LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Ralph Beard, an All-American guard for Kentucky in the 1940s and a key figure in college basketball's biggest betting scandal, died Thursday. He was 79.
Beard, who helped the Wildcats win national championships in 1948 and 1949 under coach Adolph Rupp, died at his home, his son, Scott, said. After a series of illnesses in recent years, Beard died from heart failure, his son said.
A speedy, 5-foot-10 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 before winning 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 but were banned for life from the NBA.
Beard admitted to taking $700 from gamblers while at Kentucky, but said he never shaved points.
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.
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."
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."
Adolph Rupp Jr., the son of the legendary coach, recalled Beard's speed, which led to a collision between player and coach in 1948.
"They were running a fast-break drill and Ralph Beard ran him down and knocked his back out," Rupp Jr. said.
Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said, "Ralph was without question one of the greatest to ever wear the Kentucky uniform."
Beard, who would have been 80 on Sunday, was born in Hardinsburg and 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 was scheduled for Sunday at Pearson-Ratterman Funeral Home in Louisville. Funeral services were scheduled for Monday.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press