Youree built lasting legacy for ASU men's basketball
By Joe Healey
In the current state of affairs in college sports, all too often the players and coaches that created the foundation of a program can get lost in the shuffle as time passes.
When looking back at the history of ASU men's basketball, a standard-bearer that deserves to be mentioned among the school's all-time greats is Royce Youree, a true Sun Devil pioneer who remains a legendary figure at the collegiate and high school levels in the state of Arizona.
A native of Coalinga, Calif., Youree was brought to Tempe in 1955 by Sun Devil patriarch Bill Kajikawa. By the time Youree's collegiate career concluded in 1958, he had etched his name into the Sun Devil record books by way of his efforts in several unprecedented individual and team accomplishments.
One of Youree's proudest achievements is being an integral figure as a senior forward on ASU's 1957-58 squad, one that he considers a "season of firsts" for the Sun Devils. ASU earned the school's first NCAA Tournament bid following its first Border Conference championship, which came during legendary head coach Ned Wulk's first season at the helm for the Maroon and Gold.
A landmark moment in Youree's career came March 4, 1958, when he connected on a pair of foul shots with three seconds remaining against rival Arizona in the final regular-season game to give the Sun Devils a 78-76 win over the Wildcats. The victory enabled ASU to claim the Border Conference championship in front of 5,100 fans in Tempe, which at the time was the largest crowd to ever witness a basketball game in the state of Arizona.
"They asked me at the time, and I said I thought I would make them," Youree said of the foul shots against Arizona in 1958. "It sounds cocky, but you have to feel that way."
Despite being without two of its key players during the season, the 1957-58 team played with a tough determination -- a quality that can be attributed to Youree to this day.
"I've always been proud of how our team came together despite playing without a full roster," Youree said. "That is the mark of a great team -- to be able to come together when the odds are against you." Being a standard-bearer is a path that Youree followed throughout his ASU career, graduating as a two-time second-team All-Border Conference honoree, the school's career scoring leader and the first Sun Devil to surpass 1,000 points (1,036/13.6 per game). He also boasted ASU's career record of 362 made free throws, a mark that stood for 45 years until surpassed by All-American Ike Diogu during the 2003-04 season -- it was the longest-standing record in Sun Devil men's basketball history until it was broken by Diogu. A multi-talented athlete, Youree spent three years playing minor league baseball after his ASU playing career concluded. He eventually settled in as head boys' basketball coach at Phoenix's Maryvale High School in 1962.
In 1964, Youree moved on to Phoenix East High School, where he began to create an unmatched legacy in Arizona high school basketball for the better part of the following 20 years. Youree compiled a record of 300-156 at East High en route to five state championships (an Arizona 5A record for a head coach which stood for 25 years until 2006) and a sixth state championship game appearance.
Not to be lost in the annals of time, The Arizona Republic ranked five of Youree's teams among the top 15 boys' "Teams of the Century." Included in that group is East's 1980-81 state champion team that was ranked No. 8 nationally and listed as the greatest squad of the 20th century. The Arizona Republic also honored Youree as the "Coach of the Century." Youree's mentoring abilities were put to the test on an international level in 1979, when he coached the United States' Under-20 Team at the Junior Men's World Championships in Brazil. That squad included future NBA stars Eric "Sleepy" Floyd, Sam Perkins, James Worthy and Lafayette "Fat" Lever, who was also starring for the Sun Devils at the time.
"`Fat' is a person I've always been close with," Youree said. "He was our leader and guided us to a perfect 8-0 record and the World Championship in 1979, including a 75-55 victory over Brazil on their home court in the championship round in a very hostile environment in front of a crowd of about 11,000 native fans."
When East High School closed its doors in 1982, Youree continued his coaching career at Mesa Community College as co-coach until 1987. He notched a 126-37 record at MCC, highlighted by a No. 3 national ranking in 1987.
"I'm very proud of the time I spent at East High and MCC," Youree said. "In 13 years at East and five at MCC, we totaled a 427-93 record, which averages to a 24-5 record per season. I was very lucky and very fortunate to have so many incredible players and fine young men that allowed our teams to be so successful."
From 1988-95, Youree shifted gears and coached in the Basketball Congress International (BCI), guiding teams consisting of Arizona's top high school basketball players in competition against top challengers from all across the United States, many of whom went on to enjoy successful college and professional basketball careers.
Youree retired from the Phoenix coaching system in 1995 and accepted a position at the University of San Diego, where he helped mentor the Toreros for the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons. He then became a regional scout for the Atlanta Hawks in 1997, focusing on evaluating collegiate talent in the Pacific-10 Conference.
Following seven seasons scouting for the Hawks, Youree began to do what he continues to this day -- working as a guest coach at camps and for high school and college teams as part of a giant network of distinguished basketball leaders, which he became a part of in Arizona during his more than 40 years as a basketball coach.
Currently, the 71-year-old Youree resides in Chandler, Ariz., with his wife, Bonnie, and is virtually surrounded by family and friends he has established on and off the court.
A lifelong Sun Devil in the truest meaning of the term, Youree avidly follows his alma mater and regularly attends home games, more than a half century removed from his playing days.
"Seeing Coach [Herb] Sendek and the way his players compete reminds me of the teams I played on at ASU," Youree said. "I feel very blessed to be able to have been able to come to ASU, play basketball here and also make a career coaching basketball in Arizona."