COACH: ADOLPH RUPP
ALL-AMERICA: BILL SPIVEY (C)
DID YOU KNOW? KENTUCKY DIDN'T LOSE A HOME GAME IN ITS FIRST THREE SEASONS IN MEMORIAL COLISEUM.
KENTUCKY WON its third national title with a team that had no nickname but plenty of homegrown talent. The lineup included guards Frank Ramsey, a future NBA star from Madisonville, and Bobby Watson, an Owensboro product who had decided to accept a scholarship offer from Alabama but came to Kentucky as a walk-on when no one met him at the train station in Tuscaloosa. The forwards were junior college transfer Shelby Linville and sophomore Cliff Hagan, a future Kentucky athletic director who would earn All-America honors in 1952 and '54. (Among the reserves was another future AD, C.M. Newton.) And starring at center was junior Bill Spivey, a spidery 7-footer who hadn't picked up a basketball until he was 14 because he had considered it a "sissy game."
In a December duel that was the Russell-Chamberlain showdown of its day, Spivey outtoughed his 6'9" rival Clyde Lovellette of Kansas in Kentucky's 68-39 pasting of the Jayhawks. On one riveting play Spivey stole the ball from Lovellette, covered the length of the court in about three dribbles and jammed the ball home—a legal but risky move, given Adolph Rupp's disdain for the dunk. "I was so fired up, I even beat the guards downcourt," said Spivey. "The fans went crazy."
The fans also went wild in March when the Cats played a second-round NCAA game against St. John's at Madison Square Garden, and Kentucky endured Spivey's foul trouble to win 59-43. In the final, against Kansas State in Minneapolis, the Wildcats started slowly. With Hagan on the sideline with the flu and Spivey suffering from a cold, the first half ended with Kentucky trailing 29-27. But Spivey kicked into high gear in the second half, scoring six baskets in 10 minutes (he would finish with 22 points and 21 rebounds) to lead the Cats to a 68-58 win and the national championship.
Spivey was named an All-America and was everyone's pick for player of the year, but his glory was short-lived. Before another NCAA tournament game was played, he and the entire Kentucky program were stained by the point-shaving scandals then spreading through college basketball.
Spivey was implicated, though he never admitted any wrongdoing. The resulting NCAA penalties forced Kentucky to cancel its '52-53 season. Bristling, the Cats went undefeated the following season but declined an invitation to the NCAA tournament.
From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED PRESENTS, April 17, 1996