Recalling 1948: Wallace Jones, Kentucky

When Wallace Jones left the University of Kentucky in 1949, he embarked upon the disparate and difficult vocations of professional sport (the NBA for three years), law enforcement (county sheriff back in Fayette County, Ky.), politics (a failed congressional bid) and business (building a tour company).

But how could any challenge cow someone who played for both Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant, two of the all-time hard cases?

“Wah Wah” Jones — the nickname compliments of a younger sister who could not pronounce his given name — was an All-American in both basketball (forward) and football (end). The Wildcats have retired his number in both sports.

At 86, he is the last surviving member of Rupp’s first NCAA tournament champion, the so-called Fabulous Five of 1948. Much of that team, along with Rupp, also took gold in the ’48 Olympics. He spoke in February from his Lexington, Ky., home.

Q: How was it playing one season for Bryant and then going straight into another season with Rupp? What was it like playing for those two?

A: They were both about the same. If you did what they wanted you to do, they wouldn't bother you too much.

Q: Which one was the toughest?

A: Well, I was playing (football) in Cincinnati, rushing the passer and got him down a couple times. They made a substitution, and I didn't see it. That guy put his elbow in my mouth. I came back to the sideline, bleeding and teeth knocked loose. Bryant put his hand around my shoulders, waiting to make a substitution. I said something about my mouth being bloody and my teeth being loose. He said, 'You don't run on your teeth, so go on in there.'

Q: You come back from New York after winning the first of Rupp’s four championships. How was the reception?

A: They came out in droves. Back then, it wasn't as big as it is today because of all the publicity. But they still met us when we got home.

We came back home, and they had a parade down main street. We all rode in convertibles. It was quite a crowd at the train station. It was big deal for us.

The Olympic Games topped it all, though, getting that gold medal. I’ve had a pretty good experience.

Q: It has been 65 years since that first championship. That’s a long time ago, even for a state that reveres basketball like Kentucky. Do modern fans appreciate what you accomplished?

A: I haven't been able to get out of the house lately, had some trouble with my legs. But my daughter and son drive me over to a little restaurant close by. Everybody knows me, and I know most of them. Some who know I'm going to be there bring posters, programs, whatever and want me to sign them. Maybe take a picture with them.

Q: I hope you get a free meal out of it.

A: (chuckling) They take care of me at the restaurant.

Q: Do you feel like you helped start something at Kentucky?

A: I think we did. We had two freshmen (the other All-American Ralph Beard) who started our first year. We were playing with older players, players who had been here and gone to service, come back. We built from that team on.

Q: How closely do you follow the Wildcats today?

A: I try to keep up with it as much as I can. Mostly on TV. They got a nice place to play and we still have seats, but mostly my son and grandson use them.

Q: What did you think of this year’s Kentucky team?

A: They got some pretty good players if they would learn to play together. Talk to each other. Try to not run over everybody, maybe throw (the ball) out as they drive in. And they need to get a lot better on defense.