Cliff Hagan turned 90 on Thursday. We’ll let that sink in for a moment.
Arguably the most accomplished former player in Kentucky basketball history, Hagan led Owensboro High school to the 1949 Kentucky high school state championship, scoring 41 points in the finals against Lafayette (it was later voted the greatest individual performance in the history of the state tournament). As a UK sophomore, he played on the 1951 national championship team. As a senior, he was the leading scorer on UK’s only undefeated team (25-0 in 1953-54). He led Andrews Air Force Base to two World Wide Air Force titles. He was a five-time NBA All-Star for the St. Louis Hawks. He was then a player-coach and All-Star for the Dallas Chaparrals in the first season of the ABA. Upon returning to UK, he was the athletics director from 1975 to 1988.
“I’ve been blessed unbelievably,” he said recently.
The blessings include his wife of 67 years, Martha, daughters Lisa, Laurie and Amy, son Cliff, nine grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
There was a family gathering planned to celebrate Hagan’s 90th birthday.
“We’ll have a week of enjoyment,” Hagan said. “Of course, on the ninth, we’ll go out to a local restaurant here and have a cake and sing ‘Happy Birthday.’”
Hagan lives in Vero Beach, Fla. He called it a “tennis community.” He still plays tennis on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Although playing professionally until he was nearly 40, Hagan did not put down the basketball. He continued playing noon-time pickup games as UK’s athletics director.
“I think staying active is the best recipe for a long life,” he said.
Hagan will have to take a break soon. He said he scheduled to have replacement surgery on his right knee in January. He had the left knee replaced about 12 years ago.
“I must have put a million miles on my knees,” he said.
His son credited his father’s longevity to discipline. He eats lots of salads and goes easy on desserts. A glass of red wine is regularly part of dinner.
For Hagan, fame has not been fleeting. And at least once basketball had nothing to do with his notoriety. He recalled standing outside a Broadway theatre and being mistaken for the actor Howard Keel.
“I get about 10 to 15 letters a week requesting my signature on old gum cards, photos, (St. Louis) Hawks jerseys,” he wrote in a text message. “Requests have come from Australia, Spain, Germany, England, Japan, France, Canada, Alaska, California and many other U.S. states. Mostly with very old bubblegum cards and collectors of Basketball Hall of Famers!”
Kentucky isn’t the only college program experiencing the odd combination of a fan base keenly interested in basketball and a noticeable number of empty seats at home games this season.
After Arkansas defeated Little Rock 93-78 last weekend, Coach Eric Mussleman bemoaned the number of empty seats in Bud Walton Arena for that game and the previous home game three nights earlier against Central Arkansas.
“I’m a little surprised at the attendance, quite frankly,” he said on the Razorback Sports Network postgame show. “That we didn’t have more people in here for two in-state games. I think that’s part of the reason you play these games is to drive excitement in the building.”
Musselman called for more fans at Tuesday’s game against Charlotte. Arkansas will not play another home game until Dec. 21 against Elon.
“Hopefully, the tickets are used and we can get this building rocking a little bit,” Musselman said.
The announced attendance was 19,200, which is Bud Walton Arena’s capacity. But there were a noticeable number of empty seats.
As for Kentucky, the average announced attendance for its first seven home games was 18,715. The turnstile count for those games averaged 10,426.
While saying that working on late-game execution is important for Kentucky or any team, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla suggested it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
Fraschilla pointed out that Florida State’s 81-80 victory over Boston University on Nov. 24 was the 12th straight victory in overtime games for the Seminoles with Leonard Hamilton as coach.
“I guarantee you he wasn’t happy to be in an overtime game against a team he normally beats by 30,” Fraschilla said of Hamilton, who earlier in his coaching career was an assistant at Kentucky.
Incidentally, 12 straight victories in overtime games is an NCAA record.
Florida State had shared the record of 11 straight with Louisville (1968-1975), John Calipari-coached UMass (1991-96) and Virginia (1991-96).
Kentucky’s longest streak of overtime victories is nine: 1930 through 1945.
Fact check I
On his weekly radio show, John Calipari touted Kentucky as having had five different coaches win national championships: Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Calipari.
No other program had more than two different coaches win national championships, Calipari said.
North Carolina has had three: Frank McGuire in 1957, Dean Smith in 1982 and 1993, plus Roy Williams in 2005, 2009 and 2017.
Kansas has also had three: Phog Allen in 1952, Larry Brown in 1988 and Bill Self in 2008.
Fact check II
After UK defeated Southern, John Calipari said the Jaguars were picked to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Southern was voted to finish fifth in a preseason poll of SWAC coaches and sports information directors.
Texas Southern, which defeated Florida on Monday, was voted to finish first.
During an interview session prior to Kentucky’s game against Southern, Keion Brooks spoke a word that commanded reporters’ attention.
He was talking about how the mid-range jump shot has fallen out of favor. A player stepping back behind the three-point line before shooting is applauded.
To step farther from the basket before shooting, Brooks said, was a “conundrum.”
The word conundrum is defined as a confusing and difficult problem or question.
SEC No. 1
Andy Katz of NCAA.com recently rated the conferences. He put the SEC at No. 1.
Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Florida “have the goods to make a Final Four run,” he wrote.
Katz rated the Big East as the second-best conference followed by the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12.
Purdue No. 1
Purdue was ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 basketball poll released Monday for the first time. The Boilermakers had been ranked the second-most times without ever being No. 1: 379 weeks.
The most times ranked without reaching No. 1? Maryland at 433 weeks
Incidentally, LSU (215 weeks) and Vanderbilt (204 weeks) have never been ranked No. 1. LSU was No. 2 in the last poll of February 1981, and in the preseason poll going into 1989-90.
Vandy was No. 2 in the final poll of February 1965.
Alabama defeated No. 3 Gonzaga 91-82 last Sunday in a game played in Seattle. It was notable for several reasons.
It was Alabama’s first road victory against a team ranked among the top five since winning at No. 4 Mississippi State 77-73 on Feb. 21, 2004.
Alabama’s 51-35 halftime lead marked Gonzaga’s largest deficit at intermission since trailing 40-23 against Memphis on Feb. 7, 2009.
Of course, John Calipari coached that Memphis team. “We can’t play much better,” he said in the postgame news conference after Memphis’ 68-50 victory. “There may be a better defensive team in the country, but I’ve got to see it.”
And, of course, Alabama’s victory over Gonzaga came the same day the Tide beat Georgia in the SEC football championship game.
To Eric Bledsoe. He turned 32 on Thursday. … To Cameron Mills. He turned 46 on Friday. … To St. John’s Coach (and former Arkansas coach) Mike Anderson. He turns 62 on Sunday (today). … To Ole Miss Coach Kermit Davis. He turns 62 on Tuesday. … To Thad Jaracz. The “big” man among Rupp’s Runts turns 75 on Wednesday.