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Behind the Banner: Roger Kaiser

Roger Kaiser was exactly what the movie “Hoosiers” was about. He was an Indiana native with a crew cut, Chuck Taylor high tops and a jump shot that made the net cords dance from any spot on the floor.

“It makes me shudder to think what a helluva shooter that Roger Kaiser is,” said Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp after his Wildcats, who escaped with an 89-79 victory on national television. “He’s murder.”

Kaiser almost single-handedly murdered the ’Cats that day at Memorial Coliseum. With blood streaming from a cut over his eye, he poured in a career-best 38 points, the most points any individual had ever scored against mighty Kentucky.

A year earlier, Kaiser had delivered the killing blow in Tech’s 62-60 upset of the Wildcats before a packed house at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

With the score tied at 60-60, Kaiser calmly dribbled away most of the final 31 seconds before he made his move. Then he darted to his left and let fly with a twisting one-hander from about 15 feet, over the outstretched arms of Kentucky’s Bill Lickert and into the basket as the buzzer sounded.

To add insult to injury, Kaiser performed his heroics with a fractured thumb on his shooting hand.

“Everyone in the place knew that Kaiser was going to shoot,” lamented Rupp. “But what could we do about it. Our boy had him covered, but he got it off. It was a difference of one second and two points.”

Newspaper accounts speculated that, “Perhaps never in the history of the big bowl on The Flats has one man done so much to win a game as did Kaiser in this tense struggle.”

Mississippi State head coach Babe McCarthy echoed Rupp’s praise.

“That Roger Kaiser is one of the greatest players I’ve seen and I’m doggone happy I don’t have to see him again,” said McCarthy after Kaiser scored over half of Tech’s points in a 62-61 overtime loss to the Bulldogs. “I’ve already seen too much of that boy.”

Tech’s Roger Kaiser excelled as a player and a coach – Georgia Trend magazine

Roger Kaiser’s No. 21 jersey was retired on February 27, 1961.

 

A native of Dale, Ind., Kaiser learned how to shoot a basketball by aiming for a hoop that was nailed to the barn behind his house. Later, a full court was built and, according to Kaiser, it was always occupied. His high school girl friend, whom he later married, wanted him to go to school at Indiana, but he chose Tech.

Kaiser became Tech’s first all-America as a junior in 1960, when he led the Jackets to their first NCAA Tournament appearance this year and a berth in the Sweet 16. A year later he earned consensus all-America honors in 1960-61 and was named the Southeastern Conference “Player of the Year.”

Kaiser was also an all-conference performer in baseball, and no less an authority on Rambling Wreck sports heroes than legendary football coach Bobby Dodd called him “the greatest all-around athlete in Georgia Tech history.”

But it was definitely his basketball skills that made Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver proclaim Feb. 27, 1961 to be “Roger Kaiser Day” in Georgia.

When Kaiser completed his three-year career he held the career records for points scored, scoring average, field goals made, free throws made and free throws attempted. He also held several single-season marks, and his career free throw accuracy rate of 85.8 percent still stands as the Tech record.

Kaiser went on to become a coaching legend in the state of Georgia, retiring in 2000 at the age of 62 after an ultra-successful career highlighted by four NAIA national titles at West Georgia (1974) and Life University (1997, 1999 and 2000). Including a stint at Decatur High, his 34-year coaching record is 754-260 (.743).

 

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