It was a much different era in college basketball when Bloomfield’s Vin Yokabaskas arrived at the University of Connecticut.
As a freshman in 1948-49 he wasn’t allowed to play varsity basketball. At that time the NCAA tournament consisted of just eight teams in a single elimination format and it took a back seat to the much more prestigious NIT. Teams were allowed to play in both tournaments in those days and in 1950 City College of New York became the only team ever to win both in the same year. Coincidentally, CCNY, which dropped from the division I level to division III following a point shaving scandal in the ensuing season, is the only team ever to win the division I NCAA tournament no longer playing at the division I level. Such was the landscape in the days when Vinny Yokabaskas laid the groundwork for what would become one of the premier basketball programs in the nation.
Vin became the first 1,000 point scorer in UCONN men’s basketball history, scoring 1,275 points in just three seasons. In all three of his varsity seasons he was named to the All New England team while also earning All Yankee Conference honors in each of those three seasons. In that eight team format Yokabaskas led UCONN to it’s first ever NCAA tournament, where he scored 22 points in a 12 point loss to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden in March of 1951.
A dominating force in New England College Basketball from 1949-1952, in 2001 Vin was named to the UCONN basketball All 20th Century Team. In 2007 he was named to the inaugural class of the Huskies of Honor, now on display at Gampel Pavilion. In 2009 he was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.
Prior to going on to a long career in engineering with Hamilton Standard, Kaman Aircraft and East Granby Machine Company, Vin served as a first lieutenant in the army during the Korean War. He was a recipient of the UCONN Club’s Red O’Neill award, an annual honor for the former UCONN student athlete who has enjoyed an outstanding career in his chosen profession.
Devoted to his wife of 62 years, Alice, and his children and grandchildren, Vinny retained his love of athletics throughout his life, an avid tennis player who also enjoyed skiing and surfing when he wasn’t taking on all comers on the basketball court. He also remained devoted to the school he first put on the national basketball map.
Vinny Yokabaskas passed away on Sunday at the age of 84. In keeping with his proud veteran heritage, in lieu of flowers his family asks that contributions be made to the Wounded Warrior Project in Topeka, Kansas.
It was a different era, when Vin Yokabaskas played basketball at the University of Connecticut, but he became the foundation on which was built a program that now stands among the most hallowed in the history of the sport.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.