Stories You Should Know: Wayne Estes

It was February 6th, 1965 and it was snowing on Utah’s Wasatch Front. Wayne Estes had just scored 37 points in the Utah State Aggies 89-80 loss to BYU. But something else was on the 6’6” basketball phenom’s mind as he left the arena of their arch-rival. He sought out the love of his life, the tall, brunette from Burley, Idaho, Paula (Bandy) DeJoshua. For the 13th, and final time, he proposed marriage. They had met as freshman three years earlier. Their on again, off again romance was complicated by religious differences. He was raised in Anaconda, Montana in an Episcopalian family. She was a Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These difference resulted in 12 different proposals on his end and 12 failures in securing their union. 

Paula had instigated Wayne’s actions on this night by sending him a 12-page letter that week, announcing her feelings for him, and asking for help in navigating their impasse. This seemed to be their last go at saving their relationship. He had called her and asked her to attend the BYU game and meet with him after the game. 

Five months earlier he had called off their August 1964 wedding due to family pressure. She, heartbroken, had transferred from Utah State to BYU that fall. This February meeting was their first since then. 

“I’ve decided everything’s going to be OK,” he assured her that night. The proposal was made and accepted.

Confident in a blissful future, he turned his attention back to basketball. He had been assured that the Los Angeles Lakers were going to select him with their #1 pick (6th overall) in the upcoming NBA Draft. He now had his professional future secured as well as his personal when he entered Utah State’s George Nelson Fieldhouse two nights later for the Aggies’ February 8th contest with the University of Denver. 

Estes was already a legend in the college town of Logan, Utah. He had been a 4-sport star in high school in Montana, and had won the hearts of his LDS neighbors in Cache Valley. 

Wayne was informed before the game that he was 47 points shy of 2,000 for his college career. He already had accumulated more points than any other college player in Utah history. He was the second leading scorer in college basketball that year, trailing only Miami’s sensational Rick Barry. He was averaging more than 33 points a game, and just under 12 rebounds. 

48 points didn’t seem out of reach for the USU legend. He had tallied more than 40 points six times during the season, with a school record of 52 in a 2-point loss to Boston College in December.

5,000 fans jammed USU’s tiny Nelson Fieldhouse to see Estes at his finest. But it didn’t start out spectacular at all. Wayne complained early that he had no feeling in his arms, and missed his first three shots. He asked his coach, Ladell Andersen, to remove him from the game, but Andersen didn’t. “Just keep shooting,” his coach said.  

Estes did just that, and he was lights out. By halftime he had 24 points, and by the 10 minute mark of the second half he was at 40. When he scored his 48th point with 4:44 left in the game Andersen called time-out. The outcome of the game was no longer in doubt, but Andersen wanted Wayne to acknowledge the fans. The modest Estes wanted none of the glory. When the game ended his teammates put him on their shoulders and marched him off the court to the delight of the Aggie partisans.

After doing a post-game interview and signing autographs, he called Paula in Provo; “Paula, somebody else was putting those balls through the hoop tonight. It wasn’t me.”  

Wayne and two teammates, Delano Lyons and Tim Smith, drove to their favorite pizza place, Fredricos after the game to talk about their exploits on the court. Afterwards they headed home, passing an automobile accident on the way. A car had hit a power pole and was mangled around the pole. It was a bad accident. The young men stopped the car to investigate.

It was late and dark when Lyons noticed a dangling wire. He was 6’2’’, so he easily ducked under it, and whirled around to warn his 6’6’’ buddy. It was too late. Wayne Estes’ forehead hit the wire. 2,300 volts raced through Wayne’s body.  He instinctively reached up, but it was too late, his entire body was smoking. Lyons was propelled across the street by the force of the shock. It was 10:55 PM and Wayne Estes was dead.

After his death Wayne Estes would be selected as a first team All-American. The rest of the first team consisted of  Miami’s Rick Barry (HOF), Bill Bradley (HOF) of Princeton, Gail Goodrich (HOF) of National Champion UCLA, and Cazzie Russell of National runner-up Michigan. Three of the other four selections would later be honored by the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. His #33 has been permanently retired by Utah State. Still today he is the #3 scorer in Utah State Aggie history behind Jaycee Carroll (2005-2008), and Greg Grant (1983-1986). Both of them had four season careers at USU, while Wayne had less than three. His 893 career rebounds places him 4th on the all time list, and his 26.7 points per game is still #1 in Aggie history, while his 11.9 rebounds per game place him 3rd. His 52 points against Boston College is still a record. 

His legend is so great that in 2013 Utah State University named their $9.7 million, 32,000 square-foot basketball practice facility and volleyball competitive venue the Wayne Estes Center. A final tribute to the soul of Utah State’s most inspirational athlete. 

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