Tyler Uschan’s first impression of Dick Yates came as a youngster spending days shooting baskets in his driveway at 20 South Ringold St. in Janesville.
Yates was the Uschan family’s next-door neighbor.
“I thought he was just an old guy that lived next door,” Uschan said. “He was always interested in what I was doing sports-wise.”
It wasn’t until a few years later that Uschan discovered the “old guy” next door knew a thing or two about shooting hoops.
Yates had been a three-year starter on the then Janesville High School basketball team coached by Bob Krueger in the late 1950s.
The Bluebirds made it to the sectional finals all three of those seasons. They were denied a trip to the state tournament all three years. Janesville lost by two points in overtime to Fort Atkinson in the sectional semifinal in Yates’ sophomore season and by 19 points to Madison East his junior year.
In Yates’ senior season, he averaged 15.8 points a game on a team that got up and down the floor. In the sectional final against rising powerhouse Milwaukee Lincoln in the Janesville High gymnasium packed with 3,000 fans, Yates scored 26 points.
Lincoln, which had defeated the Pat Richter-led Madison East team in the sectional semifinals the night before, prevailed 84-78 and went on to win the state title. It was the Comets’ first of five state championships in the next nine seasons.
Richter, by the way, finished his high school basketball career by scoring 50 points against Cuba City in the sectional third-place game in the Janesville High gym.
Yates concluded his high school career with 827 points. He was a unanimous all-Big Eight Conference selection as a senior. Janesville was 47-22 in his three seasons.
His play earned him an honorable mention spot on the all-time Janesville basketball team that Mark Miller put together last fall. Miller has covered state high school basketball for 30 years and puts together the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook each fall.
Local basketball fans know the names of Miller’s all-city team. Robb Logterman, Bob Luchsinger, Ben Berlowski, Ross Kingsley and Tim Paterick comprised the first team.
The second five were John Bobzien, Chris Weber, Pat Schloemer, Jim Jackson and Aubrey Lewis-Byers.
Yates was on the 16-player honorable mention list, which included six Janesville High players.
Yates was listed as a 6-footer and was skinny—but the guy had hops.
In his preview of the Lincoln-Janesville game, then Gazette sports editor George Raubacher wrote, “Lincoln does not have a real tall man, but all of the Comets are pogo stick jumpers like Janesville’s Dick Yates.”
Bob Suter, the longtime Craig coach, is a couple of years older than Yates.
“He had more spring in his legs than any kid I’ve seen,” Suter said.
And that led to a jump shot that still gets a rise out of the longtime basketball coach.
“He had one of the best shots from the corner,” Suter said. “While it was one of the best shots ever, it was the flattest shot I’ve ever seen. I’m telling you, after he released it, it went straight on a line, level with the floor until it hit the rim and then down.
“It was unbelievable,” Suter said. “I will never forget that. I have never seen anything like it before or since.”
Yates also was a standout baseball player. He earned the Gazette’s Silver Slugger award, and Janesville High’s American Legion award as the best senior athlete and was later drafted by the Milwaukee Braves.
Uschan had no idea of any of that. Then one day, Yates invited him into his house to show him his scrapbooks.
“He showed me all the things he did, and how he got drafted by the Braves,” Uschan said. “It was crazy. I had no idea. He was pretty quiet. When I was older, we’d talk about the Packers and Badgers.”
There was a new bond after that. Danny Saunders, a Craig graduate who joined Yates on Miller’s all-time city basketball honorable mention list and provides commentary on WCLO’s basketball broadcasts, grew up on the other side of Yates at 28 South Ringold.
“Dick thought that was pretty cool,” Uschan said of the athletic block of South Ringold. “He said it must be the water or something.”
And when Uschan started playing sports at Craig High—he still holds the school single-game receiving record with 13 catches for 299 yards against Madison Memorial his senior season in 2007—he could count on seeing his neighbor in the stands.
“He was at every one of my games,” Uschan said.
Uschan went on to play Division II football.
Yates continued to attend high school events. He was a regular fixture at Craig basketball and baseball games, and any interesting area games.
Yates was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. During the past few months, Uschan’s parents—Dan and Tammy—looked after their next-door neighbor.
If Tyler was shoveling or snowblowing his parents’ driveway, he would make sure to do Yates’ driveway as well.
For the past few years, Tyler would take his children to the Yates residence on Halloween.
Dick Yates died in his home Jan. 31 at the age of 80.
Janesville got hit with a snowstorm that started the previous night.
Tyler cleared the Yates driveway early the next day.
It turned out to be Tyler’s final act of kindness for the “old guy that lived next door” who turned out to be one of his best friends.