Tag Archives: Wildcats

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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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: 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,

Father's Day Reads University Press of Kentucky

Happy Father’s Day! Books on Dad Written by their Children

Oh, Dads…a seemingly limitless source of bad jokes (have you heard this one? What do you call an Alligator wearing a vest? An investigator!), bear hugs, and well-meaning advice. Some Dads are goofy, some serious, and my Dad will probably spend all day watching the U.S. Open, yelling at golf balls to “Get in there!” If I were to write a book about my Dad, it would include his terrible scrambled eggs recipe and endless battle against the rabbits that eat the flowers in his yard. Below are a few of our favorite books written by children about their fathers…I promise, the stories are much more interesting than scrambled eggs.

More Information:

Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved Murder

Hitchcock’s Partner in Suspense

Voice of the Wildcats

Dalton Trumbo

My Life as a Mankiewicz

Portrait of a Father

My Father, Daniel Boone

UK Basketball and Their Historic Undefeated Season

The University of Kentucky basketball team made history last night with a 66-48 win over the Tennessee Volunteers. With a win streak of 26-0, the UK men’s basketball team has broken the record for the longest number of consecutive wins at the University of Kentucky. The only other time a Kentucky basketball team has gone undefeated for 25 games was in 1953 under Coach Adolph Rupp, who Rupp Arena is consequently named after. Does this mean Coach Calipari will get an arena named after him? We can only hope.

This historic win has people wondering what the secret is to the success and continued undefeated season of the UK basketball team. Is it the coach, is it the talent of the players, or is it perhaps the ability of the players to communicate effectively and share the ball with each other? Maybe it’s a combination of all three. Whatever the reason for the success, Coal Cal is probably extremely euphoric at the upward trajectory his team is heading.

After the game, Coal Cal stated, “I’ll probably mention it tomorrow, what they’ve done. At a school like Kentucky to hold records like they’re holding, incredible stuff now.” Coach Cal, the players, and the Big Blue Nation are celebrating yet another win and are eager to see how the rest of the season will play out and how the Wildcats will fare during the NCAA tournament in March.

During the postgame interview, Willie Cauley-Stein said, “When coach really says this is a wolfpack, this is a wolfpack. Everyday we’re trying to make each other better and that’s powerful.” That may be the answer to the success the UK men’s basketball team has seen this season, but being able to dunk the ball like this doesn’t hurt. 

To read more about the BBN, the UK men’s basketball team, the coaches, and its legendary history as one of the top collegiate basketball programs of all time, go to UPK’s website to check out these books below! They’re sure to be a great read!

    

  

Last Call: The Voices That Define Sportscasting

This past weekend, the Thoroughbred racing community bid Tom Durkin, the Voice of New York Horse Racing, adieu as he stepped into retirement following a 43 year career.

Durkin’s voice could have been heard calling more than 80,000 races including the Kentucky Derby, Triple Crown, and Breeders’ Cup races.

Announcers like Durkin are part of a long tradition that, in part, trace their origins back to the University of Kentucky where an earlier announcer pioneered much of what we recognize as modern sports broadcasting today.

In Voice of the Wildcats: Claude Sullivan and the Rise of Modern Sportscasting, Alan Sullivan, Claude Sullivan’s son, along with Joe Cox, give the behind-the-scenes account of the man whose voice embodied University of Kentucky Athletics from 1947 to 1967. The 1940s witnessed an explosion in sports broadcasting across the country, and when Sullivan, a seventeen-year-old from Winchester, Kentucky, took up the microphone, he became part of a rapidly changing field. Sullivan’s career developed as Kentucky began its rise to prominence and spanned the first four NCAA Basketball Championships under Coach Adolph Rupp. He also revolutionized the coverage of athletics by introducing a coach’s show with Kentucky football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. It was not only copied by other institutions but would also become an important innovation that paved the way for the modern televised sports entertainment industry.

While Sullivan never had the Thoroughbred racing bona fides of Durkin, he did call races including Tim Tam’s 1958 Bluegrass Stakes photo finish win.

That race call, along with 27 other archived audio files spanning Sullivan’s career announcing UK basketball and football games (plus a few with the Cincinnati Reds), can be found on the Voice of the Wildcats website. There, you can also read an excerpt from the book and look through photos documenting the work of the original Voice of the Wildcats, David Sullivan.

Wah Wah Jones (1926 – 2014)

Wah Wah JonesWallace “Wah Wah” Jones, the last surviving member of the University of Kentucky “Fabulous Five” basketball team, died this past weekend at the age of 88.

The UK legend, and only athlete in the school’s history to have had his jersey retired in both basketball and football, played under both coaches Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant while in school. Besides winning an NCAA basketball championship in 1948 and 1949, Jones also won a gold medal in basketball for the U.S. at the 1948 London Olympics.

In tribute to this unforgettable player, we’re sharing an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Wildcat Memories by Doug Brunk; Wah Wah’s chapter may be the last interview he ever gave. Already cemented in the storied history of UK athletics, the Harlan native shared his remembrances and passion for his teams.

from Wildcat Memories: Inside Stories of Kentucky Basketball Greats by Doug Brunk:

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 to 1945), 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.

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