Where are they now: Wah Wah Jones still a gold standard for Wildcats
Anthony Davis wasn’t the first Kentucky Wildcat to win an Olympic gold in London. Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones beat him by 64 years.
After John Calipari extended an invite, Jones appeared with Davis at the UK Alumni Charity Game in September, both displaying their Olympic Gold Medals in front of thousands of Wildcat fans.
The meeting of two UK legends helped show that UK’s legacy extends beyond who’s currently on the court and helped illustrate the grand history of the Wildcats as Coach Cal engaged the older players into the fray of new talent.
For the thousands of fans in Rupp Arena that day, it was one of the highlights of the afternoon. For Jones, who has seen and done just about everything in athletics as one of UK’s most decorated athletes, it was a moment he will never forget.
“It was really nice,” Jones said. “Coach Cal suggested it, … asked me to bring my gold medal with me. I really appreciate that Cal made that move to set it up.”
Wallace “Wah” Jones Jr., the elder Jones’ son, said his dad appreciated how Cal related to the older players and recognized their importance in the history and tradition of the Wildcats.
“They can be forgotten until their brought to the forefront, and that’s what Cal’s done,” Jones Jr. said. “They helped establish the legacy at UK.”
Jones was part of the legendary “Fabulous Five,” one of the most memorable and loved teams in UK lore. The five Wildcat players would lead UK to a national championship, lead the U.S. to Olympic gold and eventually get their own short-lived NBA team in Indianapolis.
Nicknamed “Wah Wah” by his younger sister who couldn’t quite manage to pronounce his name, Jones was born in Harlan, Ky., in 1926. Jones came to UK after setting a national high school scoring with 2,398 points in his years in Harlan and helped lead them to a state championship.
The young Kentucky native didn’t just come as a strong forward, though. Jones saddled up under both Adolph Rupp and legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, both regarded as two of the greatest coaches ever. Jones played defensive end in football.
He earned All-America honors in both, and he is the only player to have his number retired in both football and basketball at Kentucky.
Playing for both teams was difficult for Jones, but it made for an amazing life full of stories to pass on.
“When he was playing football with Bryant, someone knocked his tooth out,” Jones Jr. said. “Bryant came up to him and said ‘You don’t run on your teeth, so get back out there.’ ”
Jones deepened his connection to UK through both legendary coaches, doing his best to keep up with the hectic schedules.
“They were both tough and demanded a whole lot,” Jones said. “I did what they asked me to do and tried to do it the best way I could. I always got a long with them though.”
So how does Jones think Coach Cal stands up compared to both these legends?
“He’s proven that he can get the job done,” Jones said. “Players come, win and others want to join. They know (UK) is a winning team, a winning school. They want to join the winners.”
Jones also said that he thought Coach Calipari was an effective coach and a very nice guy. He said that Coach Cal had always been very kind to him and that he appreciated the time he had put into getting in touch with him.
“Cal just goes over and above,” Jones Jr. said. “That’s one thing that dad really likes about Cal.”
Calipari helped set up the meeting between Jones and Davis, something that Jones said he appreciated. His gold medal had a long story behind it, one that many UK fans may not know.
During his final year at UK, Jones, Rupp and the other members of the Fabulous Five traveled to London for the 1948 Olympic Games as the U.S. basketball team.
“There were no airplanes to fly over,” Jones said. “They had to take us over on the luxury liner, S.S. America.”
Jones said the cruise over to London for the Olympics was a great experience and that it helped bring the team together as they all got to know each other in the close quarters.
Rupp led the team to the gold that year, and Jones and his teammates returned to take the NCAA championship in their final season at UK.
Much like current Wildcat stars, Jones’ legacy didn’t end after the season. His career propositions were looking up in basketball. And football. And … baseball?
In addition to an $8,500 contract to play for the Chicago Bears, Jones said he was also offered a spot with the then-Boston bound Braves baseball team.
Jones said the decision wasn’t too hard, however, and turned the offers down to play basketball with his colleagues.
“I thought that basketball was the best decision,” Jones said. “We all enjoyed playing together. We thought it would work into something.”
Jones was drafted in the first round to the Washington Capitols but was later traded to Indianapolis.
“The NBA said they had a franchise in Indianapolis,” Jones said. “They said the Fabulous Five could come together and play and get the team.”
Jones played with the Olympians for three years before returning back to Lexington, Ky., where he’s lived since.
Jones still enjoys sports and doesn’t miss a UK game when it’s on TV. He even found time to attend Big Blue Madness just a couple of weeks ago.
“All UK sports are very important to him,” Jones Jr. said. “He watches religiously, but basketball is more visible for him. It’s his life. What they did, what they accomplished and how they were treated, it made all the difference in the world.”