Tag Archives: Doug Brunk

Farewell to a Sports Legend

NewtonC.M. Newton, a giant in the history of the University of Kentucky, the Southeastern Conference, and in the sport of basketball, died Monday, June 4. Newton launched a basketball coaching career that spanned three decades at three different institutions. He began in 1956 at Transylvania College (where he recruited that program’s first African-American player), followed by coaching stints at the University of Alabama (where he recruited that program’s first African-American player and led the Crimson Tide to three straight SEC titles) and at Vanderbilt University, before returning to his alma mater in 1989 to become UK’s athletic director, a post he held for 11 years.

Newton is widely credited for navigating the resurrection of UK’s basketball program after the NCAA imposed three years probation and other sanctions following the 1988–89 season. He also hired Bernadette Mattox as UK’s first African-American women’s basketball coach (in 1995) and Orlando (“Tubby”) Smith as the university’s first African-American men’s basketball coach (in 1997).

He served as president of USA basketball from 1992–1996 and helped select the United States Olympic “Dream Team” of 1992. In 2000 he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

brunkCover.inddNewton reflected on his career in Wildcat Memories: Inside Stories from Kentucky Basketball Greats by Doug Brunk. In honor of this sports legend, here is an excerpt from the book:


Having grown up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida I had never seen snow before I went to Kentucky. Being in such a different environment was quite a culture shock to me. In fact, there were times I was so homesick that I thought of leaving the program and returning to Florida. My teammate Ralph Beard and our team manager Humsey Yessin talked me out of that. They’d say things like, “you don’t want to leave Kentucky” and “we’re here for you.” So I stayed.

As a player I never had a significant impact because I was a substitute. But I always felt a part of something really big. The fact that I played on the 1951 national championship team, the fact that I made the travel squad, and that I was one of the first substitutes off the bench made it palatable for me.

Coach Rupp was very important to me because he motivated in a different way than what I was accustomed to. He motivated by fear, mostly, but he was an outstanding basketball coach. I never did break through that fear of Coach Rupp. For example, I’m the only player that ever played for Coach Rupp who went on to coach against him and won. This was in 1972, during my third year as coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Alabama. We beat the Wildcats 73-70 on our home court. Coach Rupp always considered former players as “one of his boys.” You never were a peer, but I wanted to be a coaching peer of his. When our Alabama team beat him that day I thought that might be a breakthrough on the way to that goal but it wasn’t. After our win he congratulated me and said we deserved to win. Then he said, “but…” — and with that I was transported right back to the player-coach relationship. “You’re trying to do too much offensively,” he told me. “You need to simplify your offense.” He wasn’t being critical; that was just his nature.

My freshman year as a player for UK was Coach Harry Lancaster’s first as a full-time assistant coach. Coach Lancaster actually did more teaching than Coach Rupp did. He was very good to me over the years, and very demanding. He became UK’s baseball coach my junior year and I was a member of that team. He was a task master but he was great to be around. I enjoyed him a great deal.

My teammates and I were student-athletes in the truest sense of the word. We were expected to come in and perform well in basketball as athletes, and we were expected to earn a degree in four years. Today’s players are much more coddled and recruited and different in that respect. I never will forget our transition from the 2,800-seat Alumni Gym, where I played until my junior year, to the 11,500-seat Memorial Coliseum. At the time many people thought Memorial Coliseum was just too big. “They’ll never fill it up,” critics said. But they did. There were similar sentiments expressed by critics and even by some coaches when Rupp Arena was built. Yet today, it’s difficult to find an open seat at any UK game played there. 

I was the head men’s basketball coach at Vanderbilt University in 1989 when I got a phone call from UK’s then-president Dr. David P. Roselle asking if I would consider becoming UK’s athletic director in the wake of an NCAA probation. I had no thought of leaving Vanderbilt for UK or anyplace else. But Dr. Roselle convinced me that I was not only wanted as the athletic director but that I was needed. It was the “needed” part that really got to me because UK had been so good to me over the years. They’d provided me an opportunity to receive an education and to play basketball. I had become a successful basketball coach because of my experience there. So off I went to UK.

[. . .]

The Big Blue Nation is fanatical about UK basketball. The way I see it, their level of devotion is on par with that of fans who follow Alabama Crimson Tide football. They are great fans in every respect of the word. Sometimes I felt like they took it too seriously and took it over the line, and yet you’d rather have that then have them be indifferent. People really care about Kentucky basketball. The Big Blue Nation includes people from all walks of life: alumni, bankers, coal miners, and even some who have never set foot on campus in Lexington. It doesn’t matter; they’re Kentucky fans.

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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.

UK in the NBA All-Star Game!

Today is the 64th annual NBA All-Star Game, and we here at UPK are so excited to cheer on some of our former UK Wildcats! This year, the Western Conference team is featuring John Wall of the Washington Wizards (UK 2009-2010), and represented on the Eastern Conference team are Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans (UK 2011-2012) and DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings (UK 2009-2010).

To prepare ourselves for the game, we have been looking back over the careers of UK’s greatest players. John Wall receives a special highlight in the UPK book, Wildcat Memories: Inside Stories from Kentucky Basketball Greats. He is described author, Doug Brunk, as “a key member of Coach John Calipari’s first recruiting UK class” who “led the 2009–2010 Wildcats in steals (an average of 1.8 per game), assists (an average of 6.5 per game), and scoring (an average of 16.6 per game).” Read his story in the excerpt below:

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.

I 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 deci- sion to sign with UK easy for me. My mom trusted him right away, and he became a father figure to me.

Even though playing in the NBA was a lifelong dream of mine, I did not sign with UK knowing I’d stay just stay one year and then head to the NBA, but that’s how it was perceived by so many people. After our team lost to West Virginia University in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, a lot of us wanted to return the next season. I signed with UK to play basketball and try to help the program win a national championship. That was my goal. But after our 2009–2010 season I had a rare opportunity to be the number-one NBA draft pick that year, so that’s what I decided to do. I wanted to reach my dream of being an NBA player, but at the same time I did sit back and think, “I wish I could play at UK again.” But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I do plan to return to UK to get my degree.

The people who were most influential to me during my year at UK were the basketball coaching staff, my teammates, and Randall Cobb, 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 Strickland 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, 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.

Playing my first few games as a Wildcat was special to me, especially having the game-winning shot against Miami University during a home game on November 16, 2009. That was my first game as a Wildcat. Other highlights for me were hitting a big-time layup during our win against the UConn Huskies in the SEC/Big East Challenge at Madison Square Garden and traveling to Cancun, Mexico, where we won the Cancun Challenge against Stanford University. Beating the University of North Carolina at Rupp Arena was also memorable, since I’m from that state. And being part of the team that won UK its two thousandth game against Drexel University on December 21, 2009, was big-time special. We also had fun during our run in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

As for the Big Blue Nation fans, they believed in me and what I could do on the basketball court. As a person and as a player I tried to be a class act. I think they understood that. They welcomed me with open arms, and I’m always welcomed back in Lexington. It’s like a second home to me. It’s amazing how supportive the fans were, wanting to talk to me after classes and sitting out- side Wildcat Lodge most every day waiting to get an autograph or to meet me. It was exciting. Some days I’d want a break from it, but I’d also keep in mind that I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at UK.

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.

Here is all the info you need for the game tonight:
What: 64th NBA All-Star Game
When: Feb. 15, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden
TV: TNT, coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET

To read more stories from Wildcat Memories, check it out on our website!