6 Cliff Hagan

Cliff Hagan
Hometown (Last School)
Owensboro, KY (High)
1950-51, 1951-52, 1953-54
December 9, 1931

From the 1954 University of Basketball Media Guide:

A six-foot-four inch consensus All-American with the physique of a fabled Greek god and deceiving poetry of motion on the court, Hagan ranks as one of the greatest cage performers ever to don a uniform and is potentially a candidate for all-time national basketball fame . . . The high-scoring Wildcat pivot-man, a native Kentuckian from Owensboro, will serve as co-captain of the 1953-54 U.K. net squad along with teammate Frank Ramsey . . . Both were elected at the start of the 1952-53 season . . . Cliff “The Cat” did not come into his own until he moved from forward to the pivot as a replacement for Bill Spivey two years ago . . . One of smallest centers in the country, Hagan overcame his lack of height to become a national leader in rebounding and scoring . . . Author of a dozen current Southeastern Conference individual records, Hagan will be out to avenge the loss of his season scoring mark which Georgia’s Zippy Morocco eclipsed while Kentucky was idle last year . . . Coach Rupp attributes Hagan’s rebounding and scoring ability to “the greatest natural touch in his hands of any player I’ve ever seen or coached.” . . . Although he has one of the smoothest and most effective hook shots in the game, shooting with either hand from close in, Hagan is probably most effective under the basket where he rebounds like a man with rubber legs and twice the height . . . His highest single game point output came against Tennessee in the 1952 SEC Tournament when he set an all-time tourney record with 42 points, which also bettered all previous scoring efforts of Kentucky players in any game . . . Hagan was selected on every All-America squad in 1951-52-in most cases the only junior mentioned on the first team.

From 2005 Hall of Fame Induction;

Member of the 1951 national championship team … Led to a perfect 25-0 season in 1954 … Tabbed NCAA Consensus First Team All-American in 1952 and 1954 … Member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame … Also a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame … Averaged 19.2 points in three seasons, including 21.6 in his junior seasons and 24.0 in his senior season … Finished with 1,475 points in three seasons, which, at the time, ranked third in school history and is still in the top 20 … One of only four players in school history with 1,000 career rebounds … One of only two players in school history with 500 rebounds in a season … Owns the best rebounding average for a career in school history at 13.4 (minimum 60 games) … All-SEC First Team member in 1952 and 1954 … Tabbed to the SEC All-Tournament First Team in 1952 and the SEC All-Tournament Second Team in 1951 … Drafted in the third round of the 1954 NBA Draft by the but served in the military before starting his professional career … Won an NBA title with the St. Louis Hawks in 1958 … Five-time NBA All-Star from 1958-62 … Also a two-time member of the All-NBA Second Team in 1958 and 1959 … ABA All-Star in 1968 … Played 13 seasons professionally, 10 in the NBA and three in the ABA … Averaged double figures in all but two seasons, including a four-year stretch in the NBA with 20 or more points.

From the National Basketball Hall of Fame:

With one of basketball’s most devastating hook shots and a dazzling quickness and strength, Cliff Hagan starred at the University of Kentucky, and for 13 professional seasons with the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks and the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals. Playing under Hall of Fame coach Adolph Rupp, Hagan led the Wildcats to an 86-5 record, including a 25-0 season in 1954. The drafted Hagan only to trade him, along with Ed Macauley, to the St. Louis Hawks for the draft rights to Bill Russell. A pure shooter, Hagan scored an amazing 26 points in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks in 1958. During his ten-year NBA career, Hagan led the Hawks to five Western Division titles and to the NBA championship in 1958 and was named to the All-NBA Second Team that same year. Hagan averaged 20.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game when it mattered most during the NBA playoffs.

From WikiPedia:

In 1972, Hagan returned to the University of as the school’s assistant athletic director and took over the top job in 1975. He was forced to resign due to recruiting and eligibility violations in November 1988 and was replaced by one-time Kentucky teammate C. M. Newton, the head basketball coach at Vanderbilt University the year before.

In 1993, the University of renamed its baseball field in honor of Hagan. It had previously been known as the Bernie A. Shively Sports Center.

From KHSAA.org by Mike Fields:

Cliff Hagan made his debut as a University of basketball player on this date 67 years ago. On Jan. 26, 1950, Hagan had 9 points in 19 minutes of action as UK’s freshman team beat Xavier’s freshmen 59-46 in Cincinnati.

What’s remarkable about that bit of trivia is that only five days earlier Hagan played his last high school game. On Jan. 21, 1950, he had 27 points to lead defending state champion Owensboro to a 58-39 victory over Manual in Louisville.

Hagan graduated from Owensboro at mid-term and became one of Adolph Rupp’s most prized recruits.

“I realized all at once it was my last high school game, and then went on immediately the next week to and started practicing with the freshman team,” Hagan recently recalled.

He had to adjust to a different, stricter coaching style, too, going from Owensboro’s Lawrence McGinnis to UK freshman coach Harry Lancaster. “It was quite a change of personalities,” he said.

Hagan helped UK’s freshman team, which also included Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos, go undefeated the rest of the season.

Hagan didn’t become eligible to play for UK’s varsity until January 1951. Rupp was excited about getting Hagan in the lineup, saying the 6-foot-4 sophomore had “the greatest touch and greatest hands of any player I have ever seen.”

Hagan’s varsity debut came on Jan. 27, 1951 against Vanderbilt. He had 13 points off the bench in UK’s 74-49 victory.

The Cats went on to win the NCAA championship that year, and Hagan became a star. He was twice named an All-American. 

Hagan also shone on the pro level. He helped the St. Louis Hawks win the 1958 NBA title, and after 10 years in the NBA (during which he averaged 18 points) he became player-coach for the Dallas Chaparrals of the newly formed ABA.

Hagan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978, the first UK player so honored.

Despite all the acclaim and fame he enjoyed at UK and in the pros, Hagan still most cherishes Owensboro’s state high school championship in 1949.

“It ranks at the top,” he said. “I guess because I was young and it was the first huge success that I had. I scored 41 points in the championship game (against Lafayette), which was a record at the time.

“It was singular moment for me because winning the state tournament was so important. It was played in the old Louisville Armory, which seemed huge at the time. I remember seeing pictures of it, and you could hardly see the scoreboard for the smoke in the place.”

After Owensboro beat St. Xavier in the Sweet Sixteen semifinals Saturday afternoon, the Red Devils went back to their hotel to rest up for the finals. Hagan remembers lying on the floor and then getting a cramp in his leg when he tried to get up.

“They lifted me up on my feet, but I was still hurting. I didn’t know if I could play that night. But then when the game started, I felt OK and everything went in the basket.”

Just about everything went in the basket for the rest of Cliff Hagan’s basketball life.