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Kentucky legend Beard dies at age 79

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Ralph Beard left the University of
Kentucky's basketball program having won national championships in
1948 and '49 and with a reputation as one of the all-time greats on
the hardwood.

Beard's promising professional basketball career only lasted two
years, though, brought down in a point-shaving scandal that saw him
and several of his former teammates barred from the NBA for life.

Beard, 79, died Thursday at his home in Louisville after a
series of illnesses in recent years, said his son, Scott.

Former teammate Wallace "Wah Wah'' Jones said Beard was a
"top-notch player in the country, the best guard I ever saw.

"I'd do anything in the world for him. He was just a regular
guy. We all got along, had a lot of good times together.''

Beard was a three-time All-American guard for Kentucky in the
1940s when the Wildcats were beginning an ascent to college
basketball's top tier under coach Adolph Rupp.

A speedy, 5-foot-10 guard, Beard was among Rupp's famed
"Fabulous Five,'' along with Alex Groza, Jones, Cliff Barker and
Kenny Rollins.

The Wildcats finished 36-3 in 1948, beating Baylor 77-59 for the
national title. The following summer, Rupp and the five starters
teamed with the AAU champion Phillips Oilers to win the Olympic
gold medal in London, then won another NCAA championship.

Beard was the school's first four-time All-SEC selection, and
finished with 1,517 points, currently 14th on Kentucky's scoring
list.

He played in the NBA's first All-Star game in 1951, with Bob
Cousy, Joe Fulks, Dolph Schayes and Jim Pollard.

Less than a year later, his career was over. Before the start of
the 1952 season, Beard and Groza were among several players
involved in a point-shaving scandal that rocked college basketball.
They received suspended sentences from a judge, but were banned
from the NBA.

Beard admitted to taking about $700, but repeatedly denied
shaving points.

"I was too selfish as a basketball player, too proud of who I
was, to ever play less than my best,'' Beard told The Sporting News
in 1995.

Scott Beard said his father talked openly about his basketball
career and the scandal that ended it.

"We talked about everything in his career, A to Z,'' Scott
Beard said.

Jones said the point-shaving scandal never affected their
friendship.

"It really played hard on him the rest of his life,'' he said.
"I've never held anything against him. He was a real good guy.''

The scandal didn't affect Beard's status at Kentucky. He was a
regular at team reunions and other events, was inducted into the
Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985 and had his jersey retired
by the school.

Former coach Joe B. Hall, who played for Rupp in 1949 and later
replaced him, said Beard's style on the court transcends the
changes in the game.

"He would be an All-American in today's game,'' Hall said.
"His style of play was timeless. He was so aggressive and quick, a
tenacious defender. He would make any adjustments offensively it
took to make himself better.''

Scott Beard said his father remained competitive throughout his
life, playing basketball in the backyard with his son and
neighborhood kids and later taking up golf. But, he always loved
basketball, Scott Beard said.

"That is what he wanted to do more than anything,'' Scott Beard
said.

Beard, who would have been 80 on Sunday, was born in
Hardinsburg, then moved to Louisville to attend high school, said
his daughter-in-law, Tina Beard.

After his pro career ended, Beard returned to Louisville and
went to work at Gould's Pharmaceuticals as a salesman and later as
general manager, she said.

Visitation is scheduled for Sunday at Pearson-Ratterman Funeral
Home in Louisville. Funeral services are scheduled for Monday. In
addition to his son and daughter-in-law, Beard is survived by his
wife of 52 years, Bettye.