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Former UK star Ed Beck passes at age 83

Ed Beck (UK Athletics Photo)

SUN CITY, Ariz. – Ed Beck, a men’s basketball national champion, died Wednesday. He was 83.

Beck was a two-year captain (1956-58) under legendary head coach Adolph Rupp and was a tremendous leader for the Wildcats, particularly for the 1958 “Fiddlin’ Five,” who would go on to claim the national title.

A menace around the rim, Beck averaged more than 10 boards per game during the 1958 season. He logged 11.6 rebounds per game during the championship season and contributed 5.6 points per game. His best season came during his junior campaign when he averaged 9.6 points per game and 14.1 boards. Beck and the Wildcats captured Southeastern Conference titles during each of his final two campaigns. 

Beck was voted an All-SEC Second Team performer by the Associated Press in 1957 and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 1958. He finished his career with an average of 10.0 rebounds per game, the third-highest total in UK history at the time.

“Ed Beck was an important member of the Kentucky basketball family,” UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said. “He cemented his place in UK lore as one of the great rebounders in program history and a leader of one of our most beloved teams. Seeing him and his teammates return home for the reunion of the 1958 team reunion earlier this year was truly special. We offer our condolences to Ed’s family and friends.”

Beck was known for overcoming adversity, which is why his leadership skills during the 1958 season became so vital. Following a loss in the 1957 NCAA Tournament, Beck lost his first wife, Billie, to Hodgkin’s disease in the offseason. Rupp and assistant coach Harry Lancaster attended Billie’s funeral in Georgia and returned to Lexington in time to speak at the team’s banquet. Rupp discussed at length what Billie meant to the team and dedicated the upcoming 1958 season in her memory.

Following his time with the Wildcats, Beck turned down an offer to play professional basketball with the New York Knicks, instead to join the ministry. He attended Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, for one year following graduation at Kentucky. He then preached at local churches to earn enough money to attend Candler Methodist Seminary at Emory University in Atlanta.

Beck served in the ministry for more than 50 years. In June of 1983, Colorado’s governor, Richard Lamm, proclaimed June 12 as Ed Beck Sunday in his honor for his dedicated work and service in the United Methodist Church, in the community and for his work in the organization of the Warren Village in Denver. Warren Village was constructed to support single-parent families endeavoring to become self-sustaining. At the time of its inception it was a unique ministry and one of the first of its kind.

Beck recently returned to Rupp Arena in February for the 1958 national championship reunion. He spoke glowingly of the team chemistry the 1958 team had that propelled the Wildcats to the national championship.

“You can imagine back in the ‘50s how close this team was,” Beck said in February. “You have to remember we had 11 people on that team who graduated in 1958. … It was the main reason we won the tournament because we had played together for four years and knew each other’s moves. I know what Vernon (Hatton) was going to do before he was going to do it. … It all came together. The maturity of the team was a big, big part of the championship.

He is survived by his Faye, and sons Jon Ed, Stephen, Bradley and Daniel. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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