Kentucky Wildcat Basketball: Traditionally, UK blessed with talented big men

Kentucky's basketball tradition boasts a bevy of big men who earned All-America honors - Andy Lyons

Kentucky Wildcat basketball is flush with iconic players, memorable teams, as well as revolutionary coaches, and omnipresent in the 'Cats rich basketball tradition stands the big man. The man in the middle.

Since John Calipari arrived in Lexington four years ago, he has recruited to the Bluegrass a plethora of talented big men -- DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, and Willie Cauley-Stein -- as well as developed centers who matriculated to Kentucky under former Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie -- Daniel Orton and Josh Harrellson. Cal's penchant for recruiting and then coaching-up UK's men in the middle (with a helping hand from assistant coaches Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne) only continues a Wildcat tradition which dates back to the 1930s.

The Kentucky Wildcats rich basketball history includes 16 former UK centers being named All-Americans during their time in Lexington. Impressive, especially when one considers most NCAA member schools are unable to claim 16 All-America selections, regardless of position.

Today we take a look at the history of the center position at Kentucky pre-1955, as we recognize and honor a bevy of big men who played spectacular basketball for the Wildcats, and made indelible contributions to the construction of Camelot.

All-America performers listed in chronological order:

Forest "Aggie" Sale

Height: 6-foot-4

UK career: 1931-1933

All-America: 1932 & 1933

Helms National Player of the Year: 1933

Sale was Adolph Rupp's second ever All-America player (after Carey Spicer), and the school's first consensus All-America performer, an achievement he attained in both 1932 and 1933 ... The 'Cats were a combined 51-8 in Sale's time in Lexington ... Sale averaged 6.9, 13.8, and 13.8 points per game in his three-year Wildcat career (no rebound stats recorded until 1951) ... Of course, at that time, college basketball teams scored significantly fewer points than they do today, and in Sale's senior year, when he netted nearly 14 points per contest, the 'Cats averaged just over 50 points per game ... Nicknamed "Aggie" because he attended UK's College of Agriculture ... Attended high school at Kavanaugh High School in Anderson County, Ky. ... Later Sale served five terms in the Kentucky State Legislature ... Sale also served in the Navy in World War II, achieving the rank of chief specialist ... Sale died in 1985 at the age of 74 ... His No. 19 jersey is hanging from Rupp's rafters.

John "Frenchy" DeMoisey

Height: 6-foot-4

UK career: 1932-1934

All-America: 1934

According to Rupp, DeMoisey was the first player to use the one-hand, overhead pivot shot ... He averaged 11.8, 12.0, and 12.3 points per game in his career ... UK posted a 52-6 record during his three seasons ... He attended Walton High School in Boone County, Ky. before matriculating to UK ... DeMoisey was only 50 years old when he died in 1963 ... He served as administrative assistant to Governor Happy Chandler from 1955-1959 ... DeMoisey's No. 00 jersey is hanging in the rafters of Rupp Arena.

Leroy "Cowboy" Edwards

Height: 6-foot-4

UK career: 1935

All-America: 1935

Helm's National Player of the Year: 1935

In a game against the University of Chicago, Edwards netted 26 of UK's 42 points and outscored UC by 10 points all by himself ... Edwards averaged 16.3 points per game in his lone year as a Wildcat ... Kentucky had a 19-2 record in his only season with UK ... A native of Indiana, he attended high school at Arsenal Tech in Indianapolis ... Edwards left UK after his sophomore season to play for US Tire of the Midwest Basketball league ... He played 12 seasons with the National Basketball League's (NBL) Oshkosh All-Stars, averaging double-figures in six of those years, and earning all-league honors from 1938 through 1942 ... Edwards, like his fellow Wildcat DeMoisey, died at a young age, passing away in 1971 at the age of 57 of a heart attack.

Milt Ticco

Height: 6-foot-3

UK career: 1941-1943

All-America: 1943

Ticco was from Jenkins, Ky. in Letcher County ... The Wildcats had a 53-19 record during Ticco's UK career ... He averaged 6.0, 5.8, and 10.1 points per game in his three seasons with the 'Cats ... Kentucky had a 53-19 record during his career ... Ticco played professional basketball for five seasons with seven different teams in the NBL and American Basketball League, forerunners to the NBA ... Ticco also played pro baseball with both the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Dodgers ... Ticco passed away in 2002 at the age of 79.

Bob Brannum

Height: 6-foot-5

UK career: 1944 & 1947

All-America: 1944

Brannum's UK career was interrupted by a 2-year stint in the Army ... Brannum attended Winfield High School in Kansas ... He averaged 12.1 and 4.3 points per game in his two year Wildcat career ... The 'Cats posted a 53-5 record in Brannum's two years and were NIT runners-up in 1947 ... He transferred to Michigan State after the 1947 season ... From 1950 to 1955, he played for the NBA's Boston Celtics, averaging 7.3 points per game in his career ... Brannum was the head basketball coach at Brandeis University from 1970 until 1986 ... Also an enthusiastic golfer, the bruising big man coached golf at Brandeis and Norwich University in Vermont ... He also coached basketball and soccer at Kenyon College in Ohio ... Brannum died of cancer in 2005 at age 79.

Alex "The Beak" Groza

Height: 6-foot-7

UK career: 1945, 1947-1949

All-America: 1947-1949

Helm's National Player of the Year: 1949

Groza played in only 10 games in 1945 after being drafted into the US Army ... A member and team captain of the iconic Fabulous Five ... Groza averaged 16.5, 10.6, 12.5, and 20.5 points per game in his career ... In Groza's 120 game stint at UK, he made 67.7 percent of his field goal attempts (410-605), while scoring 1,744 points, tenth best in Wildcat history ... UK was 112-8 when Groza suited up for the 'Cats, losing the NIT title game in 1947, and winning back-to-back NCAA championships in 1948 and 1949 ... Groza, along with his Fabulous Five teammates, won Gold in the 1948 Olympics, winning their eight games by an average margin of victory of 33.5 points ... He was MVP of both the 1948 and 1949 NCAA tourneys ... Groza was UK's first three-time All-America selection ... He was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1949 NBA Draft by the Indianapolis Olympians, a team he eventually partly owned ... Groza's teammates on the Olympians included fellow Fabulous Five members Ralph Beard , Wah Wah Jones, and Cliff Barker ... In his two year NBA career, Groza averaged 22.5 points per game and earned an All-Star nod both seasons ... Groza's outstanding pro career was ended after being implicated in a point-shaving scandal involving the 1949 Kentucky squad ... Groza attended Martin's Ferry High School in Ohio ... Groza's No.15 jersey is hanging in the Rupp Arena rafters ... He died in 1995 at age 68.

Bill "Grits" Spivey

Height: 7-foot-0

UK career: 1950 & 1951

All-America: 1950 & 1951

Helm's National Player of the Year: 1951

One of the original 7-footers to run the hardwood, Spivey helped revolutionize the college basketball game ... Spivey missed the first portion of the 1952 season with a knee injury, then sat the remainder of the season awaiting the results of an NCAA investigation ... He averaged 19.3 and 19.2 points per game in his two year Wildcat career ... In 1951, Spivey recorded 567 rebounds on the year, still a UK record for single-season rebounds ... In that same season, Spivey snatched 34 boards in a game, tied for most single-game rebounds in UK history with fellow UK All-American Bob Burrow ... UK posted a 57-7 record during Spivey's career, winning the 1951 NCAA championship, UK's third title in four years ... He appropriately won the MOP of the 1951 NCAA tourney ... Former Kentucky player and athletic director C.M. Newton once said about Spivey, "I think the thing about Bill, first of all, was he was the first great, big basketball player. I don't mean good, I mean great" ... As a sophomore high school performer in Warner Robbins, Ga., the then-6-foot-8 Spivey wore three pairs of socks while playing because there were no shoes big enough to fit his feet ... Spivey was born in Lakeland, Fla., but his family moved to Columbus, Ga. in 1944, then Warner Robbins the next year ... Warner Robbins High School did not have a basketball team until Spivey arrived ... Implicated in a 1950 point-shaving scandal at UK, Spivey was banned for life from the NBA, although he was acquitted of perjury charges ... Spivey plied his trade for 10 years in the Eastern Basketball League, averaging over 30 points per game for his career ... He also toured with the Harlem Globetrotters and Detroit Vagabonds ... Spivey scored 1,213 points in his UK career, which ranks 39th on the all-time Wildcat scoring list ... Spivey's No. 77 jersey hangs from the rafters of Rupp Arena ... Spivey died of natural causes at age 66 in 1995.

Cliff "Lil' Abner" Hagan

Height: 6-foot-4

UK career: 1951 & 1952, 1954

All-America: 1952 & 1954

Hagan is perhaps most noted for perfecting the hook shot ... Hagan served as UK athletic director from 1975-1988 ... He played his high school ball at Owensboro HS ... Hagan averaged 9.2, 21.6, and 24.0 points per game in his three year UK career ... Hagan scored 1,475 points at Kentucky, which places him 17th in all-time scoring at the school ... The No. 3 all-time rebounder at Kentucky, Hagan snagged 1,035 boards in his career (13.4 pg) ... In 1952, Hagan grabbed 528 rebounds (16.5 pg), the second highest single-season total in Wildcat history ... UK won the 1951 NCAA title with Hagan playing alongside Spivey, then, in 1954, Hagan led the 'Cats to a undefeated 25-0 mark (the last UK team to go through a season unscathed) ... UK, though, did not participate in the NCAA tourney that year because the powers-that-be declared that graduate students were ineligible to play in the postseason ... Since Hagan, along with fellow UK All-Americans Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos, graduated from UK in 1953 (no basketball schedule played that year due to NCAA sanctions), they were prohibited from participating in the tournament ... Hagan was drafted 13th overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1953 NBA Draft (the Celtics also drafted both Ramsey and Tsioropoulos) ... Hagan never played a single game for Boston, instead he served two years in the military (1954 & 1955), winning the Worldwide Air Force basketball championships twice ... Hagan's rights were traded from Boston to the St. Louis Hawks -- in a trade involving Bill Russell -- where he played 10 seasons, winning the NBA championship in 1958 ... Hagan was named to five consecutive NBA All-Star teams (1958-1962) and averaged 18.0 points per game in his NBA career ... In 1967, the ABA's Dallas Chaparrals hired Hagan as player/coach, a position he held until 1970 ... He scored 40 points in the team's first game ... Hagan played in the ABA All-Star game in 1967, becoming the first player to be named to both the NBA and ABA All-Star teams ... Hagan played in 94 ABA games, averaging 15.1 points per contest ... In 1978 Hagan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the first ex-Wildcat to earn the honor ... In 1993, the University of Kentucky re-named its baseball facility after Hagan ... His No. 6 jersey hangs in the Rupp Arena rafters.

Look for the post-1955 All-America center breakdown later in the week.

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!

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