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February 20, 2013

Loran Smith: Former Kentucky Wildcat happy in red, too

One of the most loyal buyers of University of Georgia men’s basketball season tickets over the years descended from an ardent Bulldogs family, although he wore Kentucky blue.

Roy Roberts, who is seasoned and sanguine, would like to see the Bulldogs fare better in basketball and never misses a home game.

He could have enrolled at Georgia on an athletic scholarship — his parents’ friendship with the late Georgia football coach Wallace Butts was so entrenched that all Roberts would have needed to do was express an interest. He played center in football for Northside High School in Atlanta, snapping the ball to his best friend Stan Gann, who later played quarterback for Georgia Tech.

“I actually got more football scholarship offers than I did in basketball,” said Roberts, who ended up choosing basketball and playing for the Wildcats from 1959 to 1963.

His older brother Jim was a Georgia football letterman in 1958, while younger brother Billy was a member of Butts’ last signing class, lettering in 1963. Their father Jim lettered as a manager in 1927.

“My family has been identified with Georgia for many years, and I still have great affection for the Bulldogs until they play Kentucky,” Roberts said with a smile. “We have had football season tickets since 1946.”

Since college, Roberts has been running the family farm, managing a large herd of registered Hereford cows on 1,000 acres in Walton County. However, you might think it was a country club, with tennis courts and basketball goals dominating the scene. He has a group of friends who play tennis four times a week. There is a 200-acre lake with big bass and brim, although Roberts said he doesn’t have time to fish with all the farm duties. And of course, there is his continued interest in competitive basketball.

He plays in a senior basketball league sponsored by Piedmont Bank. His team has won a state title four years in a row and claimed a gold medal two years ago in St. George, Utah.

“It is fun to still compete,” Roberts said. “A couple of my teammates are Alan Johnson and Jimmy Pitts, who played for Georgia.”

When George Walton Academy needed a basketball coach a few years ago, they asked Roberts to coach the team. He put in Kentucky’s offense and averaged more than 100 points per game. The program won two state championships.

The only other time he was offered a coaching job was when he was graduated from Kentucky and his coach, Adolph Rupp, invited him to be an assistant. Roberts turned him down, so Rupp hired Joe B. Hall, who went on to be the program’s head coach from 1972 to 1985 and won a national title in 1978.

Still, Roberts doesn’t second-guess his decision. Life down on the farm has been rewarding. And he still buys Kentucky season basketball tickets, even though he seldom returns to Lexington more than a couple of times a year.

At 6 feet 4 inches and 190 pounds, he was an undersized player even for his era. Roberts played in 26 games his junior year and 25 his senior year, scoring 407 career points for a 9.0 points-per-game average.

Where he excelled was on defense. Every day during his sophomore year, he lined up against All-American Billy Ray Lickert, who appreciated his teammate’s tenacity. One day during an interview, Lickert was asked who was the toughest player he had played against during the season. The interviewer was taken aback when Lickert said, “Roy Roberts.”

At the time, Rupp had not given much thought to playing Roberts regularly. Lickert’s comment influenced things. Roy became a starter and played on the team that beat Ohio State during the 1961-62 season. The Buckeyes, who started Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, extracted revenge in the Mideast Regionals during the NCAA tournament.

Roy found fulfillment in his basketball experience and is about as much of a fan today as any former player.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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