23 Cliff Barker

Cliff Barker
Guard, Guard-Forward
Hometown (Last School)
Yorktown, Indiana
1946-47, 1947-48, 1948-49
January 15, 1921

Cliff Barker was born January 15, 1921 in Yorktown, Indiana. Barker was a burly 6-foot-2 inch forward on the 1948 Kentucky team that finished the season with a 36-3 record, the national title and the nickname of the Fabulous Five.

After that season, the Kentucky team played in the trials to select the United States team for the 1948 Olympics. In the final game of the trials, Kentucky lost by 4 points to the Phillips Oilers, a semiprofessional team. The five Kentucky starters joined Phillips players on the Olympic team and won the gold medal.

In 1949, Kentucky, with a 32-2 record, won the N.C.A.A. championship again. Then the team of Barker, Groza, Beard, Jones and Joe Holland turned professional and became the nucleus and part-owners of the Indianapolis Olympians of the N.B.A.

Barker was player-coach for the first year and a half, and a player only for another year and a half. The team was jolted in 1951 when Groza, Beard and the former college player Dale Barnstable were arrested and charged with having roles in a gambling scheme that involved 90 college games. The three were charged with accepting $500 bribes to control the score of a 1949 Kentucky game in Madison Square Garden.

When all three admitted their part, their pro careers were over. They received suspended sentences, and Groza and Beard were suspended by the N.B.A. Barker was not involved, but the Indianapolis franchise disbanded after its fourth season.

Barker was older than his college teammates at Kentucky because he left school after his freshman year to serve in the Army Air Forces. A gunner in a B-17 bomber, he was shot down over Brunswick, Germany on January 30, 1944 and held as a prison of war there for 16 months. He filled idle time in prison camp by bouncing and passing a volleyball, the only ball he could find. When he returned to college, his ball-handling skills were remarkable.

“He had good hands, exceptional hand,” his Kentucky teammate Rollins said. “His hands were very sensitive to the ball. And he was able to visualize things on the floor that other people couldn’t see.”

After his pro career, Barker taught and coached at high schools in Indiana, Kentucky and Florida. His last public appearance came Feb. 1 when the surviving members of the Fabulous Five (Groza died in 1995) were introduced before the Kentucky-Florida game.