‘Basketball Jones’ Founder Gene Cotter Fondly Remembered

A buddy that you’ve had since childhood, it could be argued, is the best and purest type of friend.
Which means that when someone like that dies, particularly if it’s sudden, the hurt is deep.
“I never expected to lose Geno,” Rio Anderson shared last week, speaking haltingly as he struggled to keep his emotions in check. “I just counted on him being [around]. Losing him is hard to swallow.”
Anderson, owner of Chautauqua Natural Foods in Garberville, said those words last Friday as he was driving to a memorial service for his friend Gene Cotter, a South Fork High basketball standout in the late 1980s and early 1990s who was killed on July 11 in a car crash in the Hollister, Calif, area south of San Jose.
Cotter, who lived in Hollister, was founder and owner of the popular Basketball Jones Hoop Camps. He leaves behind his wife Tiffany, his 11-year-old daughter Bailey and his 9-year-old son Brody. He was 44.
To hear Rio’s mother Peg Anderson tell it, her son and Cotter, along with a few other cohorts, were “scamps” when they were kids growing up in Redway. “They were all over the neighborhood getting in and out of trouble,” Peg Anderson recalled. Cotter, in particular, was “a live wire, always joking and laughing.”
Anderson, for his part, agreed that Cotter was “an extrovert.” He said he was also “unique” in that no one seemed to ever have a bad word to say about him.
“Everyone who met him would always say he was so nice.”
One could take a remark like that with a grain of salt. In circumstances such as this, after all, friends and loved ones tend to focus on the good qualities of the person who has died.
Nonetheless, it’s clear enough that Cotter was a well-loved guy. Some 2,000 people, after all, turned out for a memorial that was held for him in Hollister this past Saturday — at least, that was the estimate provided by his brother, Will Cotter, in an email the next day.
And as of Sunday night, over $56,000 had been donated to a Go Fund Me account set up in his honor — more than $6,000 above the $50,000 goal.
Anderson offered a possible explanation for such popularity. Cotter had an endearing tendency to embellish the accomplishments of his friends.
“He would introduce me to someone and tell them that I had been a four-minute miler,” related Anderson, a star distance runner in high school who actually never broke the four-minute barrier. (His best time was 4 minutes, 6 seconds.)
In that sense, Anderson said Cotter was “a uniter.”
“He loved people so much. He liked to just bring people together.”
 But don’t get the idea that Cotter was all goodness and light. His skills in the athletic realm — in addition to basketball, he also played soccer and ran track and cross country as a high schooler — would often lead him to goad his comrades.
You could call that nasty or arrogant. Or, like Anderson, you could see it as a form of tough love.
“He would make you so mad you would want to beat him up,” Anderson recalled, “He would yell at you and talk s--- to you. But at the end he was your best friend and advocate.”
If it sounds like Cotter was coach material, you’re on the right track. But before getting to that, it’s worth dwelling a bit on his high school basketball career.
Ted Kogon, a former sportswriter with The Independent, recalled that Cotter, a 6-foot guard — when he was fully grown a few years later he stood 6-3 — and another talented teammate, Ricky Mayhew, made for a “dynamic, skilled, electric backcourt.”
“They could both dribble and shoot. It was really razzle-dazzle.”
The varsity squad Cotter’s senior year was so good, Kogon recalled, that “they drew big crowds” to their games. “It was like standing room only,” he said.
That 1990 team not only was a conference champion, it also competed in the North Coast Sectional as well as in the state tournament in Division 5, a level for small schools.
Following that last tournament, Cotter was named to the Div. 5 all-state team.
Ed Cotter, another of Gene’s brothers, recalled one post-season game that year in which Gene scored 30 points despite having been taken to the emergency room the night before due to a high fever. In another important game he made a left-handed hook shot despite being right-handed.
Aside from having a knack for scoring, Cotter had “great” court vision. “He was adept at passing and seeing teammates. He was a good ball handler,” Ed Cotter said.
At the collegiate level, Cotter played a couple of years for College of the Redwoods. He also played for Holy Names University, a private Catholic school in Oakland, Calif., that he attended on an athletic scholarship. But he never enjoyed the success he had had in high school.
His first coaching gig was back in SoHum in the late 1990s, when he led the Miranda Mustangs, an eighth-grade boy’s squad. He was also the girls’ varsity basketball coach at his old alma mater, South Fork, in the 1998-1999 season.
He also did a stint as an assistant coach at the collegiate level.
He left Southern Humboldt sometime around 2000, by which time he had a growing business — the Basketball Jones Hoop Camps. According to Will Cotter, who to this day handles the business side of the operation, the camps, which routinely sell out, are aimed at the 6-to-16-year-old age group.
“If you were 6 years old, he would make them have fun and learn. If you were a serious high school player, he would push them,” Will Cotter explained.
In the early days, the concern’s headquarters was a basketball-orange van with a hoop attached to the back. “We could park somewhere, bring the hoop down and play half-court whenever we wanted to,” related Will Cotter, who said that the camps themselves took place in gyms.
That’s still the case today, although instead of just one to three weeklong camps per summer, many of which took place in North Coast locales such as Eureka, Fort Bragg and Ukiah, there are now typically 12 to 14 concentrated for the most part south of the Bay Area. In recent years Cotter had more people helping him with the coaching duties than he used to. The majority, according to Will Cotter, were and are “current and former college players.”
One of the coaches, for what it’s worth, was at one time a personal trainer for Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors’ megastar. In terms of distinguished students, known as “campers,” Will Cotter pointed to Jabari Brown, a college star with the University of Missouri who went on to play professional ball in the NBA Development League, the NBA’s official minor league organization.
The sixth camp of the summer had just finished and a seventh one, in Rolling Hills, a community south of San Jose, had just begun when Cotter died. It was not cancelled. Nor are there plans to cancel the remaining camps, one of which is taking place in Eureka.
“I went to the camp yesterday and the energy of the coaches and the kids was insane,” Will Cotter, speaking on Friday, related. “When the coaches found out [about Cotter’s death] on Tuesday morning, they decided they needed to suck it up and be there for the kids. Geno would have been pissed if they had cancelled.”
In terms of local ways to honor Cotter, a celebration of life is taking place at the Beginnings Octagon in Briceland this Saturday. A potluck affair, it is scheduled to start at 2 p.m.
Anderson has floated the idea of resurfacing the basketball courts at Redway Elementary as a way “to pay homage to Gene.”
“It was his kingdom when he was little. He ruled that court. He created himself there,” Anderson explained.
School Board President Dennis O’Sullivan, meantime, indicated in an email last Friday that Cotter’s death has given added impetus to a proposal made in June to dedicate “school property in honor of members of the greater school community.”
“If this policy is developed and adopted then an additional item would be the consideration of [a] request to name the Redway gym after Gene,” O’Sullivan said.
While bestowing such honors on Cotter’s memory will no doubt make those who knew Cotter feel better on some level, Anderson knows that nothing can change the fact that his longtime friend is gone.
“He did all the right things. He was an amazing father. He was entrepreneurially successful. It’s heavily tragic.”