Wah Jones still going strong at 84

By: Steve Moss
By: Steve Moss

Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones still draws a crowd, even at age 84. Entertaining a large group of well-wishers recently, during a surprise birthday party, Jones was amazed by the turnout. Among the guests, former UK coach Joe B. Hall, himself a spry 81. "He's one of the best that's ever been to the University of Kentucky," Hall said.

Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones still draws a crowd, even at age 84.

Entertaining a large group of well-wishers recently, during a surprise birthday party, Jones was amazed by the turnout.  Among the guests, former UK coach Joe B. Hall, himself a spry 81.

"He's one of the best that's ever been to the University of Kentucky," Hall said.

That's because Jones was a two-sport All-American, a man that played for two legendary coaches.  Under Adolph Rupp, Jones was a member of the Fabulous Five.  His teams won two national championships and an NIT. 

"Can't get much better than that," Hall quipped.

Jones also was an All-SEC tight end under Bear Bryant.  He's still the only player at Kentucky to have his jerseys retired in both sports.

"They were similar," Jones said of Rupp and Bryant.  "They demanded the best."

Coming out of Harlan, Jones made a name for himself as a basketball player.  Longtime friend Humsey Yessin described Jones as the ultimate competitor.

"During the war years, he (Jones) had a bad foot," Yessin recalled.  "All the county schools, every time there was a draft called, everybody wanted him on that bus.  They all said if he could shoot a basketball that well, he could shoulder a rifle."

Yessin said his friend was rejected by the Army during World War II because of his foot.

But that didn't stop Jones from unparalleled success on the field or court. 

"He was the last four-letter man at the University of Kentucky," Yessin said.  In addition to basketball and football, Jones was a pitcher with the Wildcats and a member of the UK track and field squad.

Jones enjoys being one of the UK greats.  He's retired and relishes time spent with family and his dog.

He still gets mail from fans seeking an autograph, some of whom remember Jones as a gold medal winner from the 1948 Olympics.

"I've had mail from overseas wanting an autograph.  How they get some of the pictures, I don't know," Jones said.  "I've got some now, to sign and send back.  I try to send back a little resume I've got printed up, to give them something extra."

Jones also wants to write a book. 

When asked about his memories of Rupp, Jones laughed.

"I've got a whole bunch of stories that I've got to tell about him.  I'm trying to put together a book, if I can," he said.  Jones said he'd include stories about Bryant, too.

"They believed in me," Jones said of his coaches.  I was always on the good side.  I did what I had to do."

"Coach Bryant, if he had a recruit in that he was trying to hide out, he would send me to his farm to pick him up and bring him to town." 

Jones said he never was to talk to anyone about recruits.

The Fabulous Five included All-Americans Ralph Beard and Alex Groza.  Jones was one of UK's tough guys.

"You didn't want to press him too much or you were going to wind up on your backside," Hall remembered.

"Rupp used to call him 'the killer,'" Yessin said, who was a manager on those same teams.  "Wah could really block his man out and get the rebound, then get the ball out on a fast break."

Yessin said because of Jones, the offense was pretty simple.

"We ran a two-guard offense and the forward was the key in there.  Wah could block his man and hand it off to Beard," Yessin said.  "It was old number six.  Rupp used to say, 'Well, the National Anthem and we run No. 6.'  That was the offense."

Former UK All-American Kyle Macy may have said it best.  "Without him or his teammates, there really wouldn't be a Kentucky basketball where it is today."

To this we say, happy birthday Wah Jones.  Here's hoping there are many more.

Those are the highlights... Stay tuned.

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