While everyone is focused on the Kentucky Wildcats and their quest for the first undefeated college basketball season since Bobby Knight’s Indiana squad in 1975-1976, there’s no question that for sheer dominance, this year’s team doesn’t come close to the Kentucky dynasty from 1947-1952 under Adolph Rupp.
Rupp’s teams dominated at the same time the Minneapolis Lakers were an NBA dynasty under John Kundla from 1948-1954, when the Lakers won titles in all but one of those years, when the great George Mikan played on an injured ankle in 1950-51.
When I was general manager of the Lakers, I arranged with Rupp for the Lakers to hold their preseason workouts in Kentucky for two years. It was a different time in college sports, and there was no issue with college teams scrimmaging against NBA squads.
When the two teams scrimmaged, the Wildcats held their own. Kentucky won three of its four national titles under Rupp during those years (1948, ’49 and ’51), and several players eventually competed as a unit in the NBA.
They won their titles with players such as Ralph Beard, Alex Groza, Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones and Bill Spivey. Rupp’s teams had the benefit of players who stayed for all four seasons unlike today’s game, where it’s harder to create a dynasty when the best players tend to turn pro after one season.
From 1947-48 to 1951-52, the Wildcats posted a 154-15 record and won five conference championships in a row. In the 1949 draft of the Basketball Association of American, which predated the NBA, four Kentucky players were selected — Groza, Jones, Beard and Cliff Barker.
The 1950-1951 Kentucky team won the national championship at Williams Arena, when it beat Kansas State 68-58 with starring players such as Spivey, Cliff Hagan and Frank Ramsey, who went on to great careers in the NBA. The tournament wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today. Television was limited, and if I recall correctly, the Final Four games didn’t even sell out.
That Kentucky dynasty was undone by a point-shaving scandal when Beard, Groza and Dale Barnstable, another Wildcats starter, were arrested in 1951 for taking bribes from gamblers over an NIT game during the 1948-1949 season. That scandal led to the Southeastern Conference barring Rupp’s team from playing any games in 1952-1953.
Rupp was my No. 1 scout when I was involved with the Lakers. When the SEC barred the Wildcats, Rupp thought he could schedule nonconference games.
So one day my phone rings and it is Rupp. He always called me “Mr. Sid” in his southern accent.
“Mr. Sid, can you talk to the Hamline coach and see if he will play us?” he asked.
A week later came another call: “Mr. Sid, we don’t need Hamline. All of the Catholic schools want to play us,” he said.
Then there was another conversation with Rupp, after the team was reinstated to play in 1953-54. “We’re going to have two scoreboards this season,” Rupp said. “We’ll score half for the season we missed and half for this season.”
That 1953-54 team went unbeaten, but when three players were declared ineligible for postseason play by the NCAA, Rupp skipped the 1954 NCAA tournament in protest.
Kentucky and NBA
Groza and Beard would go on to play together in the NBA with the Indianapolis Olympians. That team debuted in 1949-1950 and won the Western Division, going 39-25. It lost to the Lakers in the 1950-1951 Western Division semifinals.
Once the point-shaving scandal came to light, then-NBA Commissioner Maurice Podoloff suspended Groza and Beard from the NBA for life.
While Rupp made Kentucky basketball what it is today, he had a serious prejudice against black players.
There was the story of Bob Williams, who incidentally lives here now but in the mid-1950s was coming out of the Air Force at a time when the SEC didn’t allow black athletes to compete. Rupp was concerned some SEC team was going to break the color barrier and sign Williams.
So one day I got a call from Rupp, informing me about Williams and what a good player he was, and how concerned he was that an SEC team might sign him. The tip paid off because at the time you could control a player in the NBA by being the first team to put him on your negotiation list. I immediately put Williams on the Lakers’ list, and they signed him in 1955. He played here for two seasons before joining the Harlem Globetrotters.
Tough loss for U
No doubt Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, who is on vacation now, has to be upset that Lynn Holleran, director of the McNamara Academic Center for Student-Athletes, is leaving the university to take a job at Penn State as a senior associate athletic director for administration, after putting together one of the great college academic programs in the country. In the past year, every sports team except men’s basketball had a collective GPA of 3.0 or higher.
When Pam Borton was named the women’s basketball coach in 2002, Holleran, Borton’s partner, worked as an assistant to former president Bob Bruininks. Then when Eric Kaler became president, Holleran moved to the athletic department and in charge of academics.
Holleran says she got a big opportunity when offered the Penn State job, but people close to her claim she wasn’t happy with the university, despite that she loved working with Kill and the rest of the university’s coaches, who will greatly miss her. At Penn State, she will join former Gophers Alumni Association President and CEO Phil Esten, who left the university to go to Cal-Berkeley and then went to Penn State to become deputy director of athletics.
• The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, which does a good job covering sports, is reporting that Target Center’s naming rights contract with Target Corporation expires at the end of this year.
• Zane McIntyre, a Thief River Falls native, has been named one of the five finalists for the Mike Richter Award, which recognizes the most outstanding goaltender in NCAA men’s hockey. McIntyre, a junior playing for North Dakota, is 27-7-3 with a 1.97 goals-against average, a .932 save percentage and one shutout. He is tied for first in the nation in victories. … The WCHA Final Five will be at Xcel Energy Center this Friday and Saturday, and Commissioner Bill Robertson expects to draw crowds between 6,500 and 9,000 depending on the matchups and advance ticket sales.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com