16 Lou Tsioropoulos

Lou Tsioropoulos
Hometown (Last School)
Lynn, MA (Classical)
1950-51, 1951-52, 1953-54
August 31, 1930

From the 1954 University of Kentucky Basketball Media Guide:

One of the most improved men on the Wildcat team on the basis of his out-standing play in intra-squad scrimmages last season, Lou’s effective-ness this year likely will depend on how well a trick knee holds up . . . The knee was injured in pre-season practice . . . Barring further trouble, which could seriously affect Kentucky’s prospects for a successful campaign, Tsioropoulos is expected to see regular duty . . . He started every game two seasons ago . . . The colorful Greek, dubbed “Plato” by sportswriters finding his moniker hard to spell and pronounce, is a demon under the baskets and was one of the team’s leading rebounders in ’52 . . . The name is pronounced Sher-op-o-lus . . An All-America high school football player, Lou has never participated in the grid sport at UK…Extremely agile and well coordinated, he gets open surprisingly well and his chief offensive weapon is a one-hand push shot from virtually any position on the court . . . Reminds many people of former Wildcat star Wah Wah Jones, now Sheriff of University-dominated Fayette County, in both his rugged physique and habit of faking a fast break under the basket, then stepping back a long step and popping one in from outside . . . He’s been drafted for professional play by the Boston Celtics.

From 2005 UK Hall of Fame Induction:

Member of the 1951 national championship team, UK’s third in school history … Also played on the 1953-54 team that went 25-0 … Wildcats went a combined 86-5 in his three seasons … Averaged 14.5 points and 9.6 rebounds during the undefeated season … Averaged 10.3 rebounds in the 1951-52 season … Three-time SEC regular-season champion and won an SEC Tournament title in 1952 … Named to the All-SEC Second Team by the AP … Drafted in the seventh round by the Boston Celtics in the 1953 NBA Draft … Won two NBA championships during his three-year NBA career with the Celtics … Averaged 5.8 points and 4.8 rebounds during his pro career.

From The late Lou Tsioropoulos: player, coach, mentor in the Courier-Journal (October 7, 2015) by Tim Sullivan

Larry Fischer has a collection of get-well cards from when he wasn’t sick. There are a dozen of them altogether, all from the same source, each prompted by a Louisville loss.

It was Fischer’s fate to be a U of L fan who delivered the mail to Lou Tsioropoulos.

“He wanted to know what my affiliation was,” Fischer said, recalling his introduction to the late Kentucky basketball star. “He said, ‘You and I are going to have a rough time.’ I said, ‘No sir. I’m going to deliver your mail and I’m going to do it right.’ ”

And so he did. But in late November 2001, Fischer opened Tsioropoulos’ mailbox to find an unstamped letter addressed to the letter-carrier. It contained a lengthy expression of feigned sympathy for Oregon’s 90-63 trampling of Rick Pitino’s first U of L team, and it would become the first in a series of treasured keepsakes.

“Rick lost 12 regular season games that year,” Fischer said, “and I have the cards to prove it.”

When Lou Tsioropoulos died on Aug. 22, nine days short of his 85th birthday, he was remembered primarily as a member of championship teams at UK and with the NBA’s Boston Celtics, as a basketball coach at DuPont Manual High School and as an administrator at several Louisville schools.

Yet when friends, relatives and former students gather at 1 p.m. Saturday at Manual to celebrate Tsioropoulos’ life, they can also testify to his prolific and resourceful writing, to small-script essays befitting the space limitations of greeting cards, to poems penned on the shirt cardboard that came back from the dry cleaners, and to philosophical riffs inscribed on toilet roll tubes.

Recounting his life and lessons in a fill-in-the-blanks book for his daughter, Tara, Tsioropoulos quoted from the Greek philosopher Epicurus, the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the Biblical Book of Proverbs. If he was not the best player on Kentucky’s 1951 NCAA Championship team, he was likely its most learned.

“Lou had a lot of nicknames,” said Bill Olsen, former U of L athletic director and a longtime neighbor. “He was known as ‘The Golden Greek,’ as ‘Mr. T,’ but I would call him ‘Plato.’ He would get into all this philosophy and start talking about these deep things. He could talk on any subject.”

“He just had a mystique,” Jan Tsioropoulos said of her late husband. “You just wanted to know more about him when you were around him. We were married 51 years, and I still haven’t completely figured him out.”

Like a lot of children of the depression, Lou Tsioropoulos was adamantly opposed to waste. His survivors considered him “frugal” — how many people cut up cereal boxes to use the inside panels for writing material? — but he was also known for a generous spirit and a weakness for Stetson hats.

Like a lot of former principals, Tsioropoulos struck an intimidating figure to young students, but he was also the type to lead neighborhood children on impromptu parades following memorable Kentucky victories.

Like a lot of accomplished athletes, Tsioropoulos was keenly competitive, but he retained a philosophical perspective on the results. If he was not entirely a study in contradictions, neither was he a personality easily pigeonholed.

In February of 1968, one week after his daughter’s birth and three years after being voted the city’s Coach of the Year, Tsioropoulos opened his home to The Courier-Journal’s Dave Kindred to discuss a Manual season that had started with 14 straight losses. This was the last and least successful of Tsioropoulos’ five seasons as a high school head coach, a 2-19 finish to a previously banner basketball career.

“I’m still giving my best,” Tsioropoulos said, “but I’m losing. Losing. It started me to thinking, to re-evaluating things. I mean, just why are we playing?

“Just why are these high school boys playing basketball? Naturally, we want to win. I was never on a losing team. But I had adversity, too. Financial adversity — I came through that. Adversity with my back — I survived.

“Now, these boys at Manual are down. If they stay down, if they just lie there, it would be a crime. A sin. There’s a lesson to be learned. What we want is a good attitude, a 100 percent effort to win. We don’t expect a 5-11 boy to outjump a 6-6 boy, but we want him to try.”

Lou Tsioropoulos stood 6-foot-5, and his basketball abilities were augmented by a football disposition he developed as an All-America high school player in Lynn, Mass. He might have played football for Paul “Bear” Bryant at UK — his arm strength engendered shock and awe — but he told Manual’s “Old Goat Radio” that he was taking so much punishment practicing that, “I was getting punchy. I didn’t want to be that way anymore.”

Still, if Tsioropoulos’ UK athletic career was narrower than it might have been, his No. 16 basketball jersey has risen to the rafters of Rupp Arena, one of 43 recognized as “retired.”

Though Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp had so much difficulty spelling Tsioropoulos that he had cards printed for official scorers, he called on him liberally, as a guard, a forward and to defend the pivot.

“He was never a good shot,” former UK manager Humzey Yessin recalled, “but his great qualities of rebounding and defense (are) what impressed coach Rupp. And his aggressiveness. He was a fierce competitor. One time he had to be restrained from going after (UK assistant) coach (Harry) Lancaster.”

The Wildcats won 90 of their 95 games during Tsioropoulos’ career that included: the 1951 NCAA Championship and a 1952-53 season that was suspended following a point-shaving scandal and Kentucky’s only unbeaten season since 1912, which was a 25-0 campaign that came to an abrupt end when Rupp declined an invitation to the 1954 NCAA Tournament.

Under rules that have since been abolished, Tsioropoulos was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament because he had already graduated. Faced with the prospect of fielding a team without his three leading scorers — Cliff Hagan and Frank Ramsey were also ineligible — Rupp chose to preserve his perfect season instead of attempting to chase a championship short-handed. (LaSalle won the NCAA Championship that year, three months after a 73-60 loss to the Wildcats.)

“I never saw them play,” said former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall, “but I’ve looked at some film. That team was so complete, with every advantage of basketball skill and understanding the game. And Lou was the enforcer, the guy who didn’t allow intimidation. …

“They were hard-playing, tough guys and Lou was a leader.”

Rupp sometimes pushed his players through grueling two- and three-hour practices, setting them up for an exhausting scrimmage against his fresh-legged freshman team.

“Sometimes,” Tsioropoulos told Olsen, with a rhetorical wink, “I had to impose my will on those guys.”

That physical style of play would cause Tsioropoulos to foul out of eight games during the 1953-54 season, but he was able to average 14.5 points and 9.6 rebounds and reach a career-high 30 points in a January game against Georgia Tech. After a stint in the Air Force, he would play a reserve role on the Celtics’ first two NBA championship teams — in 1957 and 1959 — before retiring following back surgery.

Jan Shroyer had heard her future husband’s name on the radio growing up, but she did not meet him until after he had settled in Louisville as a wholesale liquor salesman. Her initial attraction, she said, was purely pragmatic.

“The truth?” she said. “He was tall enough for me to wear my heels.”

Her interest in sports was then, at best, cursory. Taken to a Manual football game as a first date, she remembers asking about the number of players in the game. Told there were 11, she inquired about which team got the extra player.

The relationship survived.

“We dated maybe three weeks and decided to get married,” she said. “Something like that.”

Tsioropoulos compiled a 44-61 record in his five years as a coach at Manual, then moved into school administration in pursuit of a bigger paycheck. He would become such a fixture at Southern Middle School that Melody Raymond would know him both as a student and as a teacher.

“He was a great boss,” said Raymond, now the principal at Blue Lick Elementary. “He trusted me, and I was a brand-new teacher, too. …

“I knew him maybe a little better (than others) because my mother was PTA president. When my mother was sick and dying, he was one of the last people who came to see her. He came to see mom the day before she died. I can remember her perking up and saying, ‘Well, Mr. T.’ ”

Miriam “Mims” Oglesby taught science at Southern and remembers Tsioropoulos for his diplomatic demeanor during the stressful first days of mandatory school busing in the 1970s.

“No matter what went on, he would always handle it with grace and calm,” Oglebsy said. “One time there was a student who was giving everybody a hard time and he was interviewing him. When the boy said, ‘I was afraid,’ he said, ‘Everybody was afraid of you.’

“He was always able to look at a situation and help you see maybe where the kid was coming from, or the situation was coming. I felt like he handled (busing) with as much diplomacy as he could. Parents were upset, the community was upset, (but) he tried to help the faculty to stay on an even keel; tried to make a safe place for them, a comfortable place for them.”

Though his philosophical bent would suggest Athenian influences, the Golden Greek also had his Spartan streak.

Larry Fischer recalled accompanying Tsioropoulos to a fund-raiser and seeing him approached by a former student, now middle-aged.

“I know who you are,” the man said. “You whooped my ass at Manual.”

“Yes,” Tsioropoulos replied. “You probably deserved it.”

“He was good to the bottom of his core, but he scared the crap out of me,” said Becky Evans, a next-door neighbor. “I never knew when he was being serious and when he was teasing me.”

As he had done in basketball, Lou Tsioropoulos worked at keeping people off-balance. He sometimes injected an invented word into a conversation for the sake of confusion. One of his favorites – and the spelling is uncertain – was “phlasetic.”

“He’d say, ‘I don’t know, that’s rather phlasetic,’ ” Jan Tsioropoulos recalled. “And of course no one would want to say, ‘What does that mean?”

What does it mean?

“Nothing,” she said.

The family room of their East End home contains photographs and artifacts from Tsioropoulos’ basketball career including a 2XL Kentucky letterman’s jacket, a replica Celtics championship banner, and an award from Down Syndrome of Louisville. Though Tsioropoulos had no personal connection to that genetic disorder, he became an enthusiastic fund-raiser, eventually insisting on donations to that cause as a condition of signing autographs.

“We would get random checks in the mail all year round,” said Diana Merzweiler, executive director of Down Syndrome of Louisville. “I finally nicknamed him the Greek Mafia because nobody ever said no to Lou.”

A nephew, Mike Johnson, described his uncle as “public and gregarious,” and yet “very private.” When Louisville won the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 2013, Lou Tsioropoulos approached invisibility.

“I didn’t see him for about a month, said Larry Fischer, the mailman. “He absolutely disappeared. I tried to call him, but he didn’t answer. …

“I really miss him.”

Obituary – Former Kentucky standout Lou Tsioropoulos dies, Associated Press (August 26, 2015) by Gary B. Graves

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Lou Tsioropoulos, a member of Kentucky’s 1951 NCAA national championship team and the unbeaten ’53-54 squad who went on to win two NBA titles with the Boston Celtics, has died. He was 84. Tsioropoulos’ nephew, Michael Johnson, said Wednesday night that his uncle died Saturday in Louisville of natural causes. A memorial service was held there Wednesday. He would have turned 85 on Monday.

The 6-foot-5, 190-pound Tsioropoulos teamed with Naismith Memorial Hall of Famers Frank Ramsey and Cliff Hagan to beat Kansas State 68-58 in 1951 to win the third of Kentucky’s four NCAA titles under coach Adolph Rupp. Three years later Tsioropoulos helped Kentucky finish 25-0 and complete the school’s only undefeated season.

Tsioropoulos averaged 14.5 points and 9.6 rebounds for that Wildcats team, which declined an NCAA Tournament berth. He finished with career averages of 8.4 points and 8.3 rebounds and the school retired his No. 16 jersey.

“We are terribly saddened to hear Lou Tsioropoulos passed away over the weekend,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “Lou was and always will be a Wildcat legend. His accomplishments speak for themselves: the national championship season in 1951, an undefeated season in 1953-54 and a two-time NBA champion.

“We are grateful we can forever honor his contributions to the university with the retirement of his jersey in the Rupp Arena rafters. Our prayers and thoughts go out to the Tsioropoulos family.”

A seventh-round draft choice of the Celtics in 1953, he spent time in the U.S. Air Force before joining the team in 1956. He won a title that season and in ’58-’59 as a backup for Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn.

Tsioropoulos averaged 5.8 points and 4.8 rebounds during a three-year pro career.

“He was a prototype for the sixth man that was developed over the years,” Heinsohn said in a statement from the Celtics. “He was a fun guy and probably would have had a longer career as a Celtic if it wasn’t for injuries. My heart goes out to Lou’s family and he will be missed.”

The Celtics’ statement added that Tsioropoulos “had a special connection to the Celtics family both as a hometown hero as well as being part of the organization’s first two championships.”

Tsioropoulos later coached basketball at Louisville’s duPont Manual High School from 1963-69.

Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, Louis Charles Tsioropoulos excelled in football and basketball in high school before playing the latter at Kentucky under Rupp. Former Wildcats manager Humzey Yessin recalled Tsioropoulos on Wednesday as “one of the best rebounders we ever had.”

Tsioropoulos’ size and dual talent drew the attention of then-Kentucky football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who went on to become a legend coaching at Alabama. Yessin added that Bryant would “ask Rupp to let him have Tsioropoulos because he knew he had played football.”

Tsioropoulos is survived by wife Jan, daughter Tara, a niece and several nephews.

Obituary – Lou Tsioropoulos, member of unbeaten 1953-54 Kentucky basketball team, dies at age 84, Lexington Herald-Leader (August 26, 2015) by Jerry Tipton

Former Kentucky basketball star Lou Tsioropoulos died Saturday in Louisville. He would have been 85 on Monday.

With Cliff Hagan and Frank Ramsey, Tsioropoulos was part of a trio of standout players who led UK to the 1951 national championship. Three years later, as seniors, the players finished the season 25-0, the only unbeaten final record in Kentucky basketball history. Tsioropoulos averaged 14.5 points in that 1953-54 season.

After his UK career, Tsioropoulos entered the Air Force. He later played three seasons with the Boston Celtics as Tom Heinsohn’s backup at forward. He averaged 5.8 points as an NBA player and was on the Celtics’ championship teams in 1956-57 and 1958-59.

“He was a tough guy,” Hagan said Wednesday before heading to Louisville for Tsioropoulos’ funeral service. “He drew the tough assignments of guarding the best forward or center.”

Ramsey recalled Tsioropoulos as a defensive specialist.

Tsioropoulos grew up in Lynn, Mass. “He came down to try out for football,” Ramsey said. “He decided to play basketball instead.”

In the book Big Blue Machine, Russell Rice wrote about Paul “Bear” Bryant, then UK’s football coach, asking Adolph Rupp if he’d seen the football prospect from Massachusetts.

“I don’t know, Paul,” Rupp said. “What’s the guy’s name?”

Bryant answered, “I don’t know, Adolph. He’s from Lynn, Mass., a big Greek kid with a prominent nose.”

Hagan and Ramsey recalled the size of Tsioropoulos’ nose coming up during a trip to Puerto Rico the team took after winning the 1951 national championship. The UK players needed to know why the Puerto Rican fans were calling Tsioropoulos “Cyrano.” It was for the French novelist and playwright, Cyrano de Bergerac, who had a long nose.

Tsioropoulos also quickly gained a reputation for having a difficult name to spell. On Wednesday, Ramsey voluntarily spelled it correctly during a phone conversation.

Rice noted in his book that Rupp had his secretary mimeograph labels of the name “Lou Tsioropoulos” on cards that he kept in his pocket and gave to officials keeping the scorebook.

Tsioropoulos is survived by his wife, Jan; a daughter, Tara; and two grandchildren.