Tag Archives: basketball

Who Inspired John Wall, UK Athletics Hall of Fame Inductee?

Wildcat memoriesWhen the news broke that John Wall would be inducted into the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame this year—the first of Coach Cal’s Cats to earn that honor—we were reminded of his poignant contribution to Wildcat Memories: Inside Stories from Kentucky Basketball Greats. For this book, author Doug Brunk interviewed some of the program’s greatest coaches and players and asked them reflect on the people who served as their mentors during their tenure as Wildcats.

The following is excerpted from Wall’s chapter in the book:


My mom, Frances Pulley, has always played an important role in my life. After my dad passed away when I was nine years old, she worked three or four jobs to make ends meet and to make sure that my sisters and I had a good life. She provided us with opportunities to reach our goals. There were times when Mom didn’t pay an electric bill so that I could compete in an Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament. She’s been one of the biggest influential figures in my life.

Kentucky is a special place to be and a special place to play basketball. The Wildcat fans are amazing, twenty-four thousand strong at all the home games. What sets the state apart from others is that the people there love basketball so much. There are no NBA teams, NFL teams, or Major League Baseball teams in the state, so there’s nothing bigger than UK basketball from a sports standpoint.

WallI had always liked UK, and I made a couple of recruiting visits to the campus when I was in high school. I was impressed by the fans and how they treated me as a recruit, but the biggest reason I signed with UK had to do with Coach John Calipari being hired as the head basketball coach. My goal was to be in a program where I felt comfortable and was able to have fun. When I first met Coach Cal he seemed more interested in me as a person than as a player. We spent most of our time talking about life, not basketball. That impressed me, because when you’re being recruited you don’t want to hear a coach beg you to death and talk to you only about basketball, because there’s more to life. Choosing the college program you want to play for is a big decision, and once you sign the letter of intent, you’ve given your commitment. Coach Cal made the decision to sign with UK easy for me. My mom trusted him right away, and he became a father figure to me.

The people who were most influential to me during my year at UK were the basketball coaching staff, my teammates, and Randall Cobb,¹ who played on the UK football team. I looked up to Randall as a star on the football field and for how he played multiple positions. He was real competitive and a class-act guy. I watched every game I could to see how he performed. Every time he touched the ball he was trying to make a fundamental play, not a heroic play. That impressed me.

My coaches at UK taught me ways to become a better leader not only to lead the team but to go out on the basketball court, have fun, and enjoy myself. I could talk to them about anything. If I was having a bad day or if I was down about something, they’d pick me up. They didn’t babysit me and my teammates, but they wanted to make sure we were doing the right things on and off the court. I related to Rod Strickland² in particular because he was a point guard during his college and NBA career. He taught me some moves and ways I could improve my game. In my book he was one of the best NBA point guards of his era, so it wasn’t hard for me to learn from a guy like that.

Another person influential to me was Reese Kemp,³ a boy from Nicholasville, Kentucky, who has cystic fibrosis and diabetes. I had the opportunity to meet Reese at Kentucky Children’s Hospital in 2009, and he’s been in my life ever since. He’s attended some Washington Wizards home games, and today I’m kind of like a big brother to him.

When I was given an opportunity to become the starting point guard for the Washington Wizards, I knew what would be expected of me thanks to the leadership lessons I learned at UK. That certainly helped me in my current role. I’m grateful that fans of the Big Blue Nation support me because I sure support them. Whenever I have the opportunity to see a game in Rupp Arena I travel back for that. I no longer wear a Kentucky uniform, but in September 2013 I returned to Rupp Arena with the Washington Wizards to compete against former Wildcats Anthony Davis and Darius Miller and the rest of the New Orleans Pelicans in an NBA preseason game. To be able to play on that court again was big-time special.

Notes:
1. Randall Cobb was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. He will also be inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.
2. Rod Strickland was a member of John Calipari’s coaching staff from 2009 through the 2013–2014 campaign.
3. Reese Kemp is the founder of Reese’s Resources, Inc., a foundation aimed at raising awareness of cystic fibrosis.


Read more personal essays from Kentucky basketball legends including Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones, Dan Issel, Joe B. Hall, Kyle Macy, Darius Miller, and Tubby Smith in Wildcat Memories.

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Wildcat ‘Memories’ and ‘Voice’ from the Past

Wildcat memoriesSince the tenure of Coach Adolph Rupp, the University of Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team has been a virtual powerhouse, repeatedly dominating the Southeastern Conference and garnering eight national titles. UK basketball is a homegrown tradition for sports enthusiasts, fostering a community that thrives on the camaraderie of fandom and devotedly cheers for its players in both victory and defeat. The individuals who have coached, played for, and inspired the Wildcats are important figures in Kentucky history and continue to motivate future athletes and passionate fans.

Wildcat Memories illuminates the intimate connection between the UK basketball program and the commonwealth. Author Doug Brunk brings together some of the program’s greatest coaches, players, and personalities to reflect on Kentuckians who provided inspiration, guidance, and moral support during their tenure as Wildcats. Featuring personal essays and behind-the-scenes stories from Kentucky legends Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones, Dan Issel, Joe B. Hall, Kyle Macy, and Tubby Smith, as well as newcomers Patrick Patterson, Darius Miller, and John Wall, this heartfelt collection shares an inside look at what makes UK basketball extraordinary.

More than a book of inspiring stories, Wildcat Memories is a fun romp through UK basketball history. In candid firsthand accounts, the players and coaches discuss their incredible Kentucky support systems and offer a glimpse into the rarely seen personal side of life as a Wildcat.

Voice of the wildcats

As one of the first voices of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball program, Claude Sullivan (1924–1967) became a nationally known sportscasting pioneer. His career followed Kentucky’s rise to prominence as he announced the first four NCAA championship titles under Coach Adolph Rupp and covered scrimmages during the canceled 1952–1953 season following the NCAA sanctions scandal. Sullivan also revolutionized the coverage of the UK football program with the introduction of a coach’s show with Bear Bryant—a national first that gained significant attention and later became a staple at other institutions. Sullivan’s reputation in Kentucky eventually propelled him to Cincinnati, where he became the voice of the Reds, and even to the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome.

In Voice of the Wildcats: Claude Sullivan and the Rise of Modern Sportscasting, Claude’s son Alan, along with Joe Cox, offers an engaging and heartfelt look at the sportscaster’s life and the context in which he built his career. The 1940s witnessed a tremendous growth in sportscasting across the country, and Sullivan, a seventeen year old from Winchester, Kentucky, entered the field when it was still a novel occupation that was paving new roads for broadcast reporting. During the height of his career, Sullivan was named Kentucky’s Outstanding Broadcaster by the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters for eight consecutive years. His success was tragically cut short when he passed away from throat cancer at forty-two.

Featuring dozens of interviews and correspondence with sports legends, including Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones, Babe Parilli, Cliff Hagan, Ralph Hacker, Jim Host, Billy Reed, Adolph Rupp, and Cawood Ledford, this engaging biography showcases the life and work of a beloved broadcast talent and documents the rise of sports radio during the twentieth century.

Hear exclusive audio clips, view featured photos, and learn more about Claude Sullivan at www.VoiceoftheWildcatsBook.com.

Cats Facts: Darius Miller

Senior Darius Miller, shooting in one of his record 152 games for UK

Senior Darius Miller, shooting in one of his record 152 games for UK

It’s no joke that the Commonwealth of Kentucky takes basketball seriously. As crazy as the support for the game is in the state, it might be surprising to hear that only one Kentuckian has had much success at the University of Kentucky in the modern game. Who is he? Darius Miller.

Winning Kentucky Mr. Basketball in high school and going on to win the Kentucky boys’ state high school championship, Miller came into UK with incredible support from local fans. He went on to be an integral part of the 2012 National Championship winning team and to this day holds the record for most games played in a UK jersey–152.

We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from Doug Brunk’s Wildcat Memories written by Darius Miller about his experience at UK:

The Big Blue Nation fan base really impacted me. In my opinion they’re some of the best fans in the world. They do a great job supporting the team with events like the Big Blue Madness campout every fall. Me being a hometown kid, they showed me a lot of support throughout my four years, but especially during my freshman year, when our team was struggling a bit. Every tournament game we played in a neutral setting felt like home court advantage because of how many UK fans would show up. Even some of our away games felt like home games because there were so many Kentucky fans there.

Coach Cal’s first year at UK was a completely different situation than the one I was in my freshman year. We had a really successful team that year. I learned a new system and it was a lot of fun. Of course, winning the 2012 National Championship in New Orleans my senior year was a blessing. We had put in a lot of hard work up to that point, but to finally achieve our goal was amazing. The chemistry on our championship team was unique. Nobody cared who got the credit. It was all about us winning and having fun. That’s what we did. We were just out there trying to have fun and the enjoy moments that we have. It was good for all of us. No one had a huge ego.

In May of 2012 our team was invited to the White House to be congratulated for our championship win by President Barack Obama. I presented him with a No. 1 UK jersey. It was an incredible experience to walk in to the White House and to visit the President. I was honored to be a part of it all and I’ll never forget.

Doug Brunk’s Wildcat Memories can be purchased at your local bookseller or online from the University Press of Kentucky.

Cats Facts: Dan Issel

Dan Issel, six-time ABA All-Star and one-time NBA pick Credit: Sports Magazine Archives

It’s that time of day again! This newest addition to UPK’s Cats Facts is dedicated to former UK Center Dan Issel. This Hall of Famer was named an All-American twice thanks to him being the all-time leading scorer with a record of 25.7 points per game between the years 1967 and 1970.

Beyond reaching an average of 13 rebounds per game and achieving the title of ABA Rookie of the Year in 1971, Issel gives his own, more personal, account of being a successful player under Coach Rupp’s guidance at UK in this excerpt from Wildcat Memories:

“A few people in particular had an influence on me during my career at UK. One was Coach Rupp. You don’t find may people who are lukewarm on Coach Rupp. They either loved playing for him or they hated playing for him, for a couple of reasons. Today, you have to coach the individual; you have to understand which player you have to pat on the back to motivate and which player you have to kind of kick in the pants to motivate. Coach Rupp’s philosophy was that you kicked everybody in the pants, and if you weren’t strong enough to take it, he didn’t want you on his team. I blossomed in that system because I grew up on a farm and I had a good work ethic. My mentality was I’m going to prove to you that I’m going to work hard enough be successful. So Coach Rupp’s philosophy of coaching was suited perfectly for my personality. He was tough, but he was fair. I got to know him a little better than a lot of his players did because he retired in 1972 and had a relationship with the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA while I was playing there. We also launched a basketball camp together with my former teammate Mike Pratt called The Rupp-Issel-Pratt Basketball Camp. That camp took place at Centre College in Danville for a couple of years and then moved to Bellarmine University in Louisville.

I really grew to appreciate Coach Rupp. He was an amazing man. Here was a guy who never made more than $20,000 a year when he was coaching at UK, but when he passed away his estate was worth millions of dollars. He had a strong work ethic and he influenced me a great deal, the notion of being able to accomplish something if you worked hard enough at it. To this day, in my wallet I carry a typewritten quote from Theodore Roosevelt that Coach Rupp was fond of and often quoted. It reads: It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

In a nutshell, that was Coach Rupp’s philosophy.”

To read more, Wildcat Memories is available at your favorite bookseller or online from the University Press of Kentucky.

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.

A Look Back On The Wildcat’s Championships

Kentucky has won a lot of Championships. A lot; 8 total. And I know that it’s hard not to sound like someone is bragging when they say that, but it really is amazing that a school – any school – has achieved that (and UK doesn’t even have the most! It’s UCLA, with 10). And, I mean, it happened; there’s no denying it. And now, they are, once again, in the running for another title, and possibly a perfect season to boot. Now, anything can happen in the tournament, and this no way claiming that Kentucky will go all the way, but, let’s take a little retrospective on UK’s titles anyway, and, hopefully, provide some fun factoids you may never have known.

kentucky_drummer-123934

 

1921 Champions

While this may not count as an NCAA title, since it didn’t even exist back then, I’m still going to include it. Back in 1921 George Buccheit and his “Wonder Team,” who I talked about in the previous blog post, went on to win the first ever Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament against the Georgia Bulldogs. The team comprised of all Kentucky natives and was led by Basil Hayden, UK’s first All American. He also returned to coach UK in 1926, but had a dismal 3 – 13 record.1921_UK_bball_team

 

 

1948 – 1949 Back to Back Champions

Kentucky’s first championship was also the second time, ever, that a college team had won both the NCAA and NIT title. They played against the Baylor Bears, defeating them 77 – 59. And while the game was not as dramatic as others, the team went on to play in the Olympics, afterwards, in London, winning gold – the first college team ever to do so. The next year, most of The Fabulous Five returned, winning one more game than the previous year, and went on to win another championship against Oklahoma A&M, defeating them 46 – 36.

champs1948

champs1949

 

1951 Champions

With a championship omission in the 1950 season, Kentucky came roaring back to defeat Kansas State 68 – 58 in 1951 to claim the title. Victory was not celebrated for long however. Scandal rocked the school; Kentucky players, Alex Groza, Ralph Beard, and Dale Barnstable were accused of taking bribes to shave points in the 1948-1949 season against Loyola. As a result, Kentucky cancelled the 1952 – 1953 season. champs1951

The Undefeated in 1954

I’m also just including this one just because it’s interesting. In 1954, Kentucky went undefeated in the regular season; they had a perfect 25 – 0 and were also ranked the number one team overall. But Rupp, following a decision that excluded some of his star players from participating in the tournament, in protest, backed out of the tournament.1953-54

1958 Champions

Both UK’s and Rupp’s fourth title, this season showed the Cats play against Seattle in Louisville. This team, also known as the “Fiddlin’ Five,” who was also mentioned the previous blog post, dropped as low as thirteen in the overall rankings. But, despite their “fiddlin’” they still brought home the championship, defeating Seattle 84 – 72.champs1958

1978 Champions

Kentucky’s next championship would not be for another twenty years. The pressure mounted each year UK did not win a title, so by 1978, they were known for almost never breaking composure during their games. Hence, this season was known as the “Season Without Celebration.” Their dedication paid off however, as they won 30 out of 32 games and went on to defeat Duke 94 – 88.champs1978

1996 Champions

It would almost be another twenty years though before Kentucky won their sixth championship. Pitino, in ‘96’, however, coached “The Untouchables” to the Finals. They defeated Syracuse 76- 67, and almost went on to win the championship two years in a row, but, lost to Arizona, one of the two games “The Untouchables” lost, in ’97, partially due to Derek Anderson tearing his ACL.champs1996

1998 Champions

After Pitino, Tubby Smith came to Rupp arena and took the Cats to the finals in his very first season with the Cats. This team played “Tubbyball,” a defense oriented, slow tempo type of playing, This caused them to never truly dominate the court, as Kentucky fans usually prefer, but always come from behind and pull off amazing comebacks, such as the Duke and Stanford games during the season.champs1998

2012 Champions

And then the Wildcats didn’t make to the Final Four again until 2011. They lost to UConn however, that season, but bounced back the next year, only losing two games, and wound up defeating Kansas 67- 59 in New Orleans, earning their eight national championship. The team lost six players to the NBA after this season, leading Calipari to recruit, arguably, one of the best recruiting classes of all time.UK men's basketball photo day 2011-12, John Calipari, UK Basketball, UK men's basketball team photo

 

Check out some of our other books on Kentucky Basketball, as well as some other sports, here.