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Monday, December 14, 2020

Rest in Peace William "Bird" Averitt, 1973 NCAA Scoring Champion and 1975 ABA Champion

William "Bird" Averitt, who led the NCAA in scoring before becoming a key contributor for the 1975 ABA Champion Kentucky Colonels, passed away on Saturday December 12 at the age of 68. A 1995 car accident left Averitt partially paralyzed, and he battled a variety of health problems during the past 25 years.

Averitt was nicknamed Bird because of his slight build (6-1, 170 pounds). He was a Kentucky high school star before going to Providence in 1970. At that time, freshmen were not eligible for varsity competition. As a sophomore, Averitt broke the school's single season scoring record by averaging 28.9 ppg, and then as a junior Averitt scored 33.9 ppg to lead the nation in scoring while winning the West Coast Conference Player of the Year award. Averitt averaged 31.4 ppg in his two varsity seasons at Pepperdine, the 11th highest career scoring average in NCAA Division I history at that time. Averitt set West Coast Conference single game, single season, and career scoring records, and he was inducted in the West Coast Conference Hall of Fame in 2017.

He was selected in both the NBA Draft and the ABA Draft, and he began his professional career with the ABA's San Antonio Spurs, averaging 11.5 ppg as a rookie in 1973-74. Averitt was acquired by the Kentucky Colonels, and he averaged 13.1 ppg for Kentucky during the 1974-75 regular season (fourth on the team, trailing Hall of Famers Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel, and Louie Dampier) and 9.9 ppg during the playoffs. The Colonels won the ABA Championship after defeating the Indiana Pacers--the Boston Celtics of the ABA--four games to one in the ABA Finals in a continuation of the Interstate 65 rivalry between those two proud franchises.

How good was that 1975 Kentucky team? That squad not only had three Hall of Fame players (plus Hall of Fame contributor Hubie Brown as head coach), but the 1975 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors declined two challenges to play the Colonels; the Colonels had to settle for a 93-90 preseason win versus the Warriors in 1975.

Averitt averaged a career-high 17.9 ppg for the Colonels during the 1975-76 season, the last campaign before the ABA-NBA merger. The Colonels did not join the merged league, and the Buffalo Braves acquired Averitt's rights. Averitt played two NBA seasons, averaging 8.3 ppg.

I never met Averitt, nor did I have the opportunity to interview him, but I know that he was a beloved and respected person and player throughout the ABA family--and the ABA players most definitely formed a family in an enduring way seldom seen in professional sports.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:29 AM



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