By Gary Hermann
This series counts down the greatest UK basketball teams of all time. No. 1 will be revealed in the Kernel’s basketball season preview edition on Nov. 7. Here is No. 5: 1947-48.
The 1947-48 Kentucky Wildcats played for a much different UK basketball program than the one that exists today.
The 1948 squad mirrored many later UK teams, boasting some of the nation’s most talented players and a legendary coach.
However, the team was playing home games in Alumni Gym and the program had yet to win the NCAA Tournament.
The team was called the Fabulous Five, an early example of the tradition of naming the greatest UK basketball teams.
Ralph Beard, Alex Groza, Kenny Rollins, Cliff Barker and multi-sport standout Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones made up the Fabulous Five, who spent the school year working their way toward an NCAA title.
The Fabulous Five then spent their offseason winning a gold medal for Team USA in the 1948 London Olympics.
The team went 36-3 and 9-0 in the SEC, beating Baylor 58-42 in the title game.
The Kernel headline on April 2, 1948, read: “Kentucky Wildcats Return With Tickets To Olympics In England.”
The story by Haskell Short talked about the scheduled parade in honor of the triumphant Cats.
“On the platform will be Kentucky’s great coach, Adolph Rupp, who has made it possible for students to finish their four years in college without seeing the Wildcats go down in defeat at home.”
Short also had high praise for the Fabulous Five.
“And there will be that group of great basketball players who hoist conference championship flags as easily as Kentucky colonels hoist mint juleps and who take national crowns as extra curricular activities.”
Today, UK boasts eight national championships and plays in front of huge crowds at Rupp Arena.
UK had great teams before the Fabulous Five, but winning the first NCAA title solidified the greatness of the UK program.
Seven more NCAA Championship banners have been hung since then, so it was only fitting that at this year’s Big Blue Madness, Wallace
“Wah Wah” Jones returned to raise the eight championship banners, including those for the two title teams he was a part of.
The program remains as relevant today as it was in 1948, once again having to defend a national title. The Fabulous Five left future teams with a high standard to live up to.