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Former Fresno State Basketball Coach Gary Colson Dies at 89
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By Associated Press
Published 6 months ago on
November 6, 2023

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LOS ANGELES — Gary Colson, who successfully lobbied to introduce the 3-point shot to college basketball during a 34-year coaching career that included stops at Fresno State, New Mexico and Pepperdine, died Friday. He was 89.

He died of complications of lymphoma at home in Santa Barbara, California, said friend Bob Rose, who was informed by Colson’s wife.

Colson had a career win-loss record of 563-385 that included 10 seasons at Division II Valdosta State in Georgia, beginning at age 24.

Colson was a member of the NCAA Rules Committee in 1986 when he sought a straw vote from the members to see who was in favor of adding the 3-point shot. He said he was discouraged by such colleagues as Norm Stewart, Digger Phelps, Gerald Myers and Gene Bartow from bringing up a vote.

However, Colson went ahead, and the proposal passed. He also served on the NCAA Officiating Committee.

In its first year, the 3-point shot — then 19 feet, 9 inches — was rarely used. It has evolved over the years to its current distance of 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches and is hugely influential in games.

Colson coached future Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson and Luc Longley, who won three NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls.

Colson Preceded Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State

He preceded Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State, Dave Bliss at New Mexico and Jim Harrick at Pepperdine.

Colson went 76-73 at Fresno State from 1990-95. He was 146-106 at New Mexico from 1980-88 and was 153-137 at Pepperdine from 1968-79.

He began his head coaching career at Valdosta State, where he was 188-69 from 1958-68 and took the school to two appearances in the NAIA national tournament as well as winning seven Georgia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles.

At Pepperdine, he guided the small Christian school to the 1976 West Coast Athletic Conference title, beating a San Francisco team that included Bill Cartwright in the season’s final game. The Waves earned two NCAA Tournament berths during his tenure. He was the league’s coach of the year in 1976 and was elected to the school’s athletic hall of fame in 1996.

Colson also served as athletic director at Pepperdine from 1971-75.

“Coach Colson put Pepperdine men’s basketball on the national college basketball map,” current athletic director Steve Potts said. “He was a true scholar of the game and his coaching legacy extends far and wide.”

He left Pepperdine in 1980 to take over at New Mexico, which was reeling after a gambling scandal that resulted in the firing of Norm Ellenberger and the program being placed on NCAA probation for three years.

After probation ended in 1983, the Lobos averaged 21 wins over the next five seasons, qualifying for the NIT each of those years. In his final season, his team went 22-14 and beat No. 1 Arizona. Colson was the Western Athletic Conference coach of the year in 1984.

Born in Logansport, Indiana, Colson graduated from David Lipscomb in 1956 and earned a master’s in education at Vanderbilt in 1958. He was an all-conference player at Lipscomb and was named the Volunteer State Athletic Conference MVP as a senior. He is in the school’s hall of fame.

He later worked as assistant to the president of the Memphis Grizzlies and scouted for his longtime friend, Hall of Famer Jerry West.

Colson authored the books “California Basketball” and “New Mexico Basketball — The System” about the fundamentals of the game.

He traveled to Japan in 2012 and 2013 to give clinics to young players.

He is survived by wife Mary Katherine, sons Rick and Wade, daughter Garianne, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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