By BOB WHITE
Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame
Adolph Rupp wasn’t sure if Bobby Watson was big enough to play basketball for the University of Kentucky, but it didn’t take long for the 5-foot-10 guard from Owensboro to prove to the legendary coach that he could play at that high level.
Watson, who died Jan. 31 at age 86, after a long bout with Alzheimer’s Disease, started at guard on UK’s NCAA championship team in 1951, and he was chosen on the first-team All-Southeastern Conference squad in 1951 and ’52. He was a long-shot artist.
“I had a scholarship offer from Alabama, and I took a visit there, but the coach didn’t come to see me much,” Watson once recalled. “Harry Lancaster (Rupp’s long-time assistant) told me I could walk on at UK and earn a scholarship.”
By the time Watson had reached the second semester of his freshman year, he had earned a scholarship and he was a starter in his last three seasons as a Wildcat. Watson was the fifth UK player in UK history to reach 1,000 points, scoring 1,001 in 96 games.
After college, Watson played basketball in the armed services and one year of pro ball with the Minneapolis Lakers before going to Henderson County High for one year. Then he hegan a 23-year career at Owensboro where he coached basketball and taught science, compiling a record of 539 wins and 169 losses.
The Red Devils, under Watson, won 18 district titles and 14 Third Region crowns They won two coveted KHSAA Sweet 16 championships in 1972 and 1980. He coached two Mr. Basketball winners, Randy Embry in 1961 and Jerry Thruston in 1980.
Watson also was a frequent visitor to the state tournament as a player.
“We played in it in 1947,” he said. “We finished third, losing to Maysville 56-41 in the semi-finals. We had a good team in ’48 with (Cliff) Hagan, but we lost to Maysville 55-45 in the quarter-finals. We thought we were good enough to win it, but we weren’t lucky enough.”
Hagan led Owensboro to the state crown in 1949, scoring a record-then 41 points in the final game against Lafayette. Hagan later joined Watson, 7-foot Bill Spivey and Frank Ramsey on UK’s ’51 national title team.
Watson was voted Kentucky’s Coach of The Year in 1980, and later was inducted into the Dawhares-KHSAA Hall of Fame, the Owensboro High Hall of Fame and the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.