Frank Ramsey pulled in a single championship title for UK. He beat that by six with the Boston Celtics in the NBA.
While Ramsey’s amazing career with the Celtics may seem to overshadow his years at UK to fans outside Kentucky, he said his time in college prepared him for life.
Ramsey, who currently lives in Madisonville, Ky., said that the structure and coaching he received at UK, as well as the tradition within the school, helped shape his life and career and will continue to do so for Wildcat players to come.
“My experience as being a Kentuckian and going to the University of Kentucky has been great,” Ramsey said. “I highly recommend it to anyone.”
Even though he helped the Celtics to seven championships and played with one of the greatest professional dynasties, Ramsey said his time at UK served as an important foundation for his life in the NBA.
“You have to realize that I played professional basketball for 10 years, so when I retired I was 34,” Ramsey said. “But your education has to make a living for you for the rest of your life.”
Some of John Calipari’s Wildcats’ time at Kentucky is considerably shorter, but Ramsey said he see no problem with players leaving after one year to pursue their dreams.
It differs from the path he took to the NBA, but he also admitted that he wasn’t afforded that luxury when he played for UK in the 1950s.
“You can’t blame them,” Ramsey said. “If you get out of college now and start in business at $50,000 a year, that’s good. If you get out in one year and make a million dollars, that’s 20 years at $50,000.”
Of the teammates he could recall, Ramsey said that many had continued in their education and gotten graduate degrees, one had become a bank president, one the vice president of a large company and another an athletic director.
“They went on to be successes in life after basketball,” Ramsey said. “To me, that’s what Kentucky basketball does. It prepares you later for life.”
The way Ramsey sees it, UK’s recent players are getting that foundation in a quicker time period with Calipari while getting an opportunity that will change the rest of their lives.
Ramsey’s career at UK wasn’t without its high and low points. In 1951, Ramsey and teammate Cliff Hagan helped lead the Cats to their third national championship, but the following year, Ramsey and his team received the death penalty from the NCAA for a point-shaving scandal that Ramsey was not involved in.
The following season, in 1953-54, the Cats went undefeated. However, they did not accept a bid to play in the NCAA Tournament because the seniors on the team had all graduated, and NCAA rules, at the time, prevented graduate students from playing in the tournament.
Many assume that had Ramsey, Hagan and the Cats been able to play in the postseason that year, they may have been able to pull in yet another championship.
Ramsey’s most memorable moment at UK wasn’t actually while he was at UK, but rather getting accepted to Kentucky with an athletic scholarship.
“At that time,” Ramsey said, “(a team full of Kentucky players) had just won the Olympics in ’48. In ‘49 they had won the NCAA championship. They were just the epitome of basketball.”
Ramsey remembers being a larger-than-life figure when he played at Kentucky, but not to the degree that the players experience today. Because most games were broadcast on the radio and not television, people knew his name but not his face.
“Wherever you went, your name is one they recognized,” Ramsey said. “Your name was recognizable, but your face certainly wasn’t.”
Ramsey played under gargantuan expectations at UK under legendary head coach Adolph Rupp. Under Rupp, the team had already won two championships and former players had gone on to make waves in the Olympics in London.
Ramsey said that working under Rupp was a unique but life-changing experience.
“When I say it’s great, well, he was a strict disciplinarian,” Ramsey said. “The only noise you heard when you went in the gym was bouncing the basketball. If you were late getting to practice, they locked you out and you didn’t get supper.”
The structure prepared Ramsey for not only his career in basketball, but also the two years of service he and his teammates would give in the U.S. Army.
“The year before, the class had gotten sent to (Korea),” Ramsey said. “It was pretty intense. I ended up serving two years in Fort Knox, Kentucky.”
Wildcat blood not only runs deep in Ramsey’s veins, but his family. Ramsey met his wife, a cheerleader at UK, his freshman year, and all three of his children are now UK graduates.
Ramsey said that UK will always be part of his life and that he likes seeing the basketball program flourish with young successful players emerging from the program under Coach Cal.
“He’s done a tremendous job, and he’s still doing it,” Ramsey said.
Beyond understanding the tough decisions to declare for the draft after only one year, Ramsey said that he was even more impressed with Calipari’s ability, given he was coaching such young individuals.
“That’s what’s amazing,” Ramsey said. “Normally you think you’re going to have a player for longer.”
Ramsey said that if he could offer any advice from a perspective of experience to the young Wildcat players, it would be to stick to the basics and stay in the game.
“Basketball is a game of fundamentals no matter where you’re playing,” Ramsey said. “You’ve got to always put 100 percent.”