Connect with us

14 Ronnie Lyons

Ronnie Lyons
Hometown (Last School)
Maysville, KY (Mason County)
1971-72, 1972-73, 1973-74
September 30, 1952

Ronnie Lyons was born Ronald Chadwick Lyons on September 30, 1952, to Ernest Lyons and Phyllis Watson.  Lyons, known by fans as “Little Man” because he was only 5’10” on a good day, was one of Kentucky’s most exciting players during his career at Mason County scoring 2,621 points and averaging 34 points per game as a senior.  What Lyons lacked in size, he made up with quickness and uncanny shooting skills.  Lyons poured in the points from long range (much longer than the current three-point arc) when there was no three-point shot.  Crowds packed the fieldhouse to watch Lyons and the Royals play.  He scored a school-record 60 points in a win over Bourbon County on February 20, 1970, on 28 of 42 from the field and 4 of 6 free throws.  He is second on the Mason County Royals’ all-time scoring list.  Lyons holds the school record for points scored as a senior (1,216) and holds the single-season school record for scoring average (33.8).  He scored 40 or more points in a game 11 times and scored 30 or more points in a game 32 times.  He scored 25 points in a six minute span in just one quarter (2nd quarter) in the 1970 district championship game versus Maysville.  Lyons hit 52 percent of his shots from the field his senior  year and 85 percent from the free throw line.  He once hit a 60-foot hook shot at the conclusion of the first quarter in a game against Tollesboro which was witnessed by Joe B. Hall.  He was named All-State in 1969 and 1970 and a high school All-American in 1970.  Ronnie became Mason County’s first player to have his jersey retired.  He would go on to become a fan favorite at UK where he helped lead the Wildcats to two NCAA appearances.  Lyons, also an outstanding baseball and softball player, was drafted by the NY Mets in 1970 but he never pursued a professional baseball career.

On March 27, 1970, Lyons signed to play for Kentucky.  He was signed by assistant Joe B. Hall.  “I think Ronnie is going to show fans of  Kentucky a style and type of ball they’ve never seen,” said Hall. “He is a super player who plays an exciting brand of ball.”  He joined Wendell Lyons, Rich Drewitz, and Ray Edelman who also signed with Kentucky.  He chose Kentucky over North Carolina, UCLA, Alabama, Tennessee, Maryland, Bradley and Ohio University.  Later in life, Lyons said he regretted his decision in choosing Kentucky and wished he had gone to North Carolina.

As a freshman, he made up for his lack of size with 100 percent hustle, superb ball handling, and a deadly shooting eye.  He had difficulty in the early part of the season adjusting to pattern play but did make the adjustment.  Lyons seemed to exemplify the attitude of the entire freshman team. “Ronnie is a coach’s dream. His hustle and determination set an example for all of the boys,” Coach Hall said.  It was in the very first game of Lyons’ freshman season, the opening tipoff as a point of fact, when assistant coach Joe Hall got the tipoff on what kind of a player little Ronnie Lyons would be.  “He took a tremendous smack on the nose,” Hall recalled. “But he had the ball, and he took it down into the left corner and he made his shot, blood squirting everywhere. And then he ran back up the court past the bench.  He wouldn’t even have come out if we hadn’t called a timeout.”  Lyons was the most efficient floor general leading the team in assists. He was the leading scorer and hit over 90 percent of his free throws.  In his first game as a freshman at Kentucky (freshmen were ineligible to play varsity back then), Lyons scored 22 points.  On January 30, 1971, he scored 24 points on 11 of 17 shooting in a win over Vandy.  On February 8, 1971, Lyons, the diminutive crowd pleaser and Kitten floor general, had his best game of the season and led all scorers with 41 points on 17 of 29 shooting in a win over Marathon AAU.  On February 15, 1971, he scored 35 points for the Kittens in a win over Georgia.  On February 20, 1971, against LSU, Lyons once again spearheaded the Kittens’ attack.  The diminutive guard from Mason County hit 10 of 16 shots from the field and canned all four of his free throw opportunities to finish with 24 points. Even more impressive was the fact that seven of his field goals came from long range. He also played a fine defensive game, stealing the ball from LSU guards twice and driving half the length of the court for layups.  On February 22, 191, he had 36 points against Alabama.  On March 1, 1971, he scored 30 in a losing effort to Auburn.  On March 6, 1971, he scored 31 points on 11 of 22 shooting, in a win over Tennessee.  He led the SEC frosh from the charity stripe with an 84.5 percentage and was second in scoring.  At season’s end, he was awarded the Jaycee Freshman Leadership award and was named to the All-SEC Freshmen 2nd Team.  Despite his small size, coach Hall believed Lyons would have a bright future at Kentucky. “Ronnie has the potential to be a starter here, and he is destined to be a crowd pleaser and a favorite at the University of Kentucky for the next three years.”  He finished the season as the team’s leading scorer with 24.3 points per game and leading assist man with 60.

On October 30, 1971, before the start of his sophomore season, Lyons walked out of practice and returned home to Maysville.  Whatever the issue was, it was resolved and he returned to school a few days later. Little-boyish Ronnie Lyons had been likened to Huckleberry Finn, to an out-of-control friction toy, even to Howdy Doody by some Tennessee players who reacted unkindly to his accomplishments against them.  “The little man,” as Rupp called him, introduced frenzied speed and pestiferous defense to UK’s inventory.  Lyons’ role as a sophomore Cinderella might seem predestined in a state where UK is still the official dream factory to most fans.  Could Lyons, the speedster supreme, the kid that can do everything, the kid, who like a one-pound firecracker on the Fourth of July, work his way into the starting lineup?  He thought so.  In classic Rupp fashion, he stated that Lyons would not start because, according to Rupp, “He’s too small and throws the ball away too much.”  Despite Rupp’s statements, on December 1, 1971, Lyons got his first collegiate start in the season opener against Northwestern.  Unfortunately turned the ball over four times in the first 10 minutes but he settled down and finished that game with 11 points.  He was instrumental in feeding the ball to Jim Andrews who scored 37.  In his second game on the varsity as a sophomore against Kansas on their home floor on December 4, 1971, Lyons had a poor shooting night (4 for 15) but proved that he can outplay a good big guard, in this case, 6-3 Tom Kivisto.  Each scored 12 points.  But it was Lyons who hit in the clutch, allowing UK to pull away from the cold-shooting (36.3%) Jayhawks late in the contest.  Once again, it was diminutive guard Lyons who provided the spark which carried Kentucky into the win column when he hit 19 of 21 points in the second half to spark Kentucky over Kansas State.  “I think he (Lyons) did a fine job,” stated Rupp. “He gets a little shot happy after he sinks a few, though. He starts taking those off-balance shots and thinks they’re all going in, and the other team gets the ball.  Ronnie did a good job on Lon Kruger, their fine little guard. He held him at none for four from the field.” On December 11, 1971, in a double-overtime loss to Indiana, Lyons scored 19.  Eight of those points were in the first overtime and were the only points scored by Kentucky.  He missed a shot at the buzzer to send it into a second overtime.  On February 7, 1972, Lyons scored 22 points to lead Kentucky to its sixth straight SEC win.  “Lyons saved us,” said Adolph Rupp.  “In a great game like tonight, it is becoming a habit for him to save us.”  On February 5, 1972, Lyons scored 23 points (4 in overtime) to lead the Cats in a win over Vanderbilt.  He missed two games against Florida and Georgia in the latter part of February due to a sprained ankle suffered during a shooting drill and lost his starting spot in the meantime.  But Lyons played a vital role throughout the season in a torrid rage that saw Kentucky and Tennessee share the conference title.  Lyons, a deadly free throw marksman, averaged 13.2 points per game on the season. He hit 63 of 72 free throws for 87.5 percent, third best in the SEC.  Lyons was named to the All-SEC Sophomore team and to the All-SEC third team. The game that Lyons might be remembered for the most, was a  1972 NCAA Tournament semifinal match-up between the UK Wildcats and the highly ranked Marquette Warriors who was coached by the legendary Al McGuire. The Marquette squad was ranked number seven in the final polls and the Wildcats came into the game with a national ranking of the eighteenth best team in the land. The game was played in Dayton, Ohio at the University of Dayton Arena. The Cats had beaten their SEC rivals, the Tennessee Volunteers in the previous game by the score of 67-66.  Lyons pumped in a team-high 19 points and dished out five assists and his constant quick hands contributed many steals for Rupp’s Cats.  Rupp surprised Al McGuire with a 1-3-1 zone defense to go along with his trademark man-to-man defense. The Cats had upset the Warriors, 85-69.  It was to be Rupp’s final victory for the man in the brown suit at the helm of the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Ronnie Lyons was the man in Rupp’s last win to give him 876 wins.  The ‘Cats went down to defeat to the Florida State Seminoles in the Mideast regional finals in the next game.  On March 17, 1972, the Kentucky Senate congratulated Lyons in a resolution sponsored by Senator Luther Plummer.  It noted that in his first varsity season at the University of Kentucky he helped the Wildcats win an unprecedented fifth straight Southeastern Conference basketball championship and earned a place on the all-SEC sophomore team.  It mentioned his performance while directing UK to a victory in the mideast regional semi-finals of the NCAA tournament and predicted: “he will be instrumental in the future success of the Wildcats.”  His sophomore year turned out to be his best statistical year when he averaged 13.2 points per game.  At season’s end, he had started in 22 games, scored in double-figures in 19 games, and was the leading scorer in six of them. He was presented the Adolph F. Rupp trophy, an award presented to the team’s best free throw shooter.

During Lyons junior season, much was expected of the classy “little man,” who was named the SEC’s “Best Ball-Handler” the previous year.  He was to head a guard corps considered the strong point of the Wildcat attack.  Competing against Lyons was Ray Edelman, Mike Flynn, Jerry Hale, and Jimmy Dan Conner, the hotshot sophomore.  But if something could go wrong it did:  he had a kidney infection, was found to be suffering from anemia, he sprained an ankle and he pulled a groin muscle.  Going into a game against North Carolina on December 11, 1972, Lyons was shooting a miserable 22.9 field goal percentage (80f-35) so ironically enough, it was Lyons more than anybody who led the wildly scrambling, sometimes physically brutal comeback, from 26 points down at one time, that pulled UK to within six points of the Tarheels (71-65) with four minutes left to play.  The junior from Mason County looked like a candidate for the hospital ward when he entered the game with 5:07 left in the first half and proceeded to miss all four of his shots. But he played like a demon after halftime,  connecting on seven of 13 attempts from all over the floor and getting himself involved in just about every collision and loose-ball scramble that occurred.  He was, simply, a wild man, too mad to be tense or hesitant.  “Yeah, I reckon being angry might have helped my shooting because I was sure too mad inside to think about anything.”  Lyons, who didn’t start due to a kidney infection and a case of anemia, finished with 15 points, all in the second half, but Kentucky lost, 78-70.  “I just wish there was more of that little guy,” Hall said of Lyons.  Lyons looked like he was coming out of his shooting slump when he scored 26 points against Mississippi State on January 8, 1973.  He cut loose 13 times, only once from closer than 20 feet to the basket, and connected 10 times as Kentucky beat the Bulldogs, 90-81, in a game Lyons described as the best he had ever played.  “It’s been a lot of ups and downs for me again,” said Ronnie. “Being sick had me worn out, but I think it was mostly mental.”  He suffered an ankle injury at the end of January which kept him off the court some but he came back and lit Mississippi State up for 28 points, a career-high, on February 12, 1973.  Then he pulled a groin muscle at the end of February.  Lyons took a knee to the stomach which knocked the wind out of him after an early-game pileup in UK’s 106-100 overtime victory over Austin Peay in the second round of the 1973 NCAA Tournament, but he re-entered the contest and hit four of eight shots in the second half while handling the ball superbly against the losers’ press.  He finished with 12 points.  Kentucky ended its season in the next round against Indiana on March 15, 1973, in the 1973 NCAA Mideast Regional finals.  Lyons finished the season averaging 9.2 points per game while 41.9 percent of his shots.  At season’s end, the 110 Percent Award for extra effort went to  Lyons who came through in key situations despite a series of nagging illnesses and injuries.  He also figured in one of two honors given for the first time—the Harry C. Lancaster Award for making the fewest turnovers among the top five players, in relation to time played.  Lyons committed 46 errors in 699 minutes, an average of less than three per game.

Lyons’ leadership qualities earned him a distinct honor his senior year in becoming Kentucky’s first full captain since 1970, after which honorary captains were named at season’s end.  Baffling the opposition and delighting Kentucky fans with his basketball wizardry, Lyons has carved a permanent niche in Kentucky basketball lore with sensational ball handling, “quick draw” shooting, and all-around hustle.  In pre-season, Lyons was healthy and playing like, well, like Ronnie Lyons.  Which is to say he’s bouncing around the basketball court with the energy of a frisky puppy, dribbling the ball down the floor at top speed as the middleman on the fast break, and making those sleight-of-hand passes that usually result in a layup for someone on the Kentucky team.  He’s scoring, too, in the UK scrimmages.  “Shooting the eyes out of the basket,” is the way head coach Joe Hall puts it — on the drive and from long range.  “I feel stronger this year,” Lyons said before one practice. “I weigh 160, and that’s 10 pounds more than last season.”  Lyons wasn’t doing anything much different than he has in two previous years on the UK varsity, but he’s doing them more consistently and with an air of assurance that seemed to be missing last season.  His improved physical condition was enough to make a huge difference. But 1973-74 turned out to be a rough season for the Wildcats and for Lyons, who had given more than his share of thrills to the Coliseum crowd, was booed at one point during the season.  For the first time in years, Memorial Coliseum was filled to less than capacity during most home games. He started the 1972-73 campaign weakened with anemia, and after that was hobbled for several weeks with a pulled stomach muscle.  In the first game of his senior year, Lyons, the little guard who usually is the spark plug of the UK fast break, played only 13 minutes of the game. He missed his first two shots after the opening tipoff and quickly got into foul trouble. Hall pulled him after his third foul after only 5.5 minutes had elapsed.  Lyons started the second half, but left early and didn’t return until UK just about had the game locked up. Hall wanted him in for his ball handling and passing when UK was trying to protect its lead.  He scored only 1 point and had 0 assists.  Against Iowa on December 14, 1973, Lyons’ magical hands hypnotized the Hawkeyes and he came through with a season-high eight assists.  His season high of 21 points came on December 22, 1973, against Stanford in the final game of the UKIT.  He was named to the UKIT All-Tournament team.  On January 7, 1974, against Georgia at home, fans booed Lyons when he was announced as a starter and jeered him on several other occasions during the evening.  Confused and hurt by the experience, Lyons wondered afterward what it took to please the Wildcat fans.  “Oh, sure, it affected me,” Lyons said. “Having that happen and then losing my job (he was later demoted to second string guard by coach Hall) was bound to get anybody down. But I just kept at it.”  “Funny thing about Ronnie,” said Hall, “but he just keeps coming back to put his critics down.”  From January 12, 1974, to January 28, 1974, Lyons didn’t attempt a single field goal and didn’t get his first start after six games until February 2, 1974, against Mississippi State where he broke loose for 17 points on 8 of 9 field goal shooting.  He followed that up with a season-high tying 21 points against LSU on February 4, 1974.  On February 23, 1974, Alabama whipped Kentucky 94-71.  That’s the worst beating the Wildcats had ever taken on their home floor in Memorial Coliseum.  Lyons scored only 6 points in that game, shooting 2 for 11 from the field with zero assists.  In his last game as a Wildcat on March 4, 1974, against Mississippi State, Lyons started pumping shots in from Euclid Avenue and scored 16 points.  Given the game ball by Hall, Lyons admitted he “was sad to be leaving Kentucky.”  “This is the first game ball I’ve ever gotten,” Lyons said. “It makes me feel proud. There was a lot of pressure on me tonight —I’ve never played on a team that finished below .500.”  Kentucky finished the season a dismal 13-13.  Lyons finished the season with 202 points, an average of 7.9 points per game.  For the second year in a row, he was presented the Harry C. Lancaster Award for making the fewest turnovers among the top five players, in relation to time played.  

Lyons finished his career at Kentucky with 786 points.

He was inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021.


Per Game

1971-72 26   33.0 5.3 11.8 .445 2.7 3.1 .875 2.1 2.5       2.6 13.2
1972-73 26   26.9 4.1 9.7 .419 1.1 1.4 .778 2.0 2.2       1.4 9.2
1973-74 26   24.6 3.3 7.2 .468 1.1 1.3 .824 1.3 1.9     1.4 1.3 7.8
Career 78   28.2 4.2 9.6 .442 1.6 1.9 .840 1.8 2.2       1.7 10.1


1971-72 26   859 137 308 .445 70 80 .875 55 64       67 344
1972-73 26   699 106 253 .419 28 36 .778 51 58       36 240
1973-74 26   639 87 186 .468 28 34 .824 34 49     37 33 202
Career 78   2197 330 747 .442 126 150 .840 140 171     37 136 786

More in