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Jamie Vaught: Book about Boston Celtics glory days brings back memories of UK great Frank Ramsey

I have just finished reading a remarkable and enjoyable basketball book about the glory days of the Boston Celtics and its primary stars Bob Cousy and Bill Russell.

Titled “The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and What Matters in the End,” the new 360-page hardcover (Penguin Press, $28) by Gary M. Pomerantz is definitely one of the best ones that I have read in a long time. Since the volume also contains many references or stories about three-time UK All-American Frank Ramsey, a 6-3 guard who was best known as the “Sixth Man” during the famed Celtics dynasty of the 1950s and ‘60s, it sure brought back memories of my interview with him many years ago.

Frank (left) and Tripp Ramsey.

During the early 1990s, for my second UK book which was titled “Still Crazy About the Cats,” I had driven 311 miles – a five-hour trip – to visit Ramsey and interview the Wildcat legend in Dixon, Ky., in rural Webster County. At the time, he was working as the president of Dixon Bank and he made me feel very welcome in his office, introducing me to several employees. An unassuming basketball star who in 1982 was named to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Ramsey was a gentleman. We had great conversations and I think he enjoyed the interview.

And his son, Tripp Ramsey, by the way, was a student assistant coach for UK’s 1978 national championship squad.

So I’m going to share some of Frank Ramsey’s comments that were published in my book.

On playing for coaching legends Adolph Rupp of Kentucky and Red Auerbach of Boston: “They were both dictators. They were each dealing with a different-age individual and a different type of individual. Their coaching personalities were not identical but were very similar. Coach Rupp got you straight out of high school and you did exactly what he dictated you would do. You did everything his way.

“Red was dealing with mature men with families and you would discuss what needed to be done but you knew that he had the final say in the end. He was extremely easy to play for. He demanded the best. He wanted you to be in shape. …. He chose people who came from winning programs. He did a thorough background check on their attitudes. He was smart.”

On his most memorable talk he had with Coach Rupp: “There were so many of them. I remember that he would tell you that you could do something when you didn’t think that it was possible. Playing at UK was like taking a class from a nobel laureate in chemistry. He instilled confidence in you. He was a great coach. UK gave me an education not only in academics but the education that I got on the floor allowed me to start out a career in basketball.”

On his first pro basketball pact with the Celtics for $8,000 at the famed Fenway Park in Boston: “We (Boston coach Red Auerbach and Ramsey) were sitting there talking. I had to go to the Army and he wanted me to try to get a deferment and play one year. I said, ‘I’d try.’ We hit on a salary. That’s the last time I ever talked salary with anybody.

“(Later during his career) when I got ready to leave in the spring to come back to Kentucky, I’d sign a blank contract and leave it in the secretary’s desk. When (then-owner) Walter Brown got around to figuring my salary, he’d fill it in and send it to me. I had no idea. We didn’t have agents so we didn’t talk (much in negotiating). I just took whatever they gave me. In fact, I played one year without a contract – I’d been in the Army and never signed one. Once you shook hands with him (Brown), that was it.”

(Speaking of his appearance at Fenway Park, Ramsey was there as a member of a college all-star team which faced the Harlem Globetrotters in an exhibition game on a portable floor. Ramsey also added his $20,000 annual salary for the last two years was the most he ever made as a player.)

On becoming the head coach of the Kentucky Colonels in the American Basketball Association when the 1970-71 season had already begun: “A guy that I had known for some time, Mike Storen, contacted me. He said that he was going to make a coaching change. I had just sold a business in Madisonville and I had some spare time. But I told him that I wasn’t interested. He asked me again and I said no. Finally, he said why don’t you give it a try so I did. That year we went to the finals of the ABA (against the Utah Stars, coached by Bill Sharman, a former Celtics teammate of Ramsey’s).”

(Personally, my parents and I traveled to Louisville and saw Ramsey’s home debut as the Colonels boss, who had former UK standouts Louie Dampier, Dan Issel and Mike Pratt on the roster. They rolled past the New York Nets 114-92 at Freedom Hall. And I still have several newspaper clippings about that memorable game in my old scrapbook.)

On Issel’s work ethics: “He was one of those people that they said was not big enough to play center at 6-9. Dan had a tremendous attitude about practice and working. They said he was too slow and couldn’t jump, but by golly look what’s he done. He is now in the basketball Hall of Fame. He had a tremendous career at Denver after the ABA (merged with the NBA). Dan is one fine individual.”

On Ramsey’s mother who was in her early 90s and living in a nursing home: “I go to see her every day. She’s a big UK fan. She sits, listens and watches the games. And the next day, I get a complete discussion of it – why Kentucky won or why Kentucky lost.”

Sadly, as you may recall, Frank Ramsey passed away last summer at the age of 86. But the Big Blue Nation will never forget him. He was truly a Wildcat (and Celtics) legend.
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Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com Magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.

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