UK basketball notebook: "Wah Wah" was all about Big Blue, not green

Herald-Leader staff writerAugust 2, 2014 

Inevitably, a then-and-now contrast hung in the air last week as Kentucky said goodbye to one of its all-time basketball greats. Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones, who died last Sunday at age 88, had been the last surviving member of the Fabulous Five, the cornerstone team of the UK dynasty.

Much has changed since the Fabulous Five won the 1948 NCAA Tournament and, with four of the five players returning, the 1949 title as well. The NBA was in its infancy, at best an afterthought, and certainly not a career choice. Now, every pseudo NBA development is reported in excruciating detail (you may have heard that LeBron James is taking his talents to Lake Erie).

Then, UK was a destination. In a sense, Jones never left UK. As his casket was wheeled out of Immanuel Baptist Church at the end of Friday's funeral service, a pep band stationed in the balcony played On, On U of K as a dirge. It was moving. A middle-aged (?) sportswriter wiped away a tear.

Now, UK can be merely a means to an NBA end. It's the age of the so-called one-and-done player (Sorry, John Calipari, but succeed-and-proceed hasn't caught on).

At a celebration of Jones' life Thursday at the K House, Cliff Berger noted how college basketball has changed.

"The main thing, I thought, that makes so much difference is the role of professional basketball," said Berger, a reserve on Rupp's Runts. "With so much money out there, (you notice) how the goals and aspirations of people have changed."

Berger was not casting judgment. "You can't blame the kids," he said.

Multi-million-dollar player contracts are the norm. Billions — with a "B" — of dollars are mentioned casually in television deals for college sports.

"The emphasis has changed because the money has changed," Berger said. "... You can't blame the kids when they have that much money flashed in front of them."

Berger became an oral surgeon. When asked if the thought of having played 40 years too soon ever crossed his mind, Berger smiled and said, "I have. I have wondered about that."

Here's something else to ponder: Has the evolution from then to now represented progression or regression?

"We could get into a big philosophical discussion," Berger said. "It's just the way life has progressed and the way the athletic departments have progressed."

Rupp vs. Bryant

When he spoke at Wah Wah Jones' funeral Friday, Hall of Famer Jim Host rejected the notion that Adolph Rupp and Paul "Bear" Bryant did not get along.

"Wrong," Host said. "Big-time wrong."

Host recalled a conversation Rupp and Bryant had regarding Jones, who had the distinction of having played for both mega coaches.

"Adolph, if you had let me have Wallace all the time, he would have been an all-time (football) great," Bryant said.

To which, Rupp replied, "Paul, I took him to two NCAA championships and an Olympic team. What would be better than that?"

Long-lasting fame

Billy Reed, former columnist for the Herald-Leader and the Courier-Journal as well as writer for Sports Illustrated, spoke at the funeral. He said he was representing all the media people who covered Wah Wah Jones.

"As long as we play games in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, as long as young people are laughing and crying and having fun, people will always remember the name Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones," he said.

Cats and kittens

Among those who visited Thursday's celebration of Wah Wah Jones' life was Herky Rupp, the son of UK basketball founding father Adolph Rupp. He declined an invitation to list where Jones ranked among his father's favorite players.

Given the accomplishments of the Fabulous Five, he said, "You have to assume the Fabulous Five had a soft spot in his heart."

Herky Rupp was not quite 8 years old when the Fabulous Five won the 1948 national championship. "I had five kittens I named after the Fabulous Five," he said.

Precious presence

Hall of Famer Joe B. Hall noted how Wah Wah Jones had an on-court presence that reassured teammates and commanded the respect of opponents. Hall said that Pat Riley radiated a similar effect.

"You didn't breathe on Pat Riley," Hall said. "Same thing with 'Wah.'"

Olympians

With the death of Wah Wah Jones last Sunday, there are now three living UK players who played on Olympic gold medal teams for the United States. The three are:

Anthony Davis, 2012 Games in London.

Tayshaun Prince, 2008 Games in Beijing.

Adrian "Odie" Smith, 1960 Games in Rome.

Of course, Sam Bowie was on the 1980 team, which did not get to play because the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics.

Wah the golfer

Former UK Coach Joe B. Hall recalled playing golf with Wah Wah Jones.

"He didn't care about a long drive," Hall said, "and he didn't care about getting his second shot on the green on a par 4.

"But he was real good on short chip shots. And he could get them close to the hole and get his par that way."

Hall called Jones "the ultimate athlete."

Did you know ...

Wah Wah Jones and his brother, Hugh, married sisters?

■ Jones played on Harlan High School's varsity basketball team as an eighth-grader?

■ Jones was declared unfit for military service — or 4F — in the late stages of World War II? This came as a surprise to opponents, said Humzey Yessin, a high school teammate of Jones' and a student manager during the Fabulous Five era. "Every time we played, all the opponents wanted to know why Wah Wah wasn't drafted," Yessin said.

■ Jones was not a self-promoter. But his son, also named Wallace and also known as "Wah," noted that his father didn't mind taking a bow.

"He was humble, but he loved the limelight," the younger Jones said at his father's funeral. When the television lights and cameras turned on, "that was his world."

Numbing number

Wah Wah Jones wore No. 27 for UK. That was his number.

One of his daughters, Ira Dawson, brought a pause to his funeral Friday by noting that Jones died on July 27.

Aging process

Hall of Famer Frank Ramsey, 83, noted how perspective on old age can change.

"When I was growing up, 70 was old," he said. "Now, 90 doesn't look too bad."

Happy anniversary

Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan and his wife, Martha, will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on Sept. 4.

They plan to mark the occasion while on a trip that will take them to Paris and Barcelona.

Big day

Reporters got to watch a bit of UK's summer basketball camp Wednesday while waiting for ex-Cat James Young. This led to a conversation with Patrick Stoffel, who came from St. Louis to watch his 6-year-old son, Owen, participate in the camp.

Owen won the family's NCAA Tournament pool. He picked Kentucky to beat Florida in the national championship game, thus correctly picking two of the Final Four teams.

Besides enjoying watching Owen in the UK camp, the Stoffel family had another reason to celebrate. Wednesday was the birthday of Patrick's wife, Martha.

Ex file

Ex-Cat Erik Daniels was spotted at the UK basketball camp last week. He was there to watch his son, Erik Jr., who is 6, play.

Daniels played last season, in of all places, Ukraine. His team was based in Odessa, which is in the western part of the country. But he heard enough disturbing news from the rebellious eastern part of the country to switch to a team based in Qatar. He's not sure where he'll play next season.

If it's possible for a UK player to go uncelebrated, Daniels fits the description. He scored 1,053 points.

In Daniels' four seasons (the final three teamed with Chuck Hayes), UK had a 105-29 record, including 51-13 in SEC play. The Cats won one division or overall regular-season championship each season, and added three SEC Tournament titles.

Daniels did not use imposing size nor intimidating skill. He excelled with guile, never more so than when he'd go old-school and lose a defender with an arm fake. Arm fake?!

It's a weapon that still works and still is part of his game, Daniels said with a smile.

Hits and Mrs.

Sportswriter Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee was in Las Vegas last week for the Team USA workouts. She mentioned DeMarcus Cousins in her "Team USA notes" Thursday:

"After his coach at Kentucky, John Calipari, reminded media members that Cousins remains his wife's all-time-favorite Wildcat, the Kings center was asked how he gained the affections of Ms. Calipari.

"'I'm charming,' he bellowed.

"Asked her first name (Ellen), he replied, laughing, 'Ah! You're putting me on the spot.' Following a pause, he added, 'Mama! Mrs. Cal!'"

Voisin noted how the Team USA workouts drew an audience of such basketball people as Sacramento Kings General Manager Pete D'Alessandro and Coach Michael Malone, NBA coaches Lionel Hollins, Steve Kerr and David Blatt, general managers Bob Myers and David Griffin, and college coaches Mark Few and Calipari.

"After the three-hour session, Calipari, who has four of his former players participating — including Cousins — worked the gym like a politician on the campaign trail," Voisin wrote. "He darted from (Anthony) Davis to (Derrick) Rose to John Wall, then caught up with (Cousins) while he was being stretched by a trainer on a table in the far corner. The two chatted for several minutes, joking, reminiscing, playfully arguing over who was expected to pick up the dinner tab later in the evening."

Happy birthday

To Daniel Orton. He turns 24 on Wednesday. ... To Mike Flynn. He turned 61 on Thursday. ... To Gene Stewart. He turned 69 on Thursday. ... To Donald Williams, who briefly was a UK player when Billy Gillispie briefly was UK coach. He turned 26 on Thursday. ... To Roy Williams. The North Carolina coach turned 64 on Friday. ... To Mike Pratt. He turns 66 on Monday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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