Cats Facts: Joe B Hall

Joe B Hall, UK Basketball Alumni (1948-1949) and Head Coach (1973-1985)

Joe B Hall, UK Basketball Alumni (1948-1949) and Head Coach (1973-1985)

It’s official! Big Blue Madness has begun in earnest! Here in Lexington, Cats fans have started camping out for free tickets to watch the UK Men’s Basketball Team’s first open practice in the next few weeks. The tradition is unreal, spurred on year after year by a, as Coach Cal would say, “crazy” fan-base, but where did it all begin?

It all started in the 1982-1983 season with Joe B Hall at the helm and greats like Melvin Turpin, Jim Master, and Derrick Hord on the court. The team would go on to win the SEC, but ultimately fell to Louisville in the Elite Eight  in the meeting between rivals since 1959.

Check out this extended quote about the UK fanbase from Joe B Hall, published in Wildcat Memories:

I gained a good understanding of the UK fan base when I was Coach Rupp’s assistant. As I recruited all over the state and as I traveled for various speaking engagements, the buzz was all about UK basketball. Of course, the University of Louisville Cardinals had a big following but mostly it was confined to Jefferson County and not too much in other parts of the state. Each smaller state school had its own following, but their fans also followed UK. The early success of Coach Rupp and his four NCAA National Championship wins that spanned over two decades really built the tradition at UK.

When he retired, Coach Rupp said that he left a program that was built on a solid foundation, one that would carry itself for years to come. He was right. The fan support in this state is unequaled anywhere. I say that knowing the following that Duke University, the University of North Carolina, UCLA, and the University of Notre Dame have. They have other pretenders in their back door that Kentucky doesn’t have. Kentucky is the Commonwealth’s team, and the support goes border to border.

The fan devotion of Big Blue Nation was a stimulus to my hard work. I knew what was expected from the fans and knew that if I didn’t do my job, I wasn’t going to be here for very long. I recruited hard and did what I had to do to coach up my teams. I was very serious about what it meant to so many people. I tried not to let those fans down. The pressure was there, but there was also opportunity. When you have tradition like UK’s you don’t have any trouble talking to a recruit.

Five coaches – Coach Rupp, me, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, and John Calipari – have won national championships in this atmosphere. There is no other college or university that has more than three coaches who have won national championships for their institution. What does that tell you? It tells you a lot about tradition. It tells you about fans and expectations that stimulate the administration to give you the support to hire the right people who can win.

The fan devotion is incredible, from people who go to all kinds of extremes to come to games to people who line out outside of the arena days before a scrimmage to get tickets. When your players witness that kind of interest, they become serious and focused. When they know it’s so important to so many people they start grasping what their responsibility is. You don’t have to tell them. They can feel it. When you put demands on them in terms of preseason conditioning, hitting the weight room, and giving them instructions, they’re ready to listen to you. They take coaching seriously and they know the importance of what they’re doing. That’s a great tool for a coach to have. Expectation of the fans is an enormous stimulus to their focus.

UK fans place their head basketball coach on a pedestal because that person is the leader of what they love so much. It’s a rock star effect for the players and everybody associated with the program. In my case, I never dreamed of having an opportunity to play basketball at UK, let alone becoming the head coach. Growing up, I had so much respect for the players and what they accomplished; I never even pictured myself in that role. When I did earn a basketball scholarship and walked out on to the court to represent the university, I was still in awe.

When I became the head coach, it wasn’t a dream come true, because I had never dreamed that the opportunity would present itself to me. I always held the head coaching job at UK in such high regard because I had so much respect for Coach Rupp. Even to be criticized in comparison to him was an honor. I never tried to remove his shadow from the program. I didn’t try to fill his shoes. I just tried to do the best I could. I didn’t expect anything more. It was a humbling experience for me to have the honor of being associated with the program that I loved for so long.

I’m the only native Kentuckian to ever coach at UK, at least since the tenure of Coach Rupp, who was from Kansas. I’m a native son who had the opportunity to do something that I dearly believed in and loved.

Wildcat Memories is available for purchase at your favorite bookseller or online from the University Press of Kentucky,

Cats Facts: Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones

Wah Wah Jones, the only UK athlete to have his jersey number retired in both football and basketball. Credit: Kentucky Herald-Leader

Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones had many accomplishments during his tenure at UK. Coached by both Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant, he is the sole Kentucky athlete to have his jersey retired in both football and basketball. He was a starter on the “Fabulous Five”, leading the team to 2 NCAA Championships and moving on to win a gold medal as a member of the 1948 United States Olympic basketball team.

Get a deeper insight into the life of this All-American player by reading his personal narrative about being a UK athlete in this excerpt from Doug Brunk’s Wildcat Memories:

“I had dreamed about playing basketball at the University of Kentucky for many, many years. When I was growing up in Harlan in the 1940s our family didn’t have a television set. We had a radio but the reception on that was not reliable. Sometimes we’d get reception in the attic of our house, but often we’d pile in the car and drive into the nearby mountains to listen to UK basketball games on the car radio.

I was lucky to have been part of a winning basketball program at Harlan High School. Our team went to the state tournament four years in a row (1942-45) and in 1944 our team won the state championship title. At the end of my high school career I had scored 2,398 points, which at the time was the highest total by a single high school player in the United States.

Were it not for the man who went on to become my father-in-law ‑ Alva Ball of Middlesboro, Ky. (I married his daughter, Edna) ‑ I might have ended up playing basketball for the University of Tennessee instead of for UK. In the summer of 1945 Alva overheard that I was considering signing with Tennessee. I don’t know who he called at UK but the next day a driver arrived in Harlan to transport me to Lexington to meet with Coach Adolph Rupp. After meeting with him I decided to sign at UK but basketball was not the only sport I played there. I lettered four years in football and three years in baseball.

By the time I arrived in Lexington for my freshman year the Wildcats had already played one football game. Paul “Bear” Bryant was the head football coach and he played me in the second game of the season, even though I didn’t know any of the plays or the signals. I played all 60 minutes of that game, on both defense and offense! George Blanda played on that team. Coach Rupp didn’t like the fact that I played football. He was worried I would get injured and he kind of held me back a little bit.

Coach Rupp and Coach Bryant were a lot alike. They both were tough on their players. During a football game against the University Of Cincinnati I got some teeth knocked loose. During a break in the game I said something about this to Coach Bryant. “Well, you don’t run on your teeth,” he said to me. “Get back in there!” After the game my teammates had a steak dinner at the Cincinnati Netherland Plaza hotel and I was sucking on a milkshake.”

If you enjoyed that excerpt, be sure to check out the rest of Brunk’s Wildcat Memories for more firsthand accounts from other Kentucky big names such as Dan Issel, Joe B. Hall, Kyle Macy, and Tubby Smith.

Cats Facts: Nat Northington

Nate Northington

Nate Washington, the first African American football player in the SEC. Credit: Louisville Courier Journal

This afternoon, the University of Kentucky announced a plan to build four statues honoring the lives and legacies of Greg Page, Nat Northington, Wilbur Hackett, and Houston Hogg–the first four African-American football players at UK and in the South Eastern Conference (SEC). Who were these young men? Two of them were Kentuckians by birth.

To celebrate this announcement, we hope you will enjoy learning a little bit about Nat Northington from his entry in The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia.

Northington, Nate “Nat” (b. 1947, Louisville, KY), football player.

Nate “Nat” Northington was born to William E and Flossie in Louisville, Kentucky on October 17, 1947. He was an outstanding high school football player. His junior year at Thomas Jefferson High School in Louisville, he led the team in touchdowns. His senior year he excelled in academics as well becoming an officer and member of the Beta Club and National Honor Society. He was recruited by the University of Kentucky (UK) as a wideout receiver alongside Greg Page, also African-American, with the intent of being a model for other Southern schools to integrate their athletic teams. The recruitment process was led in part by former Kentucky Governor Edward T. Breathitt, who at the time was the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at UK.

In 1967, Northington’s roommate Greg Page suffered a neck injury during practice which left him paralyzed from the nose down. Page would die thirty-eight days later from his injuries. The next afternoon, Northington would break the SEC color barrier as a wideout receiver for UK in a home loss to the University of Mississippi. On September 30, 1967, he became the first African-American football player to play in a game in the Southeastern Conference, an athletic conference openly reluctant to racially desegregate.    Northington would then leave the UK in the following weeks after the Mississippi game. Being the only black varsity player, Northington expressed the loneliness and distress that he felt, “I can tell you every brick in my room. All I do is talk to my walls.” Shortly after leaving the team in 1967, he transferred to Western Kentucky University where he received a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

After graduation, Northington headed the Bowling Green Housing Authority and later was a staffer at the Louisville Housing Authority. He would eventually become the regional director of property management with the Louisville Metro Housing Authority and serve as licensed minister at his church.

The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia is available now from your favorite bookseller or

Stop Six: Kentucky State Parks

On our last and final stop on the Journey Through the Bluegrass, we are going to venture over to some of the most beautiful places in Kentucky. The Complete Guide to Kentucky State Parks by Susan Reigler shows all there is to explore in Kentucky’s State Parks. It is the one-stop resource for information on great places to view Kentucky’s natural beauty, tour historical sites, golf, camp, fish, hike, backpack, swim, ride horseback, rock climb, and enjoy almost any other types of outdoor recreation. For every park, the essential information is provided:

  • Natural or historical attractions of the park
  • Types of recreation available
  • Camping and lodging facilities, museums, and gift shops
  • Addresses and phone numbers
  • Magnificent color photographs by Pam Spaulding — 158 in all

Here are just a few of the beautiful photographs and scenery in Kentucky

May 29, 2007.Newborn fawn near the wildwood cottages at Lake Cumberland State Resort Park.

May 29, 2007.Newborn fawn near the wildwood cottages at Lake Cumberland State Resort Park.

Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, Perryville, Ky.   The 145th Commemoration of the Battle of Perryville.  Authentic weaponry, clothing, campsites and demonstrations of infantry, artillery, cavalry, and a civil war reenactment, and a living history village.   (By Pam Spaulding) October 6 , 2007

Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, Perryville, Ky. The 145th Commemoration of the Battle of Perryville. Authentic weaponry, clothing, campsites and demonstrations of infantry, artillery, cavalry, and a civil war reenactment, and a living history village.
(By Pam Spaulding)
October 6 , 2007

Cumberland Falls.   (By Pam Spaulding) October 27 , 2007

Cumberland Falls.
(By Pam Spaulding)
October 27 , 2007

Mineral Mound State Park.  Eddyville, Ky.   A mother fox made a den in some rocks on the golf course and subsequently her young learned to beg food from the golfers who were more than happy to throw them a tidbit.   Although, the foxes have been known to run off with a ball or two. Photo by Pam Spaulding

Mineral Mound State Park. Eddyville, Ky. A mother fox made a den in some rocks on the golf course and subsequently her young learned to beg food from the golfers who were more than happy to throw them a tidbit. Although, the foxes have been known to run off with a ball or two.
Photo by Pam Spaulding

Stop Five: Kentucky Lakes and Wildlife

Kentucky’s ecosystems teem with diverse native species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Kentucky’s Natural Heritage by Greg Abernathy, Deborah White, Ellis L. Laudermilk, and Marc Evans brings these sometimes elusive creatures into close view, from black-throated green warblers to lizard skin liverworts.  Kentucky has abundant surface and groundwater resources. The state’s surface waters include approximately 90,000 miles of streams and more than 229,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs.

1793_Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls

Most of the state’s “lakes” are actually reservoirs formed by impounding streams. These reservoirs often are massive bodies of water, like Lake Cumberland, which encompasses more than 50,000 acres. The state’s few natural lakes, the largest of which is 341-acre Swan Lake in Ballard County, are found in the western portion of the Coastal Plain.


Stop Four: The Restaurants of Bardstown Road

Our next stop on our Journey Through the Bluegrass is none other than the eclectic and energetic Bardstown Road of Louisville, KY. What is so special about this area, you ask? Aside from the mass quantities of coffee shops and men sporting extravagant beards and corduroy, this is actually a great part of town to find some delicious grub. But not just any grub. We’ve recently been acquainted with the story of Huang “CoCo” Tran, the owner of a series of restaurants on Bardstown Road. Here is an excerpt from UPK author Aimee Zaring’s Flavors from Home that gives insight to the inspirational and captivating story of this Vietnam immigrant turned restaurant owner and guru:

“CoCo’s childhood was relatively normal and happy in Vietnam’s southcentral coast province of Quang Ngai—a well-known Vietcong stronghold during the Vietnam War and the setting of Tim O’Brien’s classic short story “The Things They Carried.” Her father was a businessman and a prominent supporter of democracy. When the political climate changed, creating instability in her hometown, she moved to the family’s city home in Saigon, where she lived from 1965 to 1975.

During this period, her mother died in a plane crash. CoCo, only eighteen at the time, helped her older sister raise their younger brothers and sisters. CoCo also assisted in her sister’s restaurant, Cafe Mimosa (the same name she later gave to her own restaurant in Louisville). However, CoCo wasn’t allowed to cook at the restaurant, and her sister used to shoo her out of the kitchen. CoCo admits that cooking wasn’t her forte. Everything she knew about cooking she had learned by watching her mother and sister and the servants in her parents’ household. What happened when she did cook? “I burned the rice. I cook terrible,” she says.

CoCo Tran in her Roots/Heart & Soy kitchen

CoCo made up for her lack of cooking skills with her keen senses. “I taste. I smell. I look. That’s the way I cook. That’s the way I learned.” She sampled dishes at other restaurants and reported back to her sister. “I know what’s goodand what’s not.”

When she wasn’t helping at the restaurant, CoCo worked as a pharmaceutical representative, a job that required travel. She was visiting her childhood home in Quang Ngai when her life—and the lives of her countrymen—took a drastic turn. On April 30, 1975, Communist troops from North Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of

South Vietnam invaded and overtook Saigon, ending the war and a century of Western influence. CoCo found herself in the midst of a mob scene as she tried to make her way to a ferry and return to Saigon. Her older sister, who was unable to leave at the time, asked CoCo to escort her adopted eleven-year-old daughter to freedom and safety. CoCo still recalls, even thirty-odd years later, the horrific accident that occurred just hours after the child was entrusted to her care. With thousands of people fighting their way onto the ferry, CoCo and the young girl were pushed into the water as they boarded. CoCo surfaced. The child never did. CoCo spent the rest of the day and night frantically searching for the little girl. Eventually she had to return to Saigon—alone and defeated. (She never forgot the child and spent the next three decades trying to locate her. Finally, in 2008, she found her niece alive and well in Vietnam with two children of her own.)

Because of CoCo’s father’s politics, the family knew they were no longer safe in Vietnam. On May 2 CoCo and members of her extended family—twelve adults and six children—left Saigon with only some cash and some gold and an extra change of clothing. The only thing they knew for sure was that they would pay any price for freedom.

The family members staggered their individual departures to avoid arousing suspicion and reconnected near Long Hai beach, where American ships were supposed to be waiting to pick up refugees. No ships were in sight. The family negotiated with a fisherman, paying him to transport them on his small, poorly supplied fishing boat toward international waters. CoCo remembers how dark it was that first night at sea and how terrified she was, not knowing where they would end up or whether they would even survive another day. Finally, in the distance, they spotted a merchant ship. Just when they thought their luck had turned, the captain of the Taiwanese merchant ship demanded the exorbitant sum of $9,000 for food and transportation. They gave him everything they had and traveled from port to port, alongside cows and buffalo. They stopped at Thailand, Hong Kong, and Okinawa, but each port refused them entry. At the time, no official refugee program existed to support the people who were fleeing Vietnam. Without relatives or sponsors at these port cities, no country was willing to take in CoCo’s family.

Meanwhile, CoCo’s younger brother, Tran Thien Tran, was in America working tirelessly to find a way to help his stranded kin out on the open seas. He was living in Kentucky, attending the University of Louisville’s J. B. Speed School of Engineering. The family’s hope was that

Tran could find them local sponsors so they could join him in the States. After thirty-six days at sea, the Trans finally got word that Taiwan would admit them, on the condition that they not stay on the island for an extended period. Back in the States, sponsoring groups from local churches and the University of Louisville, along with a few individual households, rallied to assist the Tran family.

A grainy photo from the Louisville Times shows a tearful CoCo giving her brother a long-awaited hug at Standiford Field airport. It is hard to reconcile this woman with the confident, relaxed, successful restaurateur sitting across from me now and smiling broadly, brown eyes shining behind maroon-rimmed glasses—the American Dream personified.”

CoCo's Spring Rolls

CoCo’s Spring Rolls

Since coming to Kentucky, Coco has opened five establishments, all of which can be found in the eastern Louisville area:

The Egg Roll Machine (1981) — the first Chinese fast-food restaurant in Louisville
     1543 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40205
Cafe Mimosa (1984) — Louisville’s first modern Vietnamese and French cuisine restaurant
     1543 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40205
Zen Garden (2000) — the first Asian vegetarian restaurant in Louisville
     2240 Frankford Road, Louisville, KY 40206
Zen Tea House (2008) — an add-on to Zen Garden focusing on tea
Heart and Soy/Roots — CoCo’s latest project, two conjoining “sister” restaurants
     1216 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40205

If you feel touched by CoCo’s amazing tale, you will definitely want to check out the rest of Zaring’s Flavors from Home which shares fascinating and moving stories of courage, perseverance, and self-reinvention from Kentucky’s resettled refugees. Each chapter features a different person or family and includes carefully selected recipes.

A drawing of Corn Island and surrounding area as part of the Main Street sidewalk.
May 19, 2012

Stop Three: Bourbon Country

It wouldn’t be a road trip through Kentucky without the Bourbon Trail!!  Kentucky Bourbon Country by Susan Reigler is the essential travel guide for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The travel guide covers interesting facts about the bourbon industry, the Bourbon Trail Map, as well as the bourbon distilleries.

Some of the bourbon distilleries on the bourbon trail include: Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam, Town Branch, and Makers Mark just to name a few.

Woodford Reserve March 03, 2012

Woodford Reserve 
Photo by: Pam Spaulding                                                         March 03, 2012

Fun Facts — Woodford Reserve:

  • Woodford Reserve located in Versailles Kentucky has the only stone warehouse in use today for aging bourbon.
  • The seventy-eight-acre distillery, nestled by the banks of Glenn’s Creek, is a national historical Landmark.
  • Whiskey was first distilled on this site in 1812.
  • Woodford reserve is the only triple-distilled bourbon.
The new American Stillhouse with a column still in the foyer at Jim Beam. Photo by Pam Spaulding September 17, 2012

The new American Stillhouse with a column still in the foyer at Jim Beam.
Photo by Pam Spaulding
September 17, 2012

Fun Facts — Jim Beam:

  • Jim Beams white label is the best selling Brand of Bourbon worldwide.
  • Beam Started bottling bourbon in what has become a series of collectible decanters in the early 1950s.
  • Booker’s, the first barrel-proof, unfiltered bourbon available to consumer market, was released in 1988.
Alltech Lexington Brewing Co. Tour guide Briana Stiff. Brewery supervisor Chris Lady. Photo by Pam Spaulding October 2, 2012

Alltech Lexington Brewing Co.
Photo by Pam Spaulding
October 2, 2012

Fun Facts — Town Branch:

  • Town Branch owned by Alltech is one of only a few combined brewing and distilling operation in the United States.
  • It also produces the first malt whiskey made in Kentucky since 1919.
  • Town Branch is the first new distillery built in Lexington for nearly a century.
Bill Samuels Jr. (By Pam Spaulding) September 18, 2010

Bill Samuels Jr.
(By Pam Spaulding)
September 18, 2010

Fun Facts — Makers Mark:

  • Makers Mark is the First distillery in the United States to be made a historical landmark in 1980.
  • This site is also an arboretum, and many trees have identification signs.
  • You can dip your own bottle of bourbon in the signature red wax.