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The Legend Begins With
They would see film of a kentucky basketball team played in 1948 by the university of kentucky's "Fabulous Five" Groza had been one of those Kentucky players . he was 6ft7 and 220 lbs in his college days . Not as tall as Bob kurland ( Oklahoma A@M Hank Iba), not as wide as George Mikan , Alex Groza was a strongman whose bounding , running ,shooting, and ballhandling foreshadowed the gifted giants of basketball's future .
Only he seemed not to believe that of himself . He said as much to the sportswriter that day in 1975. "We were good for our time ,"Groza said of his kentucky teams , "but we couldn't play with these kids today ".
He turned on the projector with the idea his movie would confirm his judgment. What groza saw was a team with one man taller than 6ft4 . He saw a team without a jump shooter . He saw the year 1948 from the perspective of 1975, and he looked at the "Fabulous Five" as a curiousity of and age long past, a dinosaur bone uncovered in a high-tech age.
The sportswriter saw something different. What the sportswriter saw he will never forget , for in the movie's images he saw the past made real. It had been one thing to hear "Old Timers " speak of the "Fabulous Five" We learned their names by rote : Ralph Beard and Kenny Rollins at guards , Alex Groza at center, Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones ( my father told me this kid from hazard ky was a unbelievable player ) and Cliff Barker at forwards. We would nod in deference to the Old-Timers who insisted on greatness of those players .
But did we really believe it ? Not likely . Young sportswriters believe the game was invented five minutes ago . So the sportswriter was ready to agree with Alex Groza in 1975 that the "Fabulous Five " of 1948 wasn't all that good - until he saw the movie , and then he said to Groza . "you're right , Alex . You weren't as good as people say. you were better".
The movie showed kentucky on the run . It was breathtaking . Groza ripping off a rebound . An outlet pass to Barker on the right side . Quickly across the mid-court to Rollins , who tipped it ahead to Jones . And Jones whipped the ball into the middle , ther to Beard on the fly down the free throw lane . From endline to endline , Kentucky move the ball from rebound to layup in five seconds ( where's the plow ) , with each man handling the ball never touching the floor . ( WOW )
As the movie played out on Groza's wall, Kentucky worked without mercy to win an NCAA Tournament game by 20 points . The unforgettable images were of Groza's quickness with a little hook and of beards magic on the fast break . However self-depreciatory Groza would be on that winter day in 1975 , the movie images told the whole truth - the " fabulous Five " could flat out play some ball.
They were a kind of team never before seen . They won the NCAA Championship without a giant in the middle . They didn't play offense in the standard style of walk-it-up-and-make-a-dozen-passes. (better known as "THE PLOW") In an era of cautious , plodding , defensive-minded teams ( like the tubby regime from 1998 to 2007 ) here came kentucky flat out running . The speed itself unusual , but here speed was only part of the equation : running, always, running , yet Kentucky was beautiful in its ballhandling precision . They were an eighties team in the forties. They were the future made real.
In Groza, Kentucky had the requisite strongman in the middle . Working the perimeter , running the break, taking the short jumper, Kentucky had a little guard who was All American three times , who twice was college player of the year , and who would be All-NBA.
He was Ralph Beard , 5ft10 ,160 lbs, a competitor of such ferocity that he once awoke from a dream to find himself sqeezing his pillow in a bear hug and calling out the name of a man he'd guard the next night , i've got you . Jerrell you son of a bitch.
Never had there been a guard in college basketball better than Ralph Beard . Not John Wooden in the twenties , not Bob Cousy in the forties . The great coach Clair Bee said in 1948 , " Ralph Beard is what this game is all about." Phillips Oilers coach Bud Browning said, " Beard is absolutely the best ." Adolph Rupp, Beards coach said, " Ralph's the greatest basketball player i ever saw " For Kentuckians who adored Beard , the photograph that best identified the little guy showed him stern-visaged and hard-muscled, flying - for another layup at the end of a sudden sprint that left the enemy wondering where he went . After his freshman year at Kentucky , Beard asked Rupp to write a letter detailing his weaknesses so he could work on them that summer . Rupp advised him to improve his free throw shooting , use his left hand more on the dribble , and develop a 15-foot jump shot . " If you can correct those few weaknesses ," Rupp wrote to Beard , "you will not only be a greater basketball player , but you will be almost a perfect basketball player."
Beard took Rupp's word as gospel . " Some guys say they hated Rupp . Not me. He was it as far as i was concerned . If he told me to run through a brick wall , I'd have backed up as far as it would take . I wanted to show him I was the best basketball player who ever came down the pike ."
With Beard at guard in 1948 was Rollins , a six footer with good speed . "He was the catalyst , the unselfish one ," Beard said. Rollins put his gifts to the ultimate test in the NCAA tournament semifinal when Rupp assigned him to guard college basketball's newest phenomenal , the holy Cross guard named Bob Cousy.
Cousy's exploits had prompted a banner-maker to hang a bedsheet in Madison Square Garden : cousy- The Greatest . Going against Kentucky and Rollins , Cousy scored one point. ( OUCH) After Kentucky won, 60-52 , with Beard and Groza scoring 13 each , someone delivered the Cousy bedsheet to Kenny Rollins.
Kentucky's championship victory over Baylor , 58-42, was anticlimatic . In it Groza scored 14, Beard 12. The 1948 championship was Kentucky's first, earned in a season when the wildcats won 34 of 36 games . After the season , Rupp's team competed in the olympic trials and finished second to the Phillip's Oilers. In the 1948 games in London , the gold medal U.S. team included Rupp as assistant coach and all five Kentucky starters-Groza, Beard, Rollins, Jones and Barker-as team members ,Kentucky won the national championship again in 1949, Beard's senior season .
In that winter of 1975 when Alex Groza invited a sportswriter to see the past , the writer later told Ralph Beard about the movie . He told Beard he thought Groza was too modest , and he asked Beard how good the "Fabulous Five" had been. " Of all our good years , we were best in 1948,"Beard said. He smiled then, warmed by the memory . "You tell Alex to get suited up because i don't care if we're 50 years old or what , I think we can beat these kids today"
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