Cats Facts: Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones

Wah Wah Jones, the only UK athlete to have his jersey number retired in both football and basketball. Credit: Kentucky Herald-Leader

Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones had many accomplishments during his tenure at UK. Coached by both Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant, he is the sole Kentucky athlete to have his jersey retired in both football and basketball. He was a starter on the “Fabulous Five”, leading the team to 2 NCAA Championships and moving on to win a gold medal as a member of the 1948 United States Olympic basketball team.

Get a deeper insight into the life of this All-American player by reading his personal narrative about being a UK athlete in this excerpt from Doug Brunk’s Wildcat Memories:

“I had dreamed about playing basketball at the University of Kentucky for many, many years. When I was growing up in Harlan in the 1940s our family didn’t have a television set. We had a radio but the reception on that was not reliable. Sometimes we’d get reception in the attic of our house, but often we’d pile in the car and drive into the nearby mountains to listen to UK basketball games on the car radio.

I was lucky to have been part of a winning basketball program at Harlan High School. Our team went to the state tournament four years in a row (1942-45) and in 1944 our team won the state championship title. At the end of my high school career I had scored 2,398 points, which at the time was the highest total by a single high school player in the United States.

Were it not for the man who went on to become my father-in-law ‑ Alva Ball of Middlesboro, Ky. (I married his daughter, Edna) ‑ I might have ended up playing basketball for the University of Tennessee instead of for UK. In the summer of 1945 Alva overheard that I was considering signing with Tennessee. I don’t know who he called at UK but the next day a driver arrived in Harlan to transport me to Lexington to meet with Coach Adolph Rupp. After meeting with him I decided to sign at UK but basketball was not the only sport I played there. I lettered four years in football and three years in baseball.

By the time I arrived in Lexington for my freshman year the Wildcats had already played one football game. Paul “Bear” Bryant was the head football coach and he played me in the second game of the season, even though I didn’t know any of the plays or the signals. I played all 60 minutes of that game, on both defense and offense! George Blanda played on that team. Coach Rupp didn’t like the fact that I played football. He was worried I would get injured and he kind of held me back a little bit.

Coach Rupp and Coach Bryant were a lot alike. They both were tough on their players. During a football game against the University Of Cincinnati I got some teeth knocked loose. During a break in the game I said something about this to Coach Bryant. “Well, you don’t run on your teeth,” he said to me. “Get back in there!” After the game my teammates had a steak dinner at the Cincinnati Netherland Plaza hotel and I was sucking on a milkshake.”

If you enjoyed that excerpt, be sure to check out the rest of Brunk’s Wildcat Memories for more firsthand accounts from other Kentucky big names such as Dan Issel, Joe B. Hall, Kyle Macy, and Tubby Smith.

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