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100 Things Wildcats Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Ryan Clark, Joe Cox
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2012 Ryan Clark and Joe Cox
All rights reserved.
He was known as the "Man in the Brown Suit." And when it comes to Kentucky basketball, he is the first and most important person to know.
Born in Halstead, Kansas, in 1901, Adolph Rupp grew up in a state that would become known for its basketball history. At 6'2", he starred at the local high school, averaging 19 points per game. Sometimes he also served as the unofficial coach of the team. This led to a playing career at the University of Kansas.
A reserve on the Kansas team, Rupp learned from one of the masters — Kansas coach Phog Allen, who himself learned from James Naismith, the inventor of the game. In fact, Naismith was still serving as an assistant on that Kansas team when Rupp was playing. It was only fitting that Rupp would become a coach himself. After a couple of high school coaching jobs, Rupp landed as the head coach at Freeport High in Freeport, Illinois. Many have undoubtedly heard about Rupp's supposed aversion to recruiting African American players, but it was in Freeport that he coached his first black player. In 1930, after coaching at the high school for four years, Rupp invited Illinois coach Craig Ruby to speak at their postseason banquet. Ruby had heard of a job opening for the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.
He recommended Rupp for the job.
It was a position Rupp held for the next 41 years, where he accumulated 876 wins, 27 conference championships, four NCAA championships, and an NIT title. He coached his teams to 27 Southeastern Conference championships and 13 SEC Tournament titles, and 32 of his players were named All-American. By the time he retired in 1972, having reached the state-mandated retirement age of 70 for university workers, he was the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history.
In an age where basketball was still being accepted in many southern states, Rupp was an innovator. He wanted to play fast. He wanted to score points. In order to do so, he emphasized a fast-break style of offense where points could be easily scored in transition.
A superstitious man, Rupp always wore his brown suit to games (it was said he once wore a blue suit to a high school game and lost, so he never wore the blue one again) and he always carried a lucky buckeye in his pocket. He did not mince words when it came to his love of winning — or how important he thought it was to win.
"If it doesn't matter who wins or loses, then what in the hell is that scoreboard doing up there?" he famously asked.
And then there are the stereotypes that have followed Rupp through history.
In 1966, "Rupp's Runts," a team nicknamed for its lack of height, was ranked No. 1 in the nation and played Texas Western, also a team ranked in the top 5, for the national championship. What made the game even more interesting was the fact that it was the first time an all-white starting five played an all-black starting five for the title.
Kentucky lost the game 72–65, and the game seemed even more important as it occurred during the time of the Civil Rights movement.
Because many of the schools in the south were slow to integrate, the stereotype became that Kentucky and Rupp did not want black players. It wasn't true. Rupp tried to recruit many black players from across the state, beginning in 1965 with star Butch Beard and he signed Tom Payne in 1969. Kentucky was the fourth school in the SEC to integrate the basketball team.
How did Rupp really feel about black players? No one can know for certain. But we know he hated to lose. And if a player was talented, Rupp wanted him.
"I know there have been a lot of people who thought he was a racist," former UK coach Tubby Smith told the Chicago Tribune in 1997. "But I think the times can dictate how people act — where you're brought up, how you're brought up. If he was a racist, he wasn't alone in this country. I'm never going to judge anybody. That's a long time ago, too. ... You learn from the past, and you go on."
Rupp was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Hall of Fame, and after retiring from UK he actually served as the vice president of the American Basketball Association's Kentucky Colonels.
He was succeeded at UK by his former player, assistant, and Cynthiana, Kentucky, native, Joe B. Hall.
On December 10, 1977, the Kentucky basketball team traveled to Lawrence, Kansas, to play the Jayhawks in a game dubbed Adolph Rupp Night by Rupp's alma mater. The Wildcats won, but the program suffered its greatest loss.
Rupp died that very night, back home in Lexington, at the age of 76.
He is still the fifth all-time winningest coach in men's college basketball.
In his goodbye speech, Rupp said, "For those of you who have gone down the glory road with me, my eternal thanks."
Pay Your Respects: Visit Adolph Rupp's Grave at Lexington Cemetery
Believe it or not, a Lexington gravesite may be the second-most visited shrine when it comes to UK fans (second to Rupp Arena, of course). There, resting in Lexington Cemetery, is the grave of the Baron of the Bluegrass.
Many fans come to the cemetery to visit Rupp's marker, which is decorated with a basketball as a centerpiece.
In December 2009, just before Kentucky became the first program to reach 2,000 total wins, UK coach John Calipari, former coach Joe B. Hall and Herky Rupp, Adolph Rupp's son, all made the pilgrimage to the cemetery to visit Rupp's gravesite.
"More than half the wins were from your father, and you," Calipari told Herky and Hall.
The trio then placed fresh poinsettias on either side of the marker — just like any other fan.CHAPTER 2
Joe B. Hall
Three men have won NCAA championships as players and coaches. Bob Knight and Dean Smith are two. The third was a bespectacled skinny reserve guard on UK's 1949 title team. The benchwarmer played in three games, missed two free throws, and failed to score a point. He transferred to Sewanee after the season. At that point, Joe B. Hall's total contribution to UK basketball was virtually nil. But where the player left off, the coach would later build a Hall of Fame career.
Hall was the head coach at Central Missouri in 1965 when Adolph Rupp brought Hall back to Lexington as an assistant. Coaching under Rupp and alongside venerable assistant Harry Lancaster, Hall was blessed with an opportunity to learn coaching from a couple of its finest practitioners. Hall himself contributed through his conditioning program, remembered ruefully by the 1965–66 squad, which came to be known as Rupp's Runts paid immediate dividends in Lexington. Hall's first season as an assistant was Rupp's last trip to the Final Four, and the Runts' dream ride ended in a historic title-game loss to Texas Western.
Hall moved to the main assistant job in 1970, and in 1972 he was placed in a very difficult situation. Adolph Rupp was about to turn 70 years old. Under the laws of the time, Rupp was subject to mandatory retirement. Or was he? Rupp did not intend to retire, and great pressure was exerted on the University to craft some manner of exemption to the retirement rule. Hall was stuck in the middle, torn between being loyal to his current boss and the reality that he was candidate No. 1 on the list to replace that boss. The University eventually held its ground, and Rupp grudgingly retired. Joe B. Hall was immediately hired to replace the icon who had built Kentucky basketball. Hall's first two seasons were solid but unspectacular. UK had a combined record of 33–21. Some within the UK fan base clamored for the return of Rupp, who was doing little to be inconspicuous in his retirement.
However, in 1974–75, Hall took a veteran squad led by Kevin Grevey, Jimmy Dan Conner, Mike Flynn, and Bob Guyette into an NCAA Elite Eight game against undefeated Indiana and Bob Knight — the same Bob Knight who had slapped Hall in the back of the head during IU's 24-point beatdown of UK earlier in the season. Not only was Indiana crowned as the likely champion, but many believed Knight's squad was one of the best ever. However, in the locker room before the game, Hall outlined how UK would beat Indiana, cut down the nets, have a police escort back to Lexington, and celebrate wildly.
And that was exactly what happened. UK shocked IU 92–90. A title-game loss to UCLA kept Hall and UK away from the ultimate prize, but the 1975 season permanently banished the specter of Rupp. Three years later, the freshmen from the 1974–75 squad were now veterans. Jack Givens, Rick Robey, Mike Phillips, and James Lee teamed with Purdue transfer Kyle Macy and led the 1977–78 team to UK's fifth NCAA title. The year was known as the Season Without Joy, but this is hardly representative of Hall's feelings.
Hall continued to coach at UK until 1985. He returned UK to the Final Four in 1984 and won eight SEC titles in his thirteen seasons as UK head coach. Joe B. Hall was 297–100 in his UK coaching career. As the only native Kentuckian to coach the Cats in the last 80 years, he has remained a visible part of the Big Blue Nation in retirement. Hall worked to further the international spread of basketball during and after his career, and he even had a brief career as a color commentator on the UK Television Network. In 2012, he was finally recognized with selection to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame — quite an auspicious climax to a career that started with three games played and no points.CHAPTER 3
It is a long journey from a place called Booger Hollow to immortality. But it is a journey that radio legend Cawood Ledford knew well. Calling Cawood Ledford a sports broadcaster is like calling Everest a mountain. From 1953 to 1992, from Adolph Rupp to Rick Pitino's Unforgettables, Ledford calling the action remained the one constant in Kentucky basketball. A member of the National Basketball Hall of Fame, Gannett News Service's choice as the best college sportscaster in history, and the first non-player or coach to have his UK "jersey" retired, Cawood Ledford set a standard in his field that is every bit as formidable as Kentucky basketball is on the hardwood.
Ledford was born on April 24, 1926, officially in Harlan, Kentucky, but actually in an area that is known as Booger Hollow. Ledford graduated from Hall High School, and during World War II he served in the U.S. Marines. Ledford graduated from Centre College and was briefly a high school English teacher back at Hall High. In 1951, however, Ledford began announcing high school football and basketball games in Harlan. Only two years later, Ledford began announcing UK hoops. At the time, there were multiple networks, each with its own call of UK games. Ledford went head-to-head with the legendary Claude Sullivan. Sullivan, who was one year older than Ledford and a native of Winchester, Kentucky, was perhaps the feature attraction of UK announcers at that time. Ledford, though, was a viable competitor, and by the time Sullivan's promising career and his life were prematurely ended by throat cancer in 1967, there was no question as to who would then be the voice of the Wildcats.
Historically speaking, Ledford's career stretched far beyond even Kentucky basketball. Many experts contend that Ledford's best sport was actually horse racing, and he called the Kentucky Derby nationally for many years on behalf of CBS Radio. Ledford also broadcast from events such as baseball's World Series, golf's Masters, and many great boxing matches, including several involving Kentucky native Muhammad Ali. Indeed, Ledford's stature was so great than when President of the United States Bill Clinton made an appearance in Hazard, Kentucky, in 1999, there was no question who the Commander-in-Chief wished to announce him. The New York Times reported that the President quipped, "I was thinking that if old Cawood had been a political announcer instead of a basketball announcer, and I could have kept him with me these last 25 years, I'd have never lost an election."
Stylistically, Ledford was exactly perfect. His descriptions were mature and complete but also simple enough for anyone to follow. His own feelings were clear to his listeners, but Ledford never descended into homerism or self-promotion the way that many current announcers do. The extent to which Ledford is and was the gold standard of announcing is hard to overstate. A couple of fascinating artifacts shared by current UK announcer Tom Leach on his website are written critiques that Ledford prepared for Leach, giving him specific instruction on how Leach might improve his calls of UK action. The best is a three-page handwritten letter to Leach after he called UK football's exciting 1997 win over Alabama. Ledford's advice is precise and exact — he offers no suggestion that he himself did not utilize — and the overall tone is kind, supportive, and studious.
For instance, "Tape all of your games, and as you listen, ask yourself how you could have done better." It is somewhat comforting to see the level of dedication and study that Ledford practiced. While Ledford was blessed with supreme talent, it is immediately clear how hard -working and conscientious he was. Like Dan Issel firing in a jump shot or Anthony Davis timing another blocked shot, the results could seem effortless at first notice, but the man who hailed from Booger Hollow took his place in Kentucky basketball lore because of his hard work and relentless desire for perfection. Little wonder that after Ledford's passing in 2001, UK designated the playing floor at Rupp Arena as Cawood's Court — a designation that Tom Leach mentions at each home game to this day. No doubt, it was quite a trip from Booger Hollow.
For a time, Cawood Ledford wasn't even the most popular UK radio announcer. Claude Sullivan, who was Ledford's competition-in-chief, called games for WVLK in Lexington, while Ledford came to work with WHAS in Louisville. Indeed, while Ledford is one of the most well -known broadcasters in history, Sullivan is relegated as something of an afterthought. To say that this is undeserved is an understatement.
Claude Sullivan had much of the same professionalism and versatility as Ledford. Like Ledford, Sullivan was also at home at the horse track or at the ballpark. Sullivan was the play-by-play voice of the Cincinnati Reds before cancer took his life in 1967. While Sullivan preceded Ledford as the Voice of UK basketball, he also preceded the venerable Marty Brennaman as the Voice of Reds baseball.
Excerpted from 100 Things Wildcats Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Ryan Clark, Joe Cox. Copyright © 2012 Ryan Clark and Joe Cox. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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