A tribute to Kentucky legend Alex Groza

Alex Groza

Alex John Groza was born October 7, 1926.  He died January 21, 1995.   He is Martins Ferry, Ohio, where he twice made all-state and scored a state-record 628 points as a senior in 1944.  He was honorary captain of the All-Ohio high school team and had hoped to play for University, where his brother was a star player.  But OSU wasn’t interested, and UK was the only school to offer him a scholarship.  The 6-7 Groza was the captain and center of the “Fabulous Five” that won the 1948 and 1949  Men’s Basketball Championships, as well as the leading scorer on the gold medal-winning 1948 US Olympic basketball team.  Groza was three-time All-American and All-SEC, and two-time NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player.  He played for Kentucky from 1944-1949.  Groza finished with 1,744 points, which topped the Kentucky career list for 15 years after he left and still ranks tenth in school history.   In his four years at UK, the Wildcats won 112 and lost only eight.  His jersey, No. 15, has been retired.  “The biggest part of my life has been being a member of that team,” Mr. Groza said in a 1983 interview. “Something you can’t replace, something that doesn’t cost a nickel.”  He said in later years that more people asked him first whether he was the brother of Lou Groza, one-time place-kicker for the Cleveland Browns (he was) than if he was a member of the Fabulous Five.


Alex Groza

Groza was drafted in the 1st round of the 1949  Draft by the Indianapolis Olympians. Groza averaged 23.4 points per game in his rookie season and was named NBA Rookie of the Year — a designation not currently sanctioned by the NBA for the 1949-50 season.  He averaged 22.5 points per game over two seasons before being implicated along with college teammates Ralph Beard and Dale Barnstable in a point shaving scandal during the 1948-49 season at Kentucky.  NBA president Maurice Podoloff banned all of the implicated players from the league for life.


As a result of this ban, Groza became the first player in history to end his career with a season in which he averaged at least 20 points per game (Groza averaged 21.7 PPG during the 1950-51). In NBA history, only three players have had higher scoring averages in their final NBA seasons: Bob Pettit (22.5 PPG in ’64-65), Paul Arizin (21.9 PPG in ’61-62), and Dražen Petrović (22.3 PPG in ’92-93).


Alex Groza

After his playing career ended, Groza became the coach of Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1963, Groza led the Knights to a Kentucky Intercolliegiate Athletic Conference title and was named KIAC coach of the year. Groza left Bellarmine in 1966 for a brief coaching and managerial career in the American Basketball Association. Between 1971 and 1975, Groza coached 40 games with the Kentucky Colonels and San Diego Conquistadors and held a number of front office positions including becoming the Kentucky Colonels’ business manager in 1969 and general manager of the San Diego Conquistadors in 1972 (and, later, San Diego’s head coach). Groza was 2-0 as coach of the Colonels but 15-23 as coach of the Conquistadors, putting his career coaching record at 17-23 [1]. Groza served as general manager of the San Diego Conquistadors beginning in 1972 until taking over as the team’s coach in 1974, replacing Wilt Chamberlain. In 1975 Groza became director of player development for the San Diego Sails of the ABA.


According to ESPN’s Fastbreak (shown on May 28, 2009 after Cleveland Cavaliers’ scored 37 in Game 5 versus Orlando Magic), Groza holds the all-time highest point average among players during a playoff elimination game (4 games span).


Alex Groza died January 21, 1995, in San Diego, California, of cancer.