UK basketball notebook: Cliff Hagan entering another hall of fame

Former UK star loves making grandkids proud

Herald-Leader Staff WriterNovember 7, 2010 

Former All-American Cliff Hagan starred for Kentucky in the early 1950s. He was the leading scorer on the program's only unbeaten team (25-0 in 1953-54) and a starter on the 1951 national championship team.

After college, he became a perennial NBA All-Star for the St. Louis Hawks.

But in the eyes of his grandchildren, Hagan could not have been anything, you know, special.

"One said, I know you played basketball," Hagan recalled last week, "but you didn't play in the big leagues, right?"

Hagan laughed when he retold the story.

"You know you can't impress your children or your grandchildren," he said.

That's one of many reasons Hagan is looking forward to Nov. 16, when he will be among the second class of inductees into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame. Some 30 family members, including seven of his nine grandchildren and all four of his children, will be there.

"That is part of the plan to impress them a little," he said.

(Tickets are $150 each and can be reserved at or by calling 1-888-627-3235.)

Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are nothing new for Hagan. In 1978, he became the first UK player to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He later became the second Kentuckian inducted into the Kentucky High School Athletics Association Hall of Fame. He's also in halls of fame sponsored by the state of Kentucky and UK.

"Surely this is going to be the el foldo," he quipped.

Not that Hagan doesn't appreciate entering the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame with such luminaries as baseball's Dizzy Dean, Ted Simmons and Joe Garagiola, football's Dick Vermeil, Marshall Faulk and Jim Hart and hockey's Brett Hull.

At this stage of his life, Hagan simply likes being remembered.

"For people to even remember you or consider you worth remembering has to make you feel special," said Hagan, who noted that his last season with the Hawks was 54 years ago.

It also feels good that former general manager Max Williams and broadcaster Terry Stembridge of the Dallas Chaparrels, the team Hagan joined as player-coach in the twilight of his pro career, plan to attend the induction ceremony.

Dubbed "Little Abner" by Hawks' broadcaster Buddy Blattner, Hagan averaged about 18 points with the Hawks. In the NBA championship playoff run of 1958, he averaged 27.7 points, a statistic that got overlooked when teammate Bob Pettit scored a still-standing record of 50 points in the finals against Boston that clinched the championship.

"That was never mentioned," Hagan said of his team-high scoring average in the playoffs, "certainly not at contract time by the owner."

Hagan, who will be 79 on Dec. 9, accepts how a player's accomplishments can be diminished in time. The players of today are bigger, stronger, quicker and more athletic.

"I like to say every NBA team has two or three Bill Russells now," he said in reference to the dominant star of his era. "They can do more than just block shots."

Hagan said he appreciates the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame for reminding today's grandchildren of the feats of yesteryear.

"We were the early, early NBA," he said. "We got things going and perhaps don't receive enough credit for that from current players."

Rondo or Wall?

On Thursday, ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd launched into one of his typically overcaffeinated rants. This time, the topic was former UK point guards, with Cowherd saying Rajon Rondo was much better than John Wall.

A poll on the ESPN show SportsNation showed that 78 percent of viewers saw Rondo as the better of the two former UK point guards. Rondo had set an NBA record for assists in the first five games of a season with 82.

"To me, Rondo is the best point guard in the league, an assist machine," Cowherd said according to an ESPN release. "On the other hand, you have super-flashy John Wall. I think (Wall) has shown immaturity in college, (and) he has shown immaturity in the NBA. Rondo is a great teammate. Wall is a great individual player."

When asked for his reaction, UK Coach John Calipari paused. Then he broke the silence by saying, "What do you say?"

Perhaps the Southeastern Conference's lucrative contact with ESPN makes it unwise to criticize anyone working for the all-sports network.

Calipari changed the subject by talking about how the recently completed political season had plenty of outrageous name-calling and mudslinging.

Comment: Rondo is in his fifth NBA season and has the luxury of passing to an array of perennial All-Stars. Wall has played a handful of NBA games in this, his rookie season. His teammates are journeymen. Rondo might indeed be much the better player. But now is not the time to make such a judgment.

'Most boisterous arenas'

Polling many of its in-house college basketball analysts, ESPN The Magazine came up with a list of the 10 "most boisterous arenas." That list will appear in the Nov. 15 issue.

ESPN The Magazine consulted with the Penn State University acoustic program to help in determining a list based on student body enthusiasm and how well sound reverberates in each arena.

The winner was Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas. The story describes Allen Fieldhouse as "the perfect combo of dimension, students-to-court proximity and low-absorption materials."

ESPN The Magazine also noted that Allen Fieldhouse is home to the longest active winning streak (59 games). Coach Bill Self has a home record of 113-6 in seven seasons.

After Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke came Rupp Arena.

ESPN The Magazine offered UK some advice to enhance the cat-mosphere in Rupp. "While the SRO section for students behind one basket is a nice touch, replacing the courtside fat Cats (Hello, Ashley Judd!) would go a long way toward raising the raucousness to truly dangerous levels," the magazine said.

"The Pit" at New Mexico and Florida's O'Connell Center round out the top five.

ESPN The Magazine noted that the O'Connell Center was deemed "the scariest place to play in America" in 1999.

"Not much has changed," the magazine said. "Florida has had seven double-digit winning streaks at home under Billy Donovan.

"But while short on cushy surfaces like sound-absorbing padded seats, the O'Dome is too cavernous to crack our Final Four. Putting the Gators in a familiar position in the Calipari-era SEC: best of the rest."

Rounding out the top 10 were the Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh; Bramlage Coliseum, Kansas State; Assembly Hall, Illinois; Gallagher-Iba Arena, Oklahoma State, and Matthew Knight Arena, Oregon.

Future shock?

What ESPN The Magazine calls its "Loud" issue, which is on newsstands, includes a poll asking various questions about college basketball. For instance, Who will win the Pacific-10 Conference? Of the players surveyed, 88.9 percent said Washington will dominate.

UK will play either Washington or Virginia on the second day of the Maui Invitational.

Good old days

Dillard Coach Dale Brown was asked who would win a game pitting the current Kentucky team against the Final Four UK team he played on in 1993. He did not ponder the question,

"(The team in) 1993, easy," Brown answered immediately. "Because we got after it on defense every single possession. ... We were so much better on defense. That would have been the difference in the game."

Open-door policy

UK Coach John Calipari is picky about adding a walk-on to his 10-man team.

Such is not the case at Dillard. Having only six scholarships at his disposal, Coach Dale Brown must scramble to fill out his roster. So when student Rashad Johns presented himself to Brown and asked to try out for the team, he got a quick welcome aboard.

"Hey, you're already on the team," Brown said he told Johns. "You don't have to try out."

Johns, a 6-8 sophomore forward, scored two points, grabbed one rebound and committed five fouls in 11 minutes against Kentucky.

'Free Enes'

In neither pre-season exhibition game did UK fans chant "Free Enes," a reference to the NCAA's review of big man Enes Kanter's eligibility in light of questions about his amateur status. Maybe fans are worn down by the process and getting used to the idea that the freshman from Turkey is not playing.

During a break in the exhibition against Dillard, a fan leaned over and asked whether the NCAA was going to wait until January to make a decision. The inference seemed to be that the NCAA was intentionally dragging out the process in order to punish UK.

As stated earlier in this space, a speedy decision might not bring the result UK fans want. What if the NCAA considers Kanter a pro because he played three seasons for a professional team in Turkey and reportedly received compensation totalling nearly $150,000? If so, the process would slow to a crawl as Kentucky officials quite sensibly exhaust every possible means of appeal to reverse a decision that Kanter cannot play college basketball.

Thompkins sidelined

Georgia star Trey Thompkins sustained a high ankle sprain in a scrimmage last weekend. He could be sidelined for a month.

On the encouraging side, transfer Gerald Robinson has shown signs that he's capable of excelling on the SEC level. During an exhibition game against Augusta State last week, he threw a three-quarter-court lob pass that Travis Leslie converted into a dunk.

Florence honored

The Committee of 101, the volunteer organization that serves as blue-jacketed ushers at UK basketball and football games, recently honored its longtime president Van Florence.

The group surprised Florence by forming and naming an academic scholarship in his honor. The Richard Van Florence Scholarship will provide $1,000 per year to a relative of a Committee of 101 member beginning in 2011-12. The hope is that the fund will grow to provide four $1,000 scholarships.

"I'm pleased," Florence said. "I've been part of the 101 in all or part of six decades, and president for all or part of four decades. After giving that much, it's nice of them to recognize what I did."

Besides his work with the Committee of 101, Florence headed the UK Basketball Museum and served as Man Friday for all coaches from Joe B. Hall through Billy Gillispie.

Florence, something of a living testament to modern medicine after undergoing numerous major surgeries, joined the Committee of 101 in 1967.

Committee of 101 vice president Tom Deluca described the scholarship as "something to keep his name out there."

Happy birthday

To Billy Gillispie. He turns 51 today.

Gillispie's agent, Stuart Campbell, said the former UK coach is living in the Dallas area and still eagerly awaiting a chance to get back into coaching.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at

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