Source AP ©

Kentucky basketball star Ralph Beard dies at 79

Ralph Beard has died at the age of 79. He was an All-American guard for the University of Kentucky in the 1940s and a key figure in college basketball's biggest betting scandal.

Beard, who helped the Wildcats win national championships in the 1948 and 1949 under coach Adolph Rupp, died early Thursday at his home, his son, Scott, said.

A speedy, 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) guard, Beard was among Rupp's famed "Fab Five," along with Alex Groza, Wallace "Wah Wah" 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.

After two years in the NBA, and before the start of the 1952 season, Beard and Groza were among several players involved in a point-shaving scandal that rocked college basketball. The two stars admitted to shaving points while at Kentucky. They received suspended sentences, but were banned for life from the NBA.

The scandal "is never mentioned by people unless I bring it up," Beard said in a 2003 interview. "But the scandal was really a blip on the screen for Kentucky basketball. You just can't kill something that big."

Jones called his former teammate 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."

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."