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42 Billy Evans

Billy Evans
Hometown (Last School)
Berea, KY (High)
1951-52, 1953-54, 1954-55
September 13, 1932

Captain of the 1954-1955 team.

From the 1955 University of Kentucky Basketball Media Guide:

One of the nation’s outstanding players, Evans earned his spurs furthering the lost art of defensive play but in his final year is expected to turn into a top scoring threat as well. The 1955 Wildcat captain has been shifted back to guard, a position he played as an outstanding fresh-man and during his sophomore year, after operating at forward throughout last season. The 6-1 native Kentuckian was chosen to the pre-season All-Southeastern Conference team in the Atlanta Journal poll of coaches this fall and is expected to rank as a serious contender for All-America honors. Very business-like on the court, Evans is a steady and dependable performer who makes few mistakes in carrying out his assignments and generally can be expected to deliver just as well in the clutch as in an easy contest although he rarely looks spectacular. He’s usually given the somewhat-unwelcome task of guarding the opponent’s top scorer, if he can handle the height, and often outscores his man in the process. Ranked right behind the “Big Three” in scoring last season, averaging better than eight points a game. Evans is just as good in the classroom as he is on the basketball floor, making straight A’s in his final undergraduate year. He has completed the requirements for graduation and will be ineligible for the NCAA Tournament should Kentucky win a berth. He is one of two married men on this year’s squad.

From The University of Kentucky Basketball Encyclopedia by Tom Wallace:

A much-underrated player and a key contributing member of the unbeaten 1953-54 Wildcat team, averaging 8.4 points per game. Hit for a season-high 17 against Georgia. Led the team in free throw shooting, hitting 77.8 percent of his freebies. Came back as a senior in 1954-55 campaign to average 13.9 points. Again led the team with 74.3 percent free throw shooting. Had his career-high scoring night when he hit for 26 against Tennessee. Matched the great Tom Cola with 20 points in UK’s win over defending NCAA champ LaSalle. Also scored 20 in a thrilling 75-71 win over Vanderbilt. Ruled ineligible to participate in the NCAA Tournament because he was a fifth-year senior. Earned All-SEC recognition for his play during the 1954-55 season. A member of the 1956 U.S. Olympic team that captured the gold medal. Also excelled at tennis. Later became a highly successful executive with the Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation.

From Unknown source:

Billy Evans, as he was known at Kentucky while he was playing for legendary coach Adolph Rupp, was captain of the team in his senior year of 1954-55. He was honored to have his jersey number, 42, retired by the Wildcats. He was drafted by the NBA Rochester Royals, though he didn’t play as a professional. And, to culminate a stellar basketball career, he was chosen to participate on the U.S. team at the 1956 Olympics, playing alongside Boston Celtic greats Bill Russell and K.C. Jones.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it was the culmination of his sports career. Today, the 76-year-old Evans is “totally tennis,” showing up at the Pelican Landing courts 4-5 days a week. He’s been playing since he was “5 or 6” years old, was twice Kentucky state champion in high school at Berea, a letterman in the sport for the Wildcats, and is a member of the Kentucky Tennis Hall of Fame. And there’s no question that his tennis background established his quickness, which was evident during a basketball career that culminated in Melbourne, Australia, and the Olympics.

Evans was born in little Berea, Ky., the son of a Berea College employee who was himself something of a noted tennis player. Little Billy played all sports as a child, but focused on tennis because of the influence of dad Evans — who was the coach of the Berea College tennis team. The two played nearly every day, weather permitting, and by the time he was in high school, Billy was an all-stater and state champion in his junior and senior years.

But even though basketball is way, way back in his archive of memories, it is undoubtedly where he made his biggest impact nationally — and internationally. He began his career playing on a hi eh school team coached by a man who never played basketball. The coach would read from a coaching manual and relay the instructions to the players. Not surprisingly, Berea won but two games in Evans sophomore year — beating the same team twice. But by the time his senior season rolled around, his Berea team made the playoffs for the state championship before losing to the eventual state champions.

Bill received only two scholarship offers, a basketball offer from Kentucky and a tennis scholarship from Furman University. He chose Kentucky, and little did he know that he was about to go on a wild ride with the Wildcats.

One of 16 freshmen who arrived at Kentucky — there was no limit on scholarships then -Evans was practically anonymous when placed alongside his more illustrious classmates. “We had bios of everyone in the program,” he says. “Everyone had about four inches of statistics. I had only one line — ‘Billy Evans, Berea, state high school tennis champion.’ That’s all it said.”

Evans had played center at Berea, despite being only 6-1 and 165 pounds, but he quickly got a sobering message at Kentucky. “There about six or seven people who were 7-feet or taller,” he said. “So I knew I had better learn to play guard if I wanted to stay around very long.”

By the time he left, only two of the 16 remained — and Evans was one. He was still only 6-1, but had put on 20 additional pounds. Kentucky, which was the finest team in the nation during the 10-year period of 1945 to 1955, endured a point-shaving scandal which began a couple of years before Evans’ freshman year, but which culminated in the team being forced to sit out the ’52-’53 season. The next year, in ’53-54, that same Kentucky outfit went undefeated at 25-0.

Every starter on the undefeated team — and Evans was one, along with future NBA players Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulis — had played center in high school. And, interestingly, all were 6-feet-5 or less.

And then, there was Rupp, Kentucky’s famed basketball coach of 41 years. Was he tough, mean, a cantankerous SOB? One incident said it all, Bill remembers.

Kentucky was No. 2 in the country and about to play the nation’s top-ranked team, St. John’s. And the Wildcats thoroughly dominated St. John’s, winning S140. The score was S 1-39 the 15 seconds remaining, but Evans committed a foul and St. John’s made a free throw as the game ended.

The Wildcats, understandable thrilled at beating the top-ranked team by such a margin, were celebrating in the locker room when suddenly BANG! — the door opened.

“Unbelievable!” said Bill. “I looked around, and Adolph was headed right for me. Veins were sticking out in his neck, his face was red, he was plenty upset.

“He grabbed me by the uniform, went up to the blackboard, and he put a big 4-0 minus 39 with the chalk, and put a line under it. He said, `Blankets-blank, Evans, what’s the difference!’.’

“I just looked at him! ‘What?’ Then he put a 1, followed by six zeroes. ‘That’s a million. I didn’t want them to get out of the 30s.'”

That was in 1952. He had plenty of Adolph Rupp stories to tell by the time he left Kentucky. Since he had taken Air Force ROTC in college, he was obligated to serve a three-year commitment He played for the all-Air Force team, made the all-military team, and eventually was selected to the ’56 Olympic squad.

How good was this outfit? Think of the Red Sox playing a Class B team. They merely shredded the opposing counties by an average of 53.5 points a game. The U.S. opened competition by humbling Japan by 58 points. Thailand fell by a whopping 72 points, the Philippines by 68. In the finals, the U.S. beat Russia by 89-55.

“We were just that good,” said Evans “That wasn’t any pressure on us, really. None of our players played more than about 25 minutes a same. We just played hard, that’s really all there was to it.”
Three years later, Evans was a member of the outstanding amateur team representing Phillips 66 Oil. The big international event in 1959 was the Pan American games, and Evans again was chosen to represent the United States. This time he was a teammate of Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, both former NBA ereats. And the results were much the same — a U.S. gold medal.

“But really, the reality is that 50 years ago — it’s a much different game. It’s just such a different game,” said Evans. “At Kentucky, we had like seven euys who had played together three, four years. You don’t find that today. Now, kids go to college solely to prepare for the pros, and they leave after a couple of yean. At Kentucky, three of us played together for five years – we had to skip one year on probation.”

It was while he was trying out for the Pan American Games that cold reality finally struck Evans. “Those guys who were 6-5, 6-6, 6-7 could do everything I could do —and I was only 6-1,” Bill said. “I became convinced that I was not going to be a super pro, I’ll tell you that! That ended any dreams I might have had of taking my career to the next level ended.”

So he began a business career, working first for Phillips, then rising all the way to a senior vice-president at Kentucky Fried Chicken. He retired in 1995 (7?), but he never has retired completely from sports. He always can be found on the tennis courts, be it Bonita Springs or at his summer home in Louisville.

He has lived a life that accentuated the positives — athletic superiority in basketball and tennis, a solid business career, a berth in the Kentucky Tennis Hall of Fame. But one thine he never did learn was how to boast of all his accomplishments.

And, leave it to wife Nancy to put his feet solidly on terra firma. Bill’s prize possession, a team picture of the ’56 Olympians, occupied a place of honor in his summer residence of Louisville. But the picture was trumped in the living room by something else.

“We’re fishing in Alaska in ’97 at a KFC convention,” says Evans, “and Nancy caught a 60-pound king salmon. So I walk into the living room in Louisville a little later, and there’s the picture of Nancy and her salmon in the spot where my Olympic picture was! All of a sudden my Olympic picture is down in the basement. Nancy’s fish is front-and-center!”

True, a slightly embarrassed Nancy says.  But then, Bill never has been overly concerned about prized personal possessions.
“I had known him for two years before I ever knew he played basketball,” Nancy said.  “That’s just the way he is. There’s not a conceited bone in his body.”

Obituary – (November 23, 2020)

Billy Evans, a UK Athletics Hall of Famer and a former Kentucky men’s basketball player, died Sunday. He was 88.
Evans lettered at Kentucky for three seasons (1952, 1954-55) under legendary head coach Adolph Rupp, but he began his collegiate career on the freshman team for the 1950-51 season.
The Berea, Kentucky, native scored 716 career points at the varsity level to go along with 549 rebounds in 83 career games.
Playing alongside other Hall of Famers like Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos, Evans averaged 13.9 points and 8.5 rebounds in his final season at Kentucky, but he was known for being the ultimate team player and doing a little bit of everything to help the Wildcats win. He was an All-Southeastern Conference Third Team pick by the Associated Press in his final season but was declared ineligible for the postseason because he had earned his degree.
Asked in a recent oral history interview by the University of Kentucky how he thought he would be remembered, Evans, a fan favorite, was grateful to play the role he did on such memorable teams.
“I’m sure they wouldn’t put me in the same boat with Hagan and Ramsey, who were All-Americans, but life was all better for me for having played basketball there,” Evans said.  
Kentucky was 77-6 in the three seasons that Evans lettered, including going 25-0 during the 1953-54 season, just one year after UK was under suspension from the NCAA. The Wildcats were named national champions in 1954 by the Helms Foundation, one of two Helms titles the Wildcats claim (1933). UK won SEC championships in all three seasons Evans lettered.
“Billy Evans is among the great players from our commonwealth who helped build the tradition of University of Kentucky basketball,” said Mitch Barnhart, UK Director of Athletics. “His legacy as an all-around athlete and a winner always will be part of our history. Our condolences are with his wife, Nancy, and his family and friends.”
Evans was drafted in the fifth round of the 1955 NBA Draft by the Rochester Royals and would later go on to win a gold medal for the U.S. in the 1956 Olympics and the 1959 Pan American Games. He was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in the charter class and his jersey hangs in the Rupp Arena rafters.
“It’s special,” Evans said of his jersey retirement. “I don’t go around to everybody and say, ‘Look up there,’ but it’s an honor. I’m happy to be there.”
Evans also played tennis and baseball at Kentucky. He was inducted into the State of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988.
Evans is survived by his wife, Nancy, and his two daughters, Sallie Coryell and Allison Scanlan. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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