For this post I was actually able to interview this player due to the fact that I am a friend of one of his granddaughters. So let’s go back to the early 1950s and learn about a player that was important to Kentucky’s history and winning a third national title.
Bobby Watson’s dream growing up in Owensboro was to play basketball for his home state of Kentucky. Kentucky wanted Watson to play for them, but they were not offering him a scholarship. The University of Alabama however was offering Watson a scholarship to play basketball, so he decided to go there.
In the fall of 1948, he boarded a train to Tuscaloosa by himself and when he got there, no one was there to meet him. Already missing being home, Watson decided to hop on the next train headed back to Kentucky and decided to become a walk on at the University of Kentucky.
In the late 40s and early 50s, Kentucky had a freshman and varsity basketball squad. In Watson’s second semester of his freshman year, Kentucky finally offered him a scholarship. Watson was the captain of the 1948-49 freshman squad that went undefeated that season.
During Watson’s three years on the varsity squad he scored the majority of points from 35-40 feet from the basket. He scored a total of 1001 points during his career as a Wildcat and imagine if there had been a 3-point line. He was named All-SEC in ’52 and All-American, All-SEC and All-SEC Tournament in ’52. Most notable was Kentucky’s third NCAA Championship Watson won in 1951 under Coach Adolph Rupp. Watson started all four years on teams that only lost a total of 10 games. Watson was part of the last team to play at the Alumni Gym and the first to play in Memorial Coliseum.
Watson believed it was honor to play basketball under Coach Adolph Rupp. In his opinion, he still believes that Rupp is one of the greatest coaches in college basketball ever. One interesting fact Watson told me about Rupp was that he did not want the players lifting weights because he felt that the correct muscles were not being strengthened.
I asked Bobby to compare this year’s team to teams during his basketball career and this is what he had to say:
“Hard to compare today’s team to the teams of old… They are so much taller and stronger with the training. So much more intense.”
This makes a lot sense due to the fact that Rupp wouldn’t even allow his players to lift weights.
After leaving Kentucky in 1952, he fulfilled his two years of Armed Services obligation. He played for the Andrews Air Force Base Inter-Service basketball squad and helped them win a championship.
Watson was drafted into the NBA by the Milwaukee Hawks in the 1952, but did not play his first game in the pros until 1954 after completing his military service. Watson made his NBA debut in 1954 for the Minneapolis Lakers. Watson’s pro career was cut short due to injury. In his one season with the Lakers, he scored a total of 175 points in 63 games played.
Watson moved back to Kentucky after his short NBA career and coached high school basketball at Owensboro High School for 23 years (1957-1980). He won two state championships in 1972 and 1980, 14 regional championships and 18 district championships. He was named Big 8 Conference Coach of the Year a total of eight times. During his time as head coach, Owensboro High School had a winning percentage of 76%, 537 games won vs. 169 losses.
In 1954 Watson married his college sweetheart Diane Hunt, Miss Kentucky 1954. The Watson’s currently reside in Owensboro, but spend their winters in Naples, Florida. They have been married for 57 years and have two children and six grandkids. Three of his granddaughters, Hunter Martin (junior), Haley Martin (freshman), and Jessica Watson (senior) kept up the tradition of attending the University of Kentucky and currently enrolled as students.
Watson was later inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame and the Owensboro Hall of Fame. His closest friends today remain many of his old Kentucky teammates.