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6 Cliff Hagan

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

Cliff Hagan was born Clifford Oldham Hagan on December 9, 1931, in Owensboro, Kentucky to Mable M. and Wilber Thomas Hagan. He had nine siblings: Lorene, Mary Ruth, Samuel, Rudolph, Kenneth, Beverly Ann, Betty Fae, and Bobby Raye. He was also known as “Lil’ Abner” and “The Cat.” Hagan played under legendary coach Adolph Rupp and as a sophomore in 1951, he helped Kentucky win the NCAA championship with a 68–58 victory over Kansas State. Hagan ranks as one of the greatest cage performers ever to don a Kentucky uniform.

Cliff Hagan thought, ate, and slept basketball since he was a kid in grade school. As a matter of fact, it was one of his junior high teachers,’ who had organized a classroom team, who started Cliff in the sport and built within him the confidence that he could, indeed, someday become a college player.

As a sophomore at Owensboro Senior High School, Cliff Hagan was recognized as one of the top 10 players in the state and was named to the All-State team. As a junior, on December 16, 1948, Hagan broke a ten-year-old Owensboro Red Devils basketball scoring mark when he sank the ball for 34 points. On February 5, 1949, Hagan broke that scoring mark when he dropped in 35 points in slightly less than three-quarters of play against Leitchfield. On March 5, 1949, Hagan tallied 43 points to break two records—his own high mark and the Owensboro Sportscenter’s high. The third record which was broken was the team mark at the Sportscenter. Hagan’s high game record had been 35 points, and the Sportscenter individual mark had been 30 points, while the Sportscenter team record had been 77 points. On March 19, 1949, Hagan was picked as the outstanding player of the 1949 Kentucky High school basketball tournament after giving the greatest performance ever seen in a state tourney game and blistering the nets for 41 points to establish an all-time individual record as Owensboro’s Red Devils waltzed to their first Kentucky high school championship in history, conquering the fighting Lafayette Generals, 65-47. His 41 points eclipsed by nine points the previous individual tournament high. Harold Moberly of Madison had established the mark with 32 in the first round of the 1947 meet. His total of 15 field goals and 11 free throws also obliterated the old high of 28 by Breckinridge Training’s Frank Fraley in 1946 for a final game. His tournament total was 97 points, an average of 24.2 points per game. Hagan’s torrid 41 was the highest recorded in the Jefferson County Armory that season, shading the 37 compiled by UK’s Alex Groza in the Southeastern Conference tournament. Owensboro’s total of 65 lifted the Demons into second place in the list of highest final scores. However, Owensboro and Lafayette together smashed the old high for both finalists with a combined count of 112. Hagan completed the season with 765 points. Owensboro’s ledger for 1949 recorded 29 victories and three losses.

Despite all the acclaim and fame he enjoyed at UK and in the pros, Cliff 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 a 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.”

On September 8, 1949, Cliff Hagan officially signed to play for Kentucky.

In November of 1949, after some rumors began to circulate that Hagan may back out of his commitment to Kentucky because of visits to Indiana and Notre Dame, Hagan settled those rumors: “Kentucky is my home and Kentucky is my school. Besides, basketball is a bigger sport at UK than at IU.”

On January 7, 1950, the Owensboro Red Devils celebrated “Cliff Hagan Night” by downing a stubborn Daviess County Panther five 68-42 at the Sportscenter. A crowd of 3,326 cage fans was on hand to see the great Demon center tally 32 points in his final appearance as a high school player on a local floor before he left the contest with five personal fouls with slightly over five minutes to go. At the end of the game Hagan was presented with a plaque engraved as follows: “To Cliff Hagan In Appreciation for Citizenship, Athletics, and Sportsmanship from the Grateful Fans of Owensboro.” The presentation was made by J. V. “Chubby” Vittitow, president of the Owensboro Board of Education. The two-time All-State pivotman dropped in 12 field goals and eight free tosses for his total of 32 points.

On January 21, 1950, Cliff Hagan 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. Just five days after playing his last high school game, on January 26, 1950, Hagan had 9 points in 19 minutes of action as UK’s freshman team beat Xavier’s freshmen 59-46 in Cincinnati. “I realized all at once it was my last high school game, and then went on immediately the next week to Kentucky and started practicing with the freshman team,” Hagan recalled.

Cliff Hagan helped UK’s freshman team, which also included Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos, go undefeated the rest of the season. On February 14, 1950, Hagan tallied 38 points, almost half of UK’s points, against Campbellsville Junior College. That set the freshman single-game scoring record. Hagan tossed in 16 field goals and hit six out of eight free-throw attempts. On February 18, 1950, he tossed in 37 points against Vanderbilt’s frosh squad in front of 4,500 cage fans in his hometown at the Owensboro Sportscenter. Not only did he collect 17 field goals on his favorite jump shot, hook shots, and tip-ins, but his great work under the basket gave the Kittens complete control of the rebounds. Hagan also turned in a stellar defensive performance, as he held Connie Mack Rea, the highly-rated Muncie, Indiana lad who had been leading the Vandy scoring all season, to two field goals for over a half. On February 25, 1950, Hagan scored 35 points against the Jeffersonville American Legion squad to help the frosh cause. He scored 270 points in 12 games with the freshmen to average 22.5 a tilt. He finished his frosh campaign averaging 22.5 points per game.

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. During Hagan’s sophomore year, Coach Rupp made the statement that on the shoulders of Cliff Hagan rested the future of the Kentucky Wildcats. If he could fill in the gap left by Spivey’s absence, the Wildcats would again become a national power. Cliff lost no time in answering this charge. At the end of five games, Hagan led the Wildcats in all departments. He was tops in scoring, had the highest percentage of shots made—over 50 percent, was far out in front in rebounds, and also led the squad in scoring assists. Just as his feats thrilled the fans of the Commonwealth when he was in high school. everyone who saw the Wildcats play came away singing the praises of Cliff Hagan for his terrific surging leaps to get rebounds and tip-ins, or the sheer grace of his hook shot. Even the critics who felt that Cliff didn’t measure up to the terrific pre-season publicity that he had been accorded the previous year became converts and realized that here is truly a great basketball player. On March 2, 1951, Kentucky crushed Auburn, 84-54, and moved into the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament semifinals with Georgia Tech, Louisiana State and Vanderbilt. Hagan was the high scorer in the Kentucky line-up with a career-high 25 points. On March 27, 1951, Kentucky was down to Kansas State in the NCAA championship game and Hagan was on the bench with a fever and a sore throat. But when Kansas State still led, 20-13, after 10 minutes of play, Rupp sent the six-foot, four-inch Hagan scurrying into the fray. That proved the difference – the ailing Owensboro flash proceeded to spark the rally that brought the nation’s No. 1-ranking team surging back into contention, and he finished with 10 points (5 of 6 from the field). The Cats went on to win the NCAA championship, 68-58, and Hagan became a star. Hagan scored 183 points on the season for a 10.2 per-game average.

During his junior year, Hagan was faced with the Herculean task of replacing the previous year’s unanimous choice for All-American, Bill Spivey. Coach Adolph Rupp told the former OHS center, Hagan, that with him lay the future of the University of Kentucky Wildcats. If he could come through, the team could have a fine season. His response to that amassed a staggering total of 650 points in 30 games for an average of 21.6 points per game. He led his team to the nation’s No. 1 rating in every major poll and led them in total points, average points per game, the highest percentage of shots made, and greatest total free throws made, rebounds, assists, in fact in every department but free throw percentage, where he finished second among the regulars. His average point production came despite the fact he was only a part of a great team, a team that had two of the greatest guards in its illustrious history, Owensboro’s Bobby Watson, and Frank Ramsey, from nearby Madisonville, who, between them, averaged some 30 points per game. Hagan hit over 41 percent of his shots attempted, a phenomenal feat for any player, especially in view of the fact that all rebound attempts were counted. In the Southeastern Conference tournament, he set a new record for total points for four games – 110 points for an average of 27.5 points per game – as well as a single-game record of 42 points compiled in the semi-finals against Tennessee. Without his 19 points against Louisiana State in the finals, and without his great rebounding against the towering height of LSU, his team could never have emerged as champions. On December 10, 1951, Kentucky, rated the No. 1 college team in the nation in the Associated Press poll, had only a six-point margin at the half to Xavier and led by only nine points going into the final minutes. From there on it was a rout, however, as the Wildcats outscored Xavier, 30 to 14 in the final 10 minutes. The all-around individual brilliance of center Cliff Hagan sparked Kentucky to its victory. Hagan’s leaping, twisting shots accounted for 29 points. Coach Adolph Rupp didn’t want to be a Scrooge for the 1951 Christmas season, and his goodwill toward DePaul kept his Wildcats from smashing one of their own records at home. They tied one established by the “Fabulous Five,” however, in overwhelming a game but outmanned DePaul 98-60. Those 98 points equaled the record for the most points scored by a Kentucky team on the home floor. It was set on January 3, 1948, at Alumni Gym when UK beat Western Ontario. The 98-point carnage did break the Memorial Coliseum record of 97 established the previous season when the Cats mauled Loyola of Chicago. On orders from the bench, the Wildcats froze the ball the last minute of play. Meanwhile, a crowd of 7,500 which defied rain and cold—went mad in a frantic appeal for the Wildcats to shoot and gain the coveted 100 mark. The Wildcats refused. And, when it became apparent to the howling crowd that it was to be denied, scattered booing was heard. It was probably the first time a Wildcat quint had been booed at home. Cliff Hagan, Bobby Watson, and Frank Ramsey, the “terrible trio” of Kentucky’s offensive punch, led the blistering assault. Hagan scored 21 points. He sat out the last six minutes of play as subs took over completely. On December 26, 1951, a surprisingly large crowd of 13,000 fans, the third biggest in Kentucky history, alternately cheered and groaned during the first half as the Wildcats played good and bad basketball in streaks while managing to cling to a 39-30 advantage at intermission over visiting UCLA. The post-holiday gathering, surpassed only by the crowds attending the Kansas game the previous year and the St. John’s contest earlier in December, was perhaps the biggest “money” crowd in UK history since only a handful of students were present, most of them being at their homes for the holidays. Led by Cliff Hagan, the agile junior from Owensboro, the Wildcats finished with points to spare following their first-halt scare. Hagan fired in 34 points before he left the contest to a deafening ovation with three minutes, 39 seconds remaining. He scored 18 in the first half; 16 in the second half. Hagan stood out brilliantly on December 28, 1951, as the Bluegrass five routed Brigham Young in the opening round of the Sugar bowl tournament 84 to 64. Hagan scored with methodical ease to earn scoring honors in the game with 24 points. On January 3, 1952, the University of Kentucky Wildcats smashed their own and the SEC scoring record of 104 points for a single game in downing the University of Mississippi Rebels, 116-58, before a crowd of 8,000 fans that crammed into every available space in the Owensboro Sportscenter. It was a record-breaking night for Coach Adolph Rupp’s ‘Cats, as Cliff Hagan, who registered 37 points connected for 16 consecutive free throws before he missed on No. 17, and then hit for his 17th foul on his 18th attempt. The former mark of 15 in a row was ironically held by “Country” Graham, coach of the Rebels. Another Southeastern Conference mark broken was on the number of free throws scored as the Ruppmen hit on 30 shots. The previous mark held by Kentucky was 25 in a non-conference game in 1948 against Ohio State. Still another record broken in the Wildcats-Ole Miss game was in most points by both teams of 174 points, which beat the former mark by two points when Kentucky whipped the Tulane Green Wave, 104 to 68 in 1950-51. The Ruppmen equaled the most field goals scored by any one team as they racked up 43 baskets, the same number made by the Wildcats in the UK-Tulane tilt in 1951. Hagan, who registered 10 field goals and 17 free throws, fouled out of the contest with three minutes and 50 seconds of play remaining. It was in the last minute of the third quarter that Cliff Hagan broke three SEC and Kentucky records when he registered his 16th consecutive gratis shot. Alex Groza against Tennessee in 1949 registered 14 free throws to set the Kentucky records, and “Country” Graham, now coach of the Mississippi Reb, a member of the University of Mississippi cage team, missed on his 16th free throw against LSU in 1936, and was the record up until Hagan broke it. On January 29, 1952, Kentucky avenged the defeat they suffered the previous year in the finals of the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament by Vanderbilt 88-51. Hagan led the scoring by dropping in 27. It was a personal triumph for Hagan for he made a poor showing against Vanderbilt the previous season in his debut in college basketball. On February 21, 1952, Hagan, king of Kentucky’s hook shot artists, with at least two more games remaining on the season, set a new scoring record for the Southeastern Conference with 509 points in 24 games. Hagan’s mark passed that of Alex Groza who hit 509 points in one season’s play. In March of 1952, Hagan set at least five records while helping Kentucky win the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament. His 42 points and 16 field goals against Tennessee in the semi-finals were new individual one-game scoring marks; his 110 points and 40 field goals in four games were new tourney records; his 94 field goal tries also set a new mark. At the end of regular season play, Hagan was leading Kentucky in scoring at 21.7 points per game, good enough for 8th in the nation. On March 1, 1952, Hagan was named to the coach’s All-SEC first team. On March 4, 1952, Hagan was named to the UPI’s All-American first team. On March 5, 1952, Hagan was named to the AP’s All-American first team. On March 21, 1952, Kentucky’s basketball team lived up to expectations as the NCAA tournament opened. The mighty Wildcats from the Blue Grass country, rated the No. 1 team in the country and aiming for their second straight NCAA crown, walloped Penn State 82-54 before 11,000 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Hagan led Kentucky with 20 points as the Wildcats romped to their 23rd straight triumph. Tobacco farmer Adolph Rupp’s dreams of a fourth NCAA tournament championship went up in smoke on March 22, 1952, when aroused St. John’s staggered Kentucky 64-57. Thus, Kentucky was knocked out of the Eastern Regional of the NCAA in spectacular and amazing fashion—by a team it had whipped soundly by 41 points, 81-40, earlier in the season at Lexington. Kentucky—battling hard but simply outplayed throughout—saw its victory streak broken at 23 before 11,200 fans. Hagan carried the load for a Kentucky offense that could not knife a very tight defense set up by the Redmen. Hagan accrued 22 points before fouling out with 6:23 left. Hagan finished the season with 690 points for a 21.6-point average. On April 17, 1952, Hagan was named to the Helms Athletic Foundation’s NCAA All-America team for the 1952 season. Hagan was selected on every All-America squad in 1951-52, and in most cases, the only junior mentioned on the first team.

In 1952, Alex Groza, Ralph Beard, and Dan Barnstable were arrested for taking payments from gamblers in a point-shaving scandal during the 1948-49 season, when Kentucky won its second straight national title. An NCAA investigation found that the UK basketball program had paid players and that coaches had knowingly allowed athletes who were academically ineligible to compete. The Southeastern Conference first banned Kentucky from competition for a year, and the NCAA followed suit. Unlike subsequent instances of the death penalty, the entire University of Kentucky athletic program was barred from competition for the 1952-1953 season, not just the offending basketball team.

On December 5, 1953, basketball, University of Kentucky style, returned to Lexington and an overflow crowd of 13,000 fans saw All-America Hagan go on a 51-point scoring spree to break a variety of point-making records as Coach Adolph Rupp’s Wildcats vanquished Temple, 86-59, in Memorial Coliseum. It was the 111th consecutive home-floor victory for Kentucky and snapped a one-game Wildcat losing “streak” that extended back to the final contest of the 1951-52 season — an upset loss to St. John’s of Brooklyn in the Eastern Regional NCAA playoffs at Raleigh, North Carolina. The lithe Cat equaled Temple’s first-half output of 20 points, but there were no thoughts of a record until he added 13 more in the third quarter. Midway through the final period, the crowd began pulling for Hagan’s total to reach the half-century mark. With three and one-half minutes to play, the 6-4 senior from Owensboro had 45 points to his credit. He already had broken the University of Kentucky and Memorial Coliseum marks and needed six points to surpass the SEC record of 50 set last year by Louisiana State’s Bob Pettit. Those last six were hard to get. With the exception of Hagan, Wildcat reserves were in the game. The fans had forgotten the score by now. All they were interested in was Hagan’s total. With 2:50 to go, Cliff hit a jump shot. He now had 47 points. With 2:15 left he hit another. That made it 49. Then followed an exasperating minute and a half in which Billy Bibb, Linville Puckett, Hugh Coy, and Jess Curry tried to get the ball to Hagan. They did on a few occasions, but Cliff, dead-tired by now, couldn’t find the hoop. With 43 seconds left, Hagan was fouled by Temple’s Leon Smith and had two free tosses coming. Already the UK center had cashed in on 17 free throws. He missed the first. The crowd groaned. Then he missed the second and Temple got the ball. His last chance appeared gone. But with 35 seconds to go, Puckett, a sophomore from Clark County, got the ball off the Temple board and sent a floor-length pass to Hagan who dropped it in from under the basket. The clock showed 32 seconds remaining when the ball went through the hoop. It was a fitting climax to a game that ended Kentucky’s basketball drought—a game that had long been looked forward to by faithful UK fans who had to get their basketball elsewhere last season while the Wildcats sat out the campaign at the request of the SEC and the NCAA. Hagan’s total, amassed on 17 free throws out of 24 attempts, broke his own UK scoring record of 42 set against Tennessee in the 1952 SEC tourney. It surpassed Bill Spivey’s Coliseum mark of 40 set in 1950 against Georgia Tech. It was the highest number of points ever scored by an SEC player in either a conference or non-conference game and his 17 free throws were the most scored by an SEC player in a non-loop test. On February 6, 1954, Hagan returned to Owensboro, and although he didn’t break any scoring records he more than satisfied the 6,200 fans that overflowed the Sportscenter to watch the University of Kentucky Wildcats toy with the University of Georgia 100-68 for their 16th straight win. Hagan dropped in 29 points to wrap up scoring honors although he sat out nine minutes in the fourth period. In the second quarter, when his mates obviously were feeding him the ball to shoot, he hit for 17 markers. On February 26, 1954, Hagan was named to the AP’s NCAA All-America team for the 1954 season. On March 9, 1954, the Wildcats were back in their familiar spot as champions of the Southeastern Conference after capturing the title with a spine-tingling 63-56 victory over Louisiana State. Hagan, closely guarded most of the night, scored 17 points in his swan song, seven under his season’s average, but he was Kentucky’s leading rebounder and his presence in the pivot enabled Kentucky to shake other players loose for open shots. A few seconds after Kentucky’s Wildcats won the Southeastern Conference basketball championship, UK Athletic Director Bernie Shively announced the Wildcats’ season was at an end. An automatic bid to the NCAA tournament goes to the SEC champion but upon receiving word that Kentucky’s three postgraduate stars – Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos definitely would not be eligible for participation in the NCAA event, Shively announced the team would pass up the tournament. Here is the text of the statement issued by Shively: “The University of Kentucky basketball team has just won the championship of the Southeastern Conference. Each and every member of this team meets in full the eligibility rules of the conference. Unhappily, conference rules are not identical with tournament rules, and the NCAA has refused to permit three members of Kentucky’s team to participate in the NCAA tournament. The athletic board and athletic officials at the University of Kentucky doubt that in the absence of the three boys, its team would be the strongest in the Southeastern Conference. Accordingly, the athletic board has unanimously voted that the University of Kentucky withdraw from the NCAA tournament and request the conference to designate some other team to represent this district.” Kentucky finished the season undefeated at 25-0. This represented Kentucky’s first undefeated campaign. Hagan finished the season with 600 points for a 24 points per game average. On April 27, 1954, Owensboro honored Hagan and presented a blue and white automobile to the boy described by Adolph Rupp as “a blue ribbon all-American.”

Upon graduation from Kentucky, Hagan had scored 1475 points, which ranked him third in school history and grabbed 1035 rebounds, which placed him second, three fewer than Ramsey. In 1952 and 1954, he was named both All-American and First Team All-Southeastern Conference. Hagan averaged 19.2 points in three seasons, including 21.6 in his junior season and 24.0 in his senior season. He was one of only four players in school history with 1,000 career rebounds and one of only two players in school history with 500 rebounds in a season. Hagan still holds the record for rebounding average (min. 60 games) with 13.4 for his 77 total games from 1951–1952 and 1954. His uniform number 6 is retired by the University of Kentucky.

Hagan was drafted in the third round of the 1954 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics but served in the military before starting his professional career. He served for two years as a lieutenant in the Air Force where he was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. There he also won Worldwide Air Force basketball championships. He won an NBA title with the St. Louis Hawks in 1958 and was a five-time NBA All-Star from 1958-62. Hagan was also a two-time member of the All-NBA Second Team in 1958 and 1959. He played 13 seasons professionally, 10 in the NBA and three in the ABA and averaged double figures in all but two seasons, including a four-year stretch in the NBA with 20 or more points.

On September 4, 1954, Hagan married his high school sweetheart, Martha Jean Milton at the First Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky.  They had four children.  Serving as best man was Hugh O. Potter Jr. of Louisville.  Ushers were Frank Ramsey, Joe Elliott and his brothers John Thomas Hagan and Robert Hagan.

On April 14, 1972, the Boys’ Club of Owensboro was renamed to the Cliff Hagan Boys Club.  The Board emphasized that Hagan epitomized the image of success that help by interested individuals and organizations to less fortunate young men can bring. Hagan, they said, managed to work his way to fame and prominence and was a “true all-American.”  In his letter, Hagan said:  “l was humbled to learn the Boys’ Club might bear my name, The Cliff Hagan Boys’ Club of Owensboro, Inc. I unhesitatingly grant permission for the club to use my name and wish every success and Godspeed.”

In 1972, Hagan returned to the University of Kentucky as the school’s assistant athletic director and took over the top job in 1975.

In 1978, Hagan would be the first former University of Kentucky player inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

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

In 2005, Hagan was part of the Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame Charter Class.

Interview with Cliff Hagan:

College Statistics:

Per Game

1950-51 20     3.5 9.4 .367 2.3 3.1 .738 8.5 1.0       3.2 9.2
1951-52 32     8.3 19.8 .417 5.1 7.3 .698 16.5 4.0       3.4 21.6
1953-54 25     9.4 20.6 .455 5.3 7.6 .691 13.5         3.2 24.0
Career 77     7.4 17.3 .425 4.4 6.3 .700 13.4 2.8       3.3 19.2


1950-51 20     69 188 .367 45 61 .738 169 19       63 183
1951-52 32     264 633 .417 164 235 .698 528 128       108 692
1953-54 25     234 514 .455 132 191 .691 338         80 600
Career 77     567 1335 .425 341 487 .700 1035 147       251 1475

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