6 Paul McBrayer

Paul McBrayer
Paul McBrayer
Hometown (Last School)
Lawrenceburg, KY [Kavanaugh School]
1927-28, 1928-29, 1929-30
October 12, 1909

Paul McBrayer was born Paul Sullivan McBrayer on October 12, 1909, in Ninevah (Anderson County), Kentucky to Laura Sullivan and Hartwell J. McBrayer.  His father was a farmer.  His grandfather, John McBrayer, was a wealthy Anderson county landowner, stockman, and tobacco grower.  Paul graduated from Kavanaugh High School, where he was captain and star of the basketball team, in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky in May of 1926.  He enrolled at the University of Kentucky in September of 1926.

As a freshman at Kentucky, McBrayer, nicknamed “Scotsman,” played for coach Jimmy McFarland, a member of the Henry Clay basketball team that won the national high school championship in 1922 and played for Kentucky from 1922-1926.  The Kentucky Kittens won 19 games in 1926-27 and went undefeated.  McFarland said of that team, “These boys came to me well grounded in the fundamentals and knew what was expected of them. I had very little to do other than see that they came to practice. They deserve all the credit for having won all their games this season.”

In a sign of things to come, McBrayer enrolled in a coaching clinic for basketball, held for two weeks beginning August 1, 1927, at Kentucky.  Coach J. Craig Ruby of the University of Illinois taught the principles of coaching basketball.

As a sophomore under coach Johnny Mauer, McBrayer, showed phenomenal improvement over his performance on the undefeated Kitten team the previous year and looked like one of the best basketball prospects seen at the University of Kentucky in years.  Playing center, he started his first game on December 16, 1927, against Clemson.  He scored 6 points.  McBrayer scored a season-high 12 points against Tennessee on January 28, 1928, and again on February 24, 1928, against South Carolina.  He tallied 95 points on the season for 5.3 points per game.  The Cats were 12-6 that year.

As a junior, McBrayer moved to a guard position.  His natural position was at guard but played center the year prior because coach Mauer really didn’t have anyone else to play that position.  He was part of the four “Macs” – McGinnis, McBrayer, McLain and McGinnis.  On February 8, 1929, McBrayer whipped four consecutive field goals into the basket from past the foul line to give Kentucky a ten-point lead on the most famous team in the Southland.  and Lee had not lost a game and had made no less than 42 points on any of their victims. The W and L guards hung back, and the Wildcats’ delayed offense functioned perfectly.  The Generals never threatened until the last of the game.  As the game ended they were closer to the ‘Cats than they were at any other time during the game.  At the Southern Conference tournament held in Atlanta at the end of the season, he was regarded as one of the best offensive and defensive guards in the tourney. His height and agility enabled him to take the ball off the backboard with great ease.  On March 1, 1929, in a win over Tulane in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament, McBrayer didn’t score a point but a sports writer from the Lexington Herald had this to say about McBrayer:  “Old War Horse McBrayer didn’t make a point. He didn’t try. His job was to laugh at Tulane, start Kentucky’s offense and then go up there to take the ball off the backboard and then laugh some more.  He enjoyed the last half of that Tulane game more than he enjoyed anything that year. So did Kentucky’s little band of supporters.  McBrayer fed Combs the ball when he made four of his crips and was a big factor in the victory.”  On March 7, 1929, McBrayer was elected by his teammates to serve as captain of the 1929-30 team .  McBrayer said, “This the happiest moment in my life. Ever since I was big enough to play basketball, it has been my ambition to be captain of the Wildcats’ team, and here I am”

As a senior, McBrayer was the captain of a team that went 16-3 on the year.  On January 3, 1930, McBrayer, the inimitable Scotchman from Lawrenceburg was Kentucky’s hero in front of 4,000 fans. Captain “Mac” directed play admirably from the guard position and scored four field goals in the final half when Kentucky was badly in need of points.  He worked Coach Mauer’s guard offense perfectly no less than three times and missed only by a short margin on other occasions.  He finished with 11 points in a 31-15 win over Clemson.  On January 31, 1930, in a 29-24 overtime loss to Tennessee, the ruddy-faced Scotchman, McBrayer, was everywhere, starting most of the Wildcats’ attacks, breaking up Tennessee passes, and taking the ball off the backboard.  He played the outstanding game of the fracas and had he been given a little more support by his fellow Wildcats, Tennessee probably would have ended the game in the red and not Kentucky.  He scored 7 points in that loss.  In his final appearance on Kentucky’s home court on February 22, 1930, McBrayer scored 6 points and hit the long shots when Kentucky needed them most in a 28-26 overtime win over Washington and Lee.  In March, the versatile Scotchman captivated Atlanta court fans in the 1930 Southern Conference Tournament with his brilliant floor work, splendid leadership, and great goal-shooting, not to mention the way he speared the rebound almost every time it streaked off the backboard.  McBrayer set an all-time tournament record by making good every free throw he had during Kentucky’s three games. He counted ten times from the foul line. Although defeated in the semi-finals by Duke, Kentucky made a great impression on followers of the court game and broke all records by hitting fourteen free tosses out of as many chances against Duke.  As a result of his play in the Southern Conference tournament, McBrayer was a unanimous choice by coaches and sports writers for the All-Southern team.  Despite their loss to Duke, the band of eleven Kentucky Wildcat basketeers, their coach, Johnny Mauer, and Manager Len Weakley, not the least disheartened by their defeat at the hands of the Duke University five, arrived by train in Lexington from Atlanta amid cheers of 600 students and followers of the Big Blue. The welcome reached its height when McBrayer stepped from the train. He was raised to the shoulders of two or three students, carried through the Union Station while the “best band in Dixie” played “On, on, U of K.”  McBrayer was named a Helms Foundation All-American in 1930.  He was only Kentucky’s third All-American at the time behind Basil Hayden and Carey Spicer.  During his Kentucky career, the Wildcats won 44 out of 52 games.

McBrayer also played baseball for Kentucky and was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon social fraternity.  He was also a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, a national men’s honorary fraternity for leadership.  McBrayer was very active with the Lexington City Parks department during his college career.  He was the director of one playground and coached several recreation league teams.  He was a member of the Order of DeMolay, a character-building and leadership development organization for young men between the ages of 13 and 21. McBrayer was a member of Lamp and Cross, a men’s senior honorary fraternity.  In addition to his other extracurricular activities, McBrayer was the commander of one of the cadet companies at Kentucky his senior year and was a member of Scabbard and Blade.

He began his coaching career, while still playing baseball for Kentucky, with the Morton Junior High School (Lexington) for the 1930-31 season.  In March of 1931, McBrayer signed to take over as head coach at Kavanaugh High School in Lawrenceburg.  He began coaching and teaching history there in the fall of 1931.  His 1933 team won their region and their first round game of the state tournament before bowing out in the second round to Danville. In May 1933, he resigned to enter business in Lexington at the Kentuckian Hotel in which he had a financial interest.  He was succeeded by Forest “Aggie” Sales.

On May 27, 1932, McBrayer saved a young man, Garland Searcy, from drowning in a nearby Lawrenceburg lake.  The young man, who could not swim, was boating with a friend when their boat overturned.  The other young man, Claude Brown, was not so fortunate. He was found drowned to death several hours later.

On November 5, 1934, McBrayer succeeded Len Miller as an assistant coach to and head coach of the freshman team, the Kittens.  

Nine years into his Kentucky assistant coaching gig, it was announced on September 21, 1943, that McBrayer would be entering the Army as an enlisted man to support the war effort.  He reported to Ft. Thomas, Kentucky on September 28, 1943.  In October 1943, Bernie Shively, Kentucky’s athletic director took over the helm as assistant coach to Rupp.  McBrayer, a private, was assigned to Ft. McClellan, Alabama.  While in the Army he coached a team at Fort McClennan which won 19 of 21 games and the post title.  He was discharged two years later in October 1945 but did not return to his post as an assistant coach at Kentucky.  Elmer Gilb was named assistant coach for the 1945-46 season.  McBrayer was considered a “part-time” employee of the University and the law at that time did not require Kentucky to reinstate him in his old position as coach.  “If a law is passed which would require that we reinstate McBrayer, we’d have to put him in some other position,” president Donovan stated.  It was been generally understood that Coach Rupp did not care to re-employ McBrayer as his assistant. was named assistant coach to Rupp for the 1946-47 season.

On October 29, 1946, McBrayer was named head coach of the Eastern Kentucky Teachers College cage team.  He succeeded Rome Rankin, who asked relief from the basketball job because of conflicts with his coaching duties, according to Dr. W. F. O’Donnell, Eastern president.  In his first year at the helm, McBrayer led his team to 11 straight wins and finished the season with a 21-4 mark. During his tenure, he earned a victory in a record 38-straight home games at Weaver Gymnasium. McBrayer served as basketball head coach from 1946-62. While compiling a program-best 214 victories, including a winning record in 12 of 16 campaigns, McBrayer helped EKU earn two Ohio Valley Conference titles, three OVC regular-season crowns, and two trips to the NCAA Tournament. McBrayer’s 1949-50 squad finished the season ranked #24 nationally. He remains the winningest basketball coach (219 victories) in Eastern Kentucky University history.

The current home of Colonel Basketball is named in McBrayer’s honor. 

McBrayer was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1961.

McBrayer was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987.

McBrayer was inducted into the Hall of Fame and the Ohio Valley Conference Hall of Fame in 2006.

He died January 1, 1999, from pancreatic cancer.  He was 89.  


Obituary – PAUL S. MCBRAYER 1909-1999, Lexington Herald-Leader (January 2, 1999) by Rick Bailey

A college basketball coach so beloved that he was honored with annual reunions by former players at two schools, died yesterday at his Lexington home.

Paul S. McBrayer, an All-American at the University of Kentucky in 1930 who became the winningest basketball coach (219 victories) in history, had been battling pancreatic cancer. He was 89.

Mr. McBrayer was an assistant coach at Kentucky for nine years under before entering the Army during World War II.

Former Wildcats who played during those seasons held what was called “the McBrayer Dinner,” usually during homecoming weekend activities. The 37th reunion was held last fall.

For the last 12 years, former players from Mr. McBrayer’s 16 seasons at Eastern have gathered each summer at Arlington to reminisce with their coach. The reunion at EKU’s faculty-student-alumni recreation center in Richmond was called “The McBrayer Family.”

Mr. McBrayer had a 219-144 record at Eastern. That included two Ohio Valley Conference titles and two trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Mr. McBrayer took the job at what was then Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College when Rupp didn’t rehire him after his discharge from the service.

“He was bitter at the beginning, but he was forgiving and put it behind him,” said Roy Allison, who played at Eastern from 1951 to 1954. “He said he wouldn’t have had the great bunch of players he had at Eastern, and he wouldn’t have been married to the woman who is now his widow.”

Katie McBrayer survives her husband.

Soon after Mr. McBrayer was diagnosed with cancer early last fall, Allison wrote a letter to former players.

“Katie and Coach were flooded with cards, telephone calls and visits,” Allison said. “He looked at his players as his sons. He didn’t forget you, and he was always willing to help.”

But Mr. McBrayer was tough, Allison remembered.

“He was a strict disciplinarian and a no-nonsense coach. He was able to get the best out of every player. You were afraid of him in one sense, but you were loyal and close, too.”

Jack Adams, who played at Eastern from 1953 to 1956 and lives in Richmond, recalled trying out at Eastern.

“About 20 to 30 of us worked out, and he gave me a scholarship,” Adams said. “I never regretted it.”

Mr. McBrayer was a “father figure,” Adams said. “He was a genuine person, a person to go to and talk about anything.

“I had a similar background. We grew up with hard work, on farms, and we had done a lot of the same things like hunting and fishing.

“The first words I’d say would be honesty and dedication. And we learned discipline from him that carried over into everything we did. I heard him say that players who lettered at Eastern all graduated except one. He stressed the academic part more than athletics.”

Mr. McBrayer was at Eastern during a pivotal time in its basketball history.

The Maroons, as they were known then, won their first 11 games with virtually an all-freshman team, and finished 21-4. Eastern was 70th in the nation among more than 800 schools that season.

The next season, the NCAA classified Eastern as a major college. A year later, the Maroons went 17-4 and were ranked 24th.

As seniors in 1950, the Maroons were 16-6 and missed by five-tenths of a point finishing in the top 10.

In 1988, the basketball facility in Alumni Coliseum was dedicated Paul S. McBrayer Arena.

When Berea College upset Eastern early last season, Berea Coach Roland Wierwille, who played for Mr. McBrayer, pointed to the sign designating McBrayer Arena and later called his former coach.

Wierwille called Mr. McBrayer the man who “took me from nothing and made me something.”

“We lost one of the last of the great ones,” said Don Feltner, who retired as vice president for advancement at Eastern on Thursday. “He demanded the best and got 110 percent. Average players became excellent players.”

Mr. McBrayer, a native of Anderson County, was a star at Kavanaugh High School in Lawrenceburg before going to UK. He played for Coach John Mauer and was UK’s fourth All-American.

Services for Mr. McBrayer were pending. W.R. Milward Mortuary – Southland is in charge of arrangements.