Born: February 10, 1956;

Died: February 4, 2022.

HURLET Crematorium was packed recently as the Renfrewshire and Scotland basketball community bade farewell to Bob Taft, who has died, aged 65, from an aggressive form of cancer.

As Taft would have acknowledged, he was only a journeyman player: a strong defender with a mean three-point shot, but never a star. From Paisley’s basketball club he moved to Kilmarnock, where he met and formed a lifelong friendship with a similar player – Tommy Campbell.

He and “Huggy Bear,” as Campbell was known, formed a mean partnership – they became the Jack and Victor of Scottish basketball – with the short-lived Team Glasgow, but their real contribution to Scottish basketball was as a coaching team.

They played together for the Troon club, which Tommy formed, while Taft also played for several other clubs, such as Falkirk, Clydebank and, finally, Cumnock.

Campbell got Taft on board as player-coach at Troon, then they paired up as successful coaches of Scottish age-group teams and, for three seasons, the full Scotland team.

Bob also coached for 10 years with the St Mirren BC club where, in 2002, his work with their Junior squad, which included wins in overseas tournaments, saw him named Scottish Basketball’s Coach of the Year.

He also mirrored Campbell’s work, when he started the Renfrew Rocks BC along with Donnie Henderson, before his final role in basketball, as head coach at the University of Strathclyde.

When he submitted his CV for the Strathclyde job, the university authorities told him: “With your record, we cannot afford you.”

They need not have worried. He worked unpaid; service to others and encouraging youngsters had been an essential part of his make-up since his days in the Boys’ Brigade.

Bob Taft, born the eldest of six children, went to Mount School, Greenock, where as an 11-year-old he fell in love with basketball. His teachers believed he had the potential to go to university, but, the family’s needs dictated he leave at 15 to take up an apprenticeship as a welder at Scott Lithgow’s Glen shipyard.

While he learned his trade, he continued his basketball education with Greenock Pacers and Inverclyde, then, as a time-served tradesman, he and new wife Joan moved to Paisley, while he worked in the Fairfield yard in Govan.

In Paisley, Bob joined the local club, playing in the Scottish League, First Division. One night he came home from work and told Joan: “You know, you never see an old welder, I’m getting out while I can.”

He had been a keen member of the Boys’ Brigade when growing up, earning his Queen’s Badge, a President’s Award and his Duke of Edinburgh Gold award and, through BB connections, got a job as a postman based in Underwood Road, Paisley.

Within six months, however, he was head-hunted and trained as a counter assistant at the Crown Post Office in Paisley, from where he was again head-hunted into POID, the Post Office Investigation Department – its internal police service.

Such was his dedication to this role that he undertook distance-learning home study and obtained an Honours degree in Criminology on his way to his final job as a crime risk manager, based back where it had all started – Underwood Road.

With the Post Office, he was a stalwart of the Civil Service Sports Association, serving on the Scottish committee and, in 1998, being awarded the Sir Douglas Haddow Trophy in recognition of his work. He regularly represented the Civil Service Scotland and Civil Service UK basketball teams, both at home and abroad.

Bob was still playing just weeks before being diagnosed with his final illness. He was one of the stalwarts, on and off the court, of the Strathclyde Masters Basketball Squad, with whom he played in tournaments all over Europe. He also, even after he had two knee replacements, played for the GB Masters squad.

In 2005 he was awarded Basketball Scotland’s 25-year service award when that organisation inaugurated National Volunteer Recognition awards.

If basketball was his first sport, he also enjoyed football – playing at a good amateur level as a young man. However, he really enjoyed, in his later years, his Saturday morning games of five-a-side in a team that included his son, also named Robert.

In retirement, he and Joan travelled extensively, and, as Joan recalled, “no matter where in the world we were, he would meet someone he knew through basketball” – such as the time they met an old Irish rival in, of all places, Buenos Aires.

Bob Taft was a fierce competitor but he played with a smile on his face. His legacy is the number of young men he encouraged as a coach and mentor, and the continued success of the Renfrew club he formed.

His cancer was particularly aggressive and he was dead within four months of it being diagnosed. He put up a great fight, with the assistance of the staff at Paisley’s Accord Hospice.

As Basketballscotland said upon news of his death: “His impact on basketball in Scotland will never be forgotten”.