - 1952
Position: Center
Hometown: Bloomfield, CT

Vin “Yogie” Yokabaskas was the first UConn basketball player to score 1,000 points. He is No. 3 on the list of foul shots made. He’s No. 22 on the all time scoring list and a member of the UConn Basketball All Century Team. Vin has all the scoring records from Bloomfield High School and it’s been over 60 years since he averaged 31 points per game there. In November of 2003, I visited with Yogie for an evening at his winter home in Simsbury, CT.

Vin and I went back in time as he shared many memorable basketball days. He brought his scrapbooks out and he remembered each article and game like they were yesterday. The scrapbooks began with a picture of the team he played with at UConn, Ed Yates, Billy Clark, Burr Carlson, Ed Liptak and Yogie were the starting five in 1951. There was an article about an important game, “CT Upsets Villanova”. Villanova was rated one of the top ten in the country. Villanova had two All Americans on their team. Yogie was the high scorer of that game with 27 points. “It was a big upset,” he told me. There was a “Yogie Night” held in honor of him. Coaches wrote in and told different things about Vin and he was presented with a scroll of about 1,000 signatures congratulating him. It was the night of a game against Rhode Island and he showed me a copy of the program for “Yokabaskas Night.”

Vin also won the “Red O’Neil Award” which is given to someone that distinguishes himself in life afterwards. After scoring 1,000 points, he received a congratulations letter from Bob Steele (a famous CT radio personality). Of note, in three years on a varsity team, Yogie scored 1,275 points. Back then they didn’t count your freshman year statistics, but he scored over 400 points as a freshman too. He told me Coach Greer would take him out of the game by the third quarter because he would have 20-25 points and the coach didn’t want to rub it into the other teams. There was a program from the first ever UConn National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament appearance in his scrapbook. It was 1951 University of Connecticut against St. Johns and the cost was a quarter, that’s right 25 cents. After going through his scrapbooks, Vin told me that he should probably bring some of his memorabilia to UConn for their athletic museum that recently opened. He certainly has a lot of memorabilia.

Vin started playing basketball when he was in the 6th grade at a church hall across the street from his house. He practiced by himself when the Christ of King Midgets team wasn’t there. The team was a “clique” back then and Vin wasn’t in the “clique” so he wasn’t allowed to play on the team. The kids had been playing together for a while and they were the “stars”. “When we got to high school, I was so much better than these guys it was ridiculous”, he said. Vin became the star of the high school team. He was a starter and the midget team members were sitting on the sidelines watching.

“I had received lots of letters from lots of schools so I could have gone to an awful lot of colleges, probably any school in New England as well as others”. Head basketball Coach Hugh Greer at UConn who used to coach at South Windsor (a school Vin’s high school team used to play against), had been writing Vin letters and had come to see him play in high school. “Coach Greer said to me, ‘I’d like you to come to UConn when you graduate high school.’ My sister had also gone to the University of Connecticut so when I graduated, I chose to go to UConn.”

During college Vin was also a member of the armed forces ROTC. After four years at school, he was short three credits from graduating so before going to the service, he accepted a job at Hamilton Standard as a buyer for one year and went to a UConn branch to get his three credits and graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree in Business. After college he was going to have to fulfill his time in the service of 30 months. This meant he had to go to the Korean War.

After college the Syracuse Nationals and the Boston Celtics, two National Basketball Association teams had written to him inviting him to try out for the NBA draft. In those days the NBA only had a few teams and it was harder to make the teams compared to today. Vin also received his order to report to Fort Benning Georgia to begin his 30-month obligation in the service. After reporting to Fort Benning, Georgia, he then received orders to go to California, then on to Korea. “What happened was, my father had a heart attack. The Red Cross got in touch with me and shipped me home for 30 days. My dad passed away, I went back to the service and this time my orders were for Fort Dix, New Jersey. When I got there General Royan was the general. He was a UConn graduate. I was made Special Service Officer and stayed the rest of my ROTC career at Fort Dix, New Jersey. We played lots of basketball. We won all the championships and traveled around a lot. It was a great life for 30 months.”

When his term in the armed forces was finished, he came home and worked at Hamilton Standard for three years, left there and went to Kaman Aircraft for a year as a buyer. He left there to go to an East Granby manufacturing company and was the Public Relations and Sales Manager for the next 32 years. Yogie was busy, he also bought a “plating” company with a partner, got into a real estate business where he built several homes, bought a mill factory and rented space for many, many years and owns some buildings of some well known businesses in Simsbury. He is now retired from the managerial job and his plating company, but is still very busy with the real estate he owns. He enjoys spending the winters here in CT where he still goes to many UConn men’s basketball games and his summers are spent at his beautiful home at Cape Cod in Eastham where he has built a home and lighthouse on his property. He still shoots hoops with his kids and grandkids at his house.

Comparing basketball from when he played to now, Yogie says the competition is tougher today than when he played. “Basketball is played above the hoop all the time and when we played, very seldom did someone go above the hoop and dunk a ball. Some of these athletes today are super. We had some fellas that could probably play today, but not a lot of them”.

Yogie’s most memorable moment in a UConn uniform was playing in the NCAA tournament in 1951. “It was a big deal to play in the tournament especially at Madison Square Garden. In those days there would be 18,000 people there” he told me. What he remembers most about school was that “I was always the smartest of the dumbest group” he laughed.

His response to what the current UConn team needs to do to get to the Final Four was “I think their schedule is weak. They’ll probably go undefeated. The new Big East is going to be much, much better. The Big East is going to be the strongest conference in the country. We are going to see some great games against Louisville, Marquette and Cincinnati, three excellent teams,” he said.

Yogie’s prediction is that both UConn teams will go to the Final Four in 2004. He thinks the women are going to win. The boys have to be lucky, so lucky. He talked about the UConn men’s team that won the National Championship in 1999. He said, “They really did shock the world” and he feels sort of sorry for Ricky Moore because he thought Ricky was the whole key to that team and he never got enough credit. “Ricky took the toughest players all the time to defend. He really sparked the team in that tournament in the finals.”

Vin has known his wife since high school and has been married for 51 years “I went to University of CT and I’m glad I did. I stayed close to home. I chose not to go to the pros but there were many doors that were opened in the business world for me.” He said having stayed close to home and going to UConn, he had it made. When he finished college everywhere he went he was welcomed. People would tell him how they saw him play or listened to his games on the radio. “It was just unbelievable. You have to work hard but it’s a lot easier when you have all these people that know you. My basketball life was great. I met so many people and now people still come up to me and acknowledge me.” He said he’s had the best life in the world and it’s still good. “Life has been really good to me and it’s because of the University of Connecticut.”