By LARRY VAUGHT
He was never a prolific scorer — not even at a time when offenses were nearly as productive as now — but Ed Beck of Georgia was the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1958 when Kentucky won its final national championship under coach Adolph Rupp.
The 6-7 Beck scored only 163 points in 29 games but had 337 rebounds (he had 259 points and 380 rebounds as a junior).
“It’s a totally different ball game now,” said Beck, who was back in Lexington over the weekend when UK honored the 1958 national championship team. “First of all, the athletes today are bigger, faster, more flexible. They certainly jump higher than (1958 UK teammate) Vernon Hatton ever thought of. We ran fast breaks back in our day and we wouldn’t keep up in today’s world.”
However, he also says the today’s game is not as “gentle” as it was in his time.
“We were not allowed to push and shove,” Beck, one of 11 seniors on the 1958 team and the only non-Kentuckian on the roster, said. “If I got set in the center position no one could come and push me out. If they tried, it was a foul. So I guess the game was a little gentler.”
Beck attended Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore for one year after graduation from UK. He preached every weekend at local churches to help earn enough money to attend Candler Methodist Seminary at Emory University in Atlanta.
That faith helped Beck deal with personal adversity during his UK career that also showed a side of Rupp that few others have — or if they did ever shared.
Beck’s first wife, a registered nurse, was diagnosed with “rapid moving” Hodgkin’s disease that there was no cure or even treatment for in the 1950’s.
“We knew her time on earth would be short lived,” Beck said. “Adolph bent over backwards to make her feel welcome the one year she came to Lexington. He spent hours with her in his office in private conversation. I was never privy to them and my wife never shared what Adolph said. It was a total confident relationship.”
Beck said the public image of Rupp, who was viewed as non-forgiving by some fans and a racist by others, the private image of the coach were very different.
“I saw part of Adolph Rupp as a player under very challenging circumstances that the public never saw,” Beck said. “He became more than a coach. He was not just my mentor, but my friend.
“Any time she (Beck’s wife) was able to be with the team, he treated her like a queen. I remember in Atlanta when we were playing Georgia Tech. She got out of the hospital in Macon (Ga.) and ate with us at the pregame meal. You didn’t do that. Adolph’s wife never ate with us.”
Beck’s wife died his junior year after the NCAA Tournament (UK lost in the second round in Lexington to Michigan State). Both Rupp and assistant coach Harry Lancaster made the drive to Georgia to be part of her funeral service.
“The next day they were back in Lexington for our basketball banquet — I wasn’t there — and he (Rupp) talked about her and what she meant to the team. He dedicated the 58 season to her,” Beck said. “That was part of the cohesiveness that brought our team together even closer.”
Kentucky won the first two games in the 1958 NCAA Tournament at Memorial Coliseum and then beat Temple and Seattle in the semifinals and final in Louisville.
“We didn’t even think about it at the time but afterwards we realized what a tremendous advantage it was to play the first two games here in Lexington at Memorial and then go 80 miles or so to Louisville to play the finals,” Beck said. “We had tremendous community support both here and Louisville. We certainly were the (fan) favorites.”