Former Kentucky basketball star Lou Tsioropoulos died Saturday in Louisville. He would have been 85 on Monday.
With Cliff Hagan and Frank Ramsey, Tsioropoulos was part of a trio of standout players who led UK to the 1951 national championship. Three years later, as seniors, the players finished the season 25-0, the only unbeaten final record in Kentucky basketball history. Tsioropoulos averaged 14.5 points in that 1953-54 season.
After his UK career, Tsioropoulos entered the Air Force. He later played three seasons with the Boston Celtics as Tom Heinsohn’s backup at forward. He averaged 5.8 points as an NBA player and was on the Celtics' championship teams in 1956-57 and 1958-59.
“He was a tough guy,” Hagan said Wednesday before heading to Louisville for Tsioropoulos’ funeral service. “He drew the tough assignments of guarding the best forward or center.”
Ramsey recalled Tsioropoulos as a defensive specialist.
Tsioropoulos grew up in Lynn, Mass. "He came down to try out for football,” Ramsey said. “He decided to play basketball instead.”
In the book Big Blue Machine, Russell Rice wrote about Paul “Bear” Bryant, then UK's football coach, asking Adolph Rupp if he’d seen the football prospect from Massachusetts.
“I don’t know, Paul,” Rupp said. “What’s the guy’s name?”
Bryant answered, “I don’t know, Adolph. He’s from Lynn, Mass., a big Greek kid with a prominent nose.”
Hagan and Ramsey recalled the size of Tsioropoulos’ nose coming up during a trip to Puerto Rico the team took after winning the 1951 national championship. The UK players needed to know why the Puerto Rican fans were calling Tsioropoulos “Cyrano.” It was for the French novelist and playwright, Cyrano de Bergerac, who had a long nose.
Tsioropoulos also quickly gained a reputation for having a difficult name to spell. On Wednesday, Ramsey voluntarily spelled it correctly during a phone conversation.
Rice noted in his book that Rupp had his secretary mimeograph labels of the name “Lou Tsioropoulos” on cards that he kept in his pocket and gave to officials keeping the scorebook.
Tsioropoulos is survived by his wife, Jan; a daughter, Tara; and two grandchildren.