Oscar Combs, who made a dream come true when he started The Cats’ Pause, probably will fuss at me when he reads this, but his fabulously successful Cats’ Pause is better than ever now that general manager Darrell Bird and his staff are producing the UK fan magazine.
And I am glad that Russell Rice is regularly back with his popular column – especially when he writes something that gives me an idea for a column.
In the last Cats’ Pause until preseason football reports start, one of Russell’s readers wanted to know if it is true that Adolph Rupp’s Wildcats played the NBA champion Minneapolis Lakers in an exhibition game in the early 1950s. And that UK won.
I was the only writer admitted to daily scrimmages (not games) in Memorial Coliseum. I got in because coach Rupp had given his permission for me to come to any Wildcats’ practices because I covered the team for the student newspaper, The Kentucky Kernel.
The Cats of Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey, Lou Tsioropoulos, Billy Evans and Gayle Rose could not beat the Lakers of George Mikan, Vern Mikelsen, Jim Pollard and Slater Martin. I don’t remember the Lakers’ fifth starter.
The battle between Hagan and the much bigger Mikan was highlight after highlight. Cliff wasn’t big enough to stop Mikan, but Cliff could match him basket for basket because he had the most accurate and most beautiful hook shot in the history of basketball. That’s right, the best and biggest center in the NBA couldn’t stop Hagan from scoring.
The NBA wasn’t what it is now, and NCAA had no rules prohibiting such practices where it was pro vs. college kids. Rupp and Lakers coach John Kundla were friends. I do not believe the teams ever barnstormed together and played each other.
It always is a delight when my readers call and want to talk about things that happened 60 or 70 years – or more – ago.
A recent call: “I saw Fairce Woods play for Kentucky Wesleyan when they beat Louisville in Louisville 68-60 during the 1946-47 season.”
One of the Cardinals’ best players ever, Jack Coleman, couldn’t keep little Wesleyan, then in Winchester, from winning.
Fairce was one of the most fantastic players our state ever had. When he stood on his tip toes, he might have been 5-foot-5. He starred for little Garrett High in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
He went home after practice one day when there was a letter from Adolph Rupp offering him a scholarship to mighty Kentucky.
Fairce threw it away!
“Nobody from Garrett ever went to Kentucky,” said the little man, so he went to Wesleyan, where I saw him play about 20 times either against Western, Morehead, Marshall, Berea or Eastern.
I asked Johnny Oldham, an All-American guard and later a great coach at WKU, if Fairce was as good as I thought he was.
“Yes!” And Johnny added, “There was no stopping him. He would shoot from anywhere once he crossed mid-court.”
When UK’s Fabulous Five got home from the 1948 Olympics in London, Alex Groza, Ralph Beard, Kenny Rollins, Wah Wah Jones and Cliff Barker barnstormed around the state and they asked Fairce to join them.
“Fairce could play,” Beard told me, “but he wasn’t as fast or as quick as I was.”
Fairce became one of Kentucky’s finest high school coaches at Breathitt County in Jackson. They broke up the hold that Hazard, Carr Creek and Hindman held on the 14th Region for years (each of those three schools won state championships before Breathitt ended their reign.)
He called me one night at The Courier-Journal and said, “Eh god, son, my biggest player was a sleep-walking and went out of a two-story window and just about killed himself!”