UK basketball legend Billy Evans dead at 88

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Billy Evans/UK Athletics

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – One of the best basketball players the Commonwealth of Kentucky has ever produced died Sunday at the age of 88.

University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Famer Billy Evans played for Adolph Rupp in the early to mid-1950’s.  His jersey hangs in the rafters of Rupp Arena.

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Evans lettered at Kentucky for three seasons (1952, 1954-55) but he began his collegiate career on the freshman team for the 1950-51 season.

The Berea, Kentucky, native scored 716 career points at the varsity level to go along with 549 rebounds in 83 career games.

Playing alongside other Hall of Famers like Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos, Evans averaged 13.9 points and 8.5 rebounds in his final season at Kentucky, but he was known for being the ultimate team player and doing a little bit of everything to help the Wildcats win.

He was an All-Southeastern Conference Third Team pick by the Associated Press in his final season but was declared ineligible for the postseason because he had earned his degree.

Asked in a recent oral history interview by the University of Kentucky how he thought he would be remembered, Evans, a fan favorite, was grateful to play the role he did on such memorable teams.

“I’m sure they wouldn’t put me in the same boat with Hagan and Ramsey, who were All-Americans, but life was all better for me for having played basketball there,” Evans said.

Kentucky was 77-6 in the three seasons that Evans lettered, including going 25-0 during the 1953-54 season, just one year after UK was under suspension from the NCAA. The Wildcats were named national champions in 1954 by the Helms Foundation, one of two Helms titles the Wildcats claim (1933). UK won SEC championships in all three seasons Evans lettered.

“Billy Evans is among the great players from our commonwealth who helped build the tradition of University of Kentucky basketball,” said Mitch Barnhart, UK Director of Athletics. “His legacy as an all-around athlete and a winner always will be part of our history. Our condolences are with his wife, Nancy, and his family and friends.”

Evans was drafted in the fifth round of the 1955 NBA Draft by the Rochester Royals and would later go on to win a gold medal for the U.S. in the 1956 Olympics and the 1959 Pan American Games. He was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in the charter class and his jersey hangs in the Rupp Arena rafters.

“It’s special,” Evans said of his jersey retirement. “I don’t go around to everybody and say, ‘Look up there,’ but it’s an honor. I’m happy to be there.”

Evans also played tennis and baseball at Kentucky. He was inducted into the State of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988.

Evans is survived by his wife, Nancy, and his two daughters, Sallie Coryell and Allison Scanlan. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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