Kenny Rollins, former member of UK Fabulous 5, dies at 89

jtipton@herald-leader.comOctober 11, 2012 

Kenny Rollins, the captain of the University of Kentucky's Fabulous Five team of 1947-48, died late Tuesday night. Family and ex-teammates remembered Mr. Rollins, 89, as a giving, thoughtful man rather than simply a basketball player.

"Pretty good basketball player," his son, Kevin Rollins, said Thursday, "but a great father and husband to my mom. He was just always there, always willing to listen and always willing to share when I asked him to share."

That willingness to share showed itself on and off the court.

Joe B. Hall, a freshman when the Fabulous Five won the 1948 national championship, recalled Kenny Rollins as a mentor.

"Just a super guy," Hall said. "He kind of helped me, gave me some encouragement as a young player. He told me about how to do certain things and accept certain things. ...

"I never knew anybody who didn't like Kenny."

Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones, the last surviving member of the Fabulous Five, remembered Mr. Rollins as an unsung contributor to a storied Kentucky team.

"I don't think he ever got real credit for his ability," Jones said. "He was a great defensive man. He was outstanding all the way around."

On the court, Mr. Rollins' most notable moment might have been when he was the primary defender against Bob Cousy in Kentucky's 60-52 victory over Holy Cross in the 1948 national semifinals.

Off the court, Mr. Rollins liked to sing. Jones recalled Mr. Rollins singing two songs when athletes staged a talent show on the ship that took them to the 1948 Summer Olympics in London.

Mr. Rollins sang My Old Kentucky Home at UK's Senior Day in 1996. "He said that was the most nervous he ever was in his life," Kevin Rollins said.

Mr. Rollins grew up in Wickliffe in far Western Kentucky. He entered UK in 1941, then joined the Navy in 1943. He returned to UK in 1946 and was named most valuable player in 1946-47 and captain as a junior and senior.

After a brief stint in the NBA, Mr. Rollins worked as a salesman until retiring in 1986. He and his wife, Mabel, retired to Bradenton, Fla., in 1994. She died in 1996.

Mr. Rollins had lived with his son in Greencastle, Ind., since 2004.

Of his father's glory days as a UK basketball player, Kevin Rollins said, "He'd talk to me when I prompted him. If other people were around, he'd clam up. He was a private man."

The younger Rollins recalled his father talking about growing up in Western Kentucky and having to awaken at 4 in the morning to chop wood for a stove.

"The old, old stories," Kevin Rollins said.

That early-morning chore ended when the family bought a kerosene stove. "The highlight of his teenage years," the younger Rollins said of his father.

Other survivors include daughter-in-law Vickie Rollins; a daughter, Corinne Nelson, and her husband, Jim Nelson, of North Fort Myers, Fla.; a brother, Phil Rollins of Louisville; three grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

A celebration of Mr. Rollins' life will be held 4 to 8 p.m. Oct. 19 at the K House in Lexington. Internment will be Oct. 20 at Lexington Cemetery.

The family asked that memorials in Mr. Rollins' name be directed to the UK General Scholarship Fund or a similar fund for another university.

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