Former Rupp athlete dies at 85



Former UK basketball player George Vulich died Tuesday night at the age of 85 after a brief fight with cancer.

But his son, Steve Vulich, 63, said his father’s death could not have come in a more fitting manner.

“He was watching Kentucky the other night when we beat Tennessee,” he said. “Just before the end of the game, he closed his eyes and went to sleep. The Lord must have said, ‘Come on.’”

George (May 11, 1925 – Feb. 8, 2011) modeled his life after two of the most successful and inspirational figures in basketball history — Hall of Fame coaches Adolph Rupp and John Wooden — Steve said.

“Playing for Rupp, he thought the guy was just crazy. But as he grew older in life, he realized it’s those lessons they teach you is what makes you have the strength to move and be a successful person.

“Life to him was bigger than him. I think a lot of Rupp’s and Wooden’s teachings brought that out. That’s how he lived his life.”

George played UK basketball for two seasons under Rupp from 1943-45. While at UK, Vulich totaled 88 points in 23 games, according to The team won the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament titles in both seasons, finishing third in the National Invitation Tournament in 1944 and advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 1945.

“To him, (playing at UK) was everything,” Steve said. “It taught him the way life is and how to deal with it and become a successful person.”

Originally from Zeigler, Ill., George moved to Gary, Ind., near his high school years, Steve said. George played high school basketball against Wooden’s team from South Bend Central High School on a regular basis, a stretch of time in which George formed a relationship with the renowned coach.

After playing for Rupp through the end of his sophomore year of college, George transferred to Long Island University, only to move again in 1946 to Los Angeles, Calif., with his first wife, Sarah Ann, who died in 1979. George remarried in 1980 to Elizabeth Walker.

Steve remembers what growing up with his father, someone who learned from the values of such respected and selfless coaches, was like.

“It’s been a blessing to me because what they taught him, he in turn taught me and everyone we know,” he said. “… If I wanted to play baseball, he became the manager. If I was in the Cub Scouts, he became the Cub Scout leader. He always put others first.

“He shared his life with everybody else, too,” he said. “Every place we’ve ever lived, every kid would go to him with problems before going to their own parents. He would help straighten everything out.”

On Friday, Feb. 18, the Vulich family is holding a simple “celebration of life” in honor of George, Steve said.

“He always put his family and the community first,” Steve said. “He’s never been a person who thought about himself. He’s always had a giant heart.”

George is survived by wife, Elizabeth, 82, eight children, 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.