Solly Walker, Trailblazing St. John’s Basketball Player, Dies at 85

It was in his sophomore year, during his first varsity season, that Walker faced overt racism, when St. John’s was scheduled to play Kentucky on its home court, Memorial Coliseum, in Lexington.

Kentucky, coached by Adolph Rupp, innovator of the fast-break offense and one of college basketball’s most dominant figures, had won the previous year’s N.C.A.A. championship.

In 1951, the University of Kentucky remained a primarily white bastion, refusing admission to undergraduate blacks. (It had started admitting blacks to its graduate programs in 1949 but would not admit them as undergraduates until 1954. Its basketball team remained all-white until 1970.)

Rupp flatly refused to let Walker play on his home court.

“You can’t bring that boy down here to Lexington,” Rupp said, as quoted by Dave Anderson of The New York Times in a column in 1994.

“Then cancel the game,” McGuire snapped.

Rupp relented, and the game took place, with Walker in the St. John’s lineup, making him by all accounts the first black to play against Kentucky in Lexington.

The game itself was a rout — Kentucky won, 81-40 — and Walker was injured and taken out after hitting six of his first seven shots.

Ms. Walker said her husband had rarely talked about the game. “He didn’t want to relive it,” she said. But he told her in recent months that Coach McGuire and some of his teammates had stayed with him when he was barred from segregated hotels and dining rooms.

“I learned a great deal from my experience with Coach McGuire as to how to treat people,” Walker was quoted as saying in “100 Years of St. John’s Basketball,” a 2008 coffee table book written and compiled by Jim O’Connell and Paul Montella of The Associated Press. “The situation against Kentucky was uncomfortable. After all, I was only 20 years old. My confidence in my coach made me feel…

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