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40 Earl Adkins

Earl Adkins
Hometown (Last School)
Ashland, KY (High)
1954-55, 1956-57, 1957-58
September 13, 1933

Earl Adkins was born September 13, 1933, in Washington Court House, Ohio to Earl and Edith Tisdale.  Growing up in Ashland, Kentucky, life wasn’t easy for Adkins. His father left his mother when Earl was only six-weeks old. His mother was forced to get a job as a chambermaid, working odd hours while Earl and his older brother, Ray, were cared for by their grandmother.  “I used to listen to UK games on the radio,” said Adkins. “My hero was Ralph Beard, who played with the ‘Fabulous Five.’ I love the university. I’m blue through and through.”  The hard times his family went through inspired Adkins to perform well in athletics. He played three years of football and basketball at Ashland High School, where he would make his reputation in basketball and attract scouts from all over America to beckon for his talents.  “I guess I was very determined,” said Adkins, who averaged 23 points per game his senior year.

Adkins, whose nickname was “Brother,” was a three-sport star for Ashland High School in the 1950’s.  He was named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball and captain of the All-State Team in 1953.  Adkins was a distinguished basketball player who excelled at football and track for Ashland High School.  He was an All-State running back in football and was even offered a football scholarship at the University of Kentucky by Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.  Earl, however, stuck with his love of basketball and decided to play at the University of Kentucky for Coach Adolph Rupp.  Adkins averaged 20.6 points per game his senior year and ended his high school career with a total of 1,392 points.

On his nickname of “Brother,” Adkins said it was something that’s been with him as long as he can remember.  “I had a brother and he
called me ‘Brother.’ My grandmother, mother, and wife all call me ‘Brother.’ If somebody comes to town and says ‘Do you know Earl Adkins?’ they’d probably say no. But if they say, ‘Do you know ‘Brother’ Adkins?,’ it’s different.”

Before going to Kentucky, Adkins and his high school sweetheart, Beverly Newton, got married.  Adkins was never really able to put basketball first because of this and for that, he and Adolph Rupp never really got along.  Adkins says he knew that Rupp was being harder on him than on the single players during preparation for the post-season tournament after the 1954-55 regular season was over.  “It was my sophomore year and we were getting ready to play Marquette in the NCAA Tournament at Northwestern University,” Adkins explained. “Before the final practice when we were getting ready to depart, Adolph told me I was going to start against Marquette.  But during our scrimmage I made two bad passes and he yanked me out. I only played two minutes against Marquette.  And that destroyed my confidence.”
Adkins was so distraught he sat out the next season due to academic problems. But he eventually returned to help the Wildcats win the NCAA National Championship in 1958.

Rupp had watched Adkins play many times during his prep days and Adkins said Harry Lancaster assured him that his upcoming marriage wouldn’t affect his status at Kentucky.  “I’d been recruited by other schools, like N.C. State, SMU, Clemson, and Marshall,” said Adkins. “But the state of Kentucky and the university were number-one in my heart. I couldn’t go anywhere else.”  But the 6-4 guard may have wanted to had he known what would happen in Lexington.  As a freshman, Adkins posted a 15 points per game average in six games on the freshman team. In his sophomore season, Adkins played in 15 games, accumulating 50 points. In his red-shirt junior season, he saw 120 minutes of action in 16 games and scored 48 points. As a senior, Adkins played in 19 games and averaged five points per game.

As a freshman at Kentucky, Adkins was the second-highest scorer on the frosh squad with a 15.5 average.

As a sophomore, Adkins gained a letter while proving himself valuable in an extensive relief role. He tallied 50 points in 15 games and helped the ‘Cats penetrate the sticky zone defense they faced on numerous occasions.  He turned in his top exhibition of the campaign in the second DePaul tilt as his five long set shots in the last stanza helped avert a possible defeat. Kentucky won the game 76-72, but were trailing by a single point when Adkins put in his first appearance. 

As a junior, Adkins was not available for varsity duty until the second semester due to a scholastic deficiency.

Adkins was the “sixth” man on Rupp’s 1958 National Championship team. “During my senior season, Coach Rupp gave me one of the nicest compliments he ever gave anyone,” Adkins stated. “He said I was one of the best sixth men in the country.”  That statement was probably based upon Adkins’ performances in a few key games that season. He scored 14 points in the second half of a 74-55 victory over the University of Georgia at Atlanta, doing most of his damage after the Bulldogs had pulled within five points midway through the second period. Adkins also poured in 25 points during a game against Vanderbilt University that season.  “I was very happy with those games,” said Adkins. “But it’s difficult to understand what it was like to play for Rupp unless you played for him. He could be a real jerk. But he did teach me some good things, like the toughness it takes to get along in life. I didn’t mind him being tough. I just didn’t think he was very fair.”  Adkins also believed the recent allegations made by former UK basketball players also wasn’t very fair.  “I’ll tell you that nobody on the 1958 championship team was ever paid,” Adkins stressed.  “At least, to my knowledge they weren’t. Myself, I was on what was called a ‘married scholarship, which barely took care of Beverly and me. We were paid $118 per month, which was supposed to take care of our housing, clothing and food. And that was only during the school year.  “I went to Coach Rupp and Coach (Harry) Lancaster,” Adkins continued. “I was eating only one meal a day and I went to them asking if I could at least be able to get a free lunch.  They both said, ‘Hell no, Earl. Do you want the NCAA to come over and investigate us?”‘  Adkins believed that even if some of the former athletes were given gifts of cash and other goods, they shouldn’t have talked about it.  Adkins said he really looked forward to game days because he was assured of at least getting two meals that day.  “At lunch we’d usually have a T-bone steak, a baked potato and salad,” he explained.  “Then at our pre-game meal we’d have a small fillet, toast, honey and coffee or tea. That was pretty high eating for me.”

Adkins graduated from the University of Kentucky, obtained his master’s degree in Education from Western Kentucky University, earned his Rank I and 40 hours above.

“I didn’t make All-American and go on to play in the NBA (National Basketball Association), which was a dream of mine,” said Adkins. “But I have been pretty successful in my life. All-Americans were a dime-a-dozen then. There were only 12 teams in the NBA and All-Americans were getting cut left and right. I didn’t get the opportunity to play, but how many people can make a living playing basketball, anyway?”

Adkins went on to coach basketball at four different high schools before entering academic administration.  From 1958 to ’68, Adkins was at South Hopkins County, where he was the head coach and compiled an overall record of 71-39, Louisville Fairdale, Union County, and Harrodsburg.  His best record with the Tomcats was 22-8, and after that he received a congratulatory letter from Rupp. He was an assistant coach one year at Fairdale, and then with the Braves, he had records of 8-13, 10-12 and 14-8. While Adkins was with the Pioneers, his teams had records of 15-8 and 12-11.  From there, Adkins went to the Henderson County school system, where he was a principal at an elementary school for four years. He then returned to Union County, where he was the principal at an elementary school in Morganfield for seven years before advancing to the central office.

Adkins spent 34 years in Kentucky’s education system coaching basketball at South Hopkins, Union County, and Harrodsburg High Schools, principal at Cairo and Morganfield elementary schools, and retiring from the Union County Board of Education where he served as assistant superintendent.

Adkins, whose wife is also a graduate of UK and was a school teacher, had three children. “I really have no connections to Ashland anymore,” Adkins said. “My sister-in-law still lives there and we love her dearly and visit once a year.” 

Adkins said his best memory of UK is of the late Lancaster, who was a father figure to him.  “Harry and I were very close,” said Adkins. “He was like a father to me. I loved him very much. I wrote a letter to him shortly before he died and his daughter told me at the funeral he cried when he read it. I loved Harry Lancaster very much.”  It was a friendship Adkins will forever cherish, just as he will always cherish his days at the University of Kentucky, a place where you truly learn how to cope with life, a life of laughter and sometimes, a little sorrow.

In 2006, Adkins was inducted into the KHSAA Hall of Fame. Earl’s life of coaching, teaching, and administrative work all involved tutoring, developing and leading the young people whose lives he touched.

Adkins passed away at the age of 89, on January 24, 2023.

College Statistics:

Per Game

1954-55 15   8.3 1.3 4.3 .308 0.7 1.1 .588 1.9         1.3 3.3
1956-57 16     1.2 2.8 .422 0.6 1.4 .455 1.0         1.5 3.0
1957-58 19     2.1 4.5 .453 1.2 1.6 .742 1.5         1.9 5.3
Career 50   8.3 1.6 3.9 .398 0.9 1.4 .614 1.5         1.6 4.0



1954-55 15   125 20 65 .308 10 17 .588 28         19 50
1956-57 16     19 45 .422 10 22 .455 16         24 48
1957-58 19     39 86 .453 23 31 .742 29         37 101
Career 50   125 78 196 .398 43 70 .614 73         80 199


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