By Gary P. West
Consolation games are for losers, and that was the game in the 1956 State Tournament facing Wayland and Bell County. Both teams had only a few hours before they played each other, and for what?
For Kelly the earlier loss to Carr Creek was devastating. Burning deep inside of his sometime nonchalant attitude was a fire to succeed that only few athletes have.
Sitting on the concrete floor in the Memorial Coliseum locker room after the semi-final loss Kelly was quiet, but visibly shaken. The loss was a great part of it, but so was the way he was still being treated by crowds. The boos and jeers, although diminished from the two earlier games, were still evident.
Most sportswriters across the state were getting their digs in on Kelly, but there was one who Kelly felt like he could trust – – Billy Thompson.
Thompson had covered Kelly for the last two years, and the Wayland star felt like he had been treated fairly by the Herald-Leader writer. So when Thompson entered the Wasps locker room that afternoon, Kelly was ready to talk.
“You’re the only writer whose stood by me,” Coleman said in a voice choked with emotion. “You tell em’ Billy, tell em’ I’m going to give em’ the greatest basketball game they’ve ever seen. I’m going to get 60, and then, Billy, you tell em’ to drop dead.”
It was reported in some circles that Kelly actually told Thompson to “tell em’ to kiss my ass.” Thompson couldn’t and wouldn’t print that.
To the surprise of some in the Wayland locker room that day, Pikeville coach, John Bill Trivette came in to console Copper John Campbell and Kelly. Even though it was Wayland who kept his team from being in Lexington, Trivette was very upset with what they had seen and heard from the fans.
“Kelly, those people want your blood,” he said of the crowd.All of a sudden in Kelly’s mind, this game with Bell County would be more than just a game for losers. It would now be all about going out as a winner.
From the outset everyone knew it was going to be an up and down game. Bell County who had fallen to Henderson in the semis was pretty good and they felt like they could run with Wayland, and to coach Willie Hendrickson’s credit he was not going to disappoint the full house on hand to see a game for losers – the consolation game.
Bell County had a couple of pretty fair guards in John Mayes and John Brock. Although both were well under six feet, they were quick and could score. Inside they had a 6 ‘ 4” center, Jack Johnson, who was being looked at by some of the smaller colleges.
Brock was excited that Coach Hendrickson had given him the responsibility of guarding Coleman. Brock’s older brother, Al, had told him there would be a $5 bonus if he could hold the state’s all-time leader to under 25.
Word spread among the Bell County fans and the reward to Brock was up to $25.
Brock was pumped. He even told some that he was “going to hold him under 10 points.” But four minutes into the game Kelly registered his eleventh point to break the single tournament scoring record set by Hazard’s Johnny Cox the previous year. Brock still had a crack at the 25 number. But at halftime the game was pretty much over. Wayland led 72-43 and King Kelly had 38 of those.
Kelly came out of the locker room firing. He remembered everything he shot went in, or at least it seemed. Something was happening among the fans, too. No longer were there the ugly taunts, but now it had turned into applause when Kelly scored. They were caught up in the excitement of both teams racing up and down the floor at break-neck speed scoring, scoring and scoring some more. Forget the fact that very little defense was being played. Scoring points was what this game was all about.
When Copper John finally took Kelly out of the game there was a little less than two minutes to go and his star had hammered in 27 of 52 field goal attempts and 14 of 18 free throws for 68 points.
The transformation of the crowd had come full circle. They were now on their feet, cheering wildly, finally giving King Kelly his dues. But it was too late.
Copper John said Kelly could have scored “90 or even 100, but he asked the other boys to play it straight and not concentrate on his total points.”
Brock agreed. “He could have scored no telling how many. And back then the clock kept running when the ball went out of bounds. It stopped only on free throws. He probably lost at least two or three minutes a game. Then if you add the three point line, oh boy.”
When the final horn sounded Wayland and Kelly had made history with their 122-89 win.
Earl Ruby, Sports Editor Courier Journal, wrote that it was Kelly Coleman’s performance and ability to draw a crowd that led the State Tournament to move to Freedom Hall in Louisville.
In one tournament, four games, Kelly Coleman became the most legendary player to ever perform at the Boys Sweet 16.
Several players made multiple appearances at the Big Show. Richie Farmer played in five with Clay County. Eleven others played in four, among those Wah Wah Jones, Linville Puckett, J.R. VanHoose, and Kenny Higgs. And then there has been Ralph Beard, Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey, Frank Selvy, Howie Crittenden, Doodle Floyd, Kenny Kuhn, Johnny Cox, Vernon Hatton, Corky Withrow, Harry Todd, Ralph Richardson, Bobby Rascoe, Billy Ray Lickert, Julius Berry, Tom Thacker, Randy Embry, Larry Conley, Mike Silliman, Clem Haskins, Wes Unseld, Dwight Smith, Butch Beard, Mike Casey, Jim McDaniels, Ron King, Robert Brooks, Jack Givens, Darrell Griffith, Jeff Lamp, Dirk Minniefield, Manual Forrest, Todd May, Paul Andrews, Steve Miller, Rex Chapman, John Pelphrey, Allan Houston, Travis Ford, DeJuan Wheat, Scott Hundley and Chris Lofton to name a few of the great ones. But none left the footprint that King Kelly Coleman did. Not one of them.