My earliest Kentucky basketball memories involve a mini-Josh Hopkins as a seven year old sitting in Rupp Arena watching our Cats do battle with various evil foes. I was lucky when my dad was able to finagle tickets but also slightly lost as my focus was on more than the game. For me, the game was about basketball, popcorn, but also trying to locate where our Cat mascot was roaming around and if I could get him to come and talk to me.
Fan behavior was also of interest to me. At more than one game, I asked, “Dad, why are they booing Goose Givens?”
“They’re not booing him they’re yelling ‘Goooooooose!’, he would explain but I was always worried poor Goose wouldn’t understand and take it personally.
Another Cat who elicited less than enthusiastic applause from our home crowd was none other than our head coach, Joe B. Hall. It is bizarre to think about now, but back then, when Joe B was introduced before games, the Rupp crowd usually greeted him with mild applause and scattered boos.
Looking back its easy to see what a difficult situation our coach was in at the time. While a collective sense of apathy seemed to pervade Rupp at the time, the clearing perspective of time certainly shows Joe B. as not only a winning coach but also, a true gentleman. He is a Kentucky legend and his importance to the program and the state is on a level that I think many of us have yet to appreciate.
Thank God for Cal. As been said on this site many a time, Cal gets it. And part of his getting it has been his genius ability to understand that much of what makes Kentucky great lies in our storied past. Cal has reached out to so many past greats and made sure that they feel a part of today’s program. Chiefly amongst those has been Coach Hall. Cal has honored Joe. B on several occasions and continually speaks of his stellar record leading the program. Joe B. has great access to all things UK Basketball now (as he should) but, again, do we truly recognize how lucky we are to have him?
Joe Beasman Hall was born a Kentuckian in Cynthiana, Kentucky in 1928. He won a championship as a player for the Cats in 1949 and remains one of only three men to both play on and coach a national championship team and he is the ONLY one to do it at THE SAME SCHOOL.
Coach Hall spent TWENTY YEARS coaching basketball at Kentucky, the first seven as assistant under our legendary Adolph Rupp. When Joe B. took over in 1972 he was assigned the unenviable task of replacing a legend during a time of massive change in the sport. UCLA’s dynasty run was coming to end and parity had finally begun to saturate the College basketball scene. After all, even The Baron had come upon hard times as Kentucky was in a thirteen season championship drought (a lifetime for the Big Blue Nation) when Hall was handed the reins. Without the luxury of hindsight, Cat fans expected to win, win now, and win big. In 1975 Coach Hall guided us to NCAA runner-up finish, which included a huge upset of heavily favored Indiana. Still a lot of UK fans handled the feat with skepticism and the grumbling still occurred.
But none of that deterred Joe B and in 1978 Hall delivered the elusive Championship back to Lexington with a team that dominated that season in much the same way our ’96 and current championship team did. It was a spectacular run that once again situated UK basketball on the top of the college scene and it was the moment that in my eyes, Joe B became a legend. While Coach Hall’s teams won no other banners in his tenure, they were consistently relevant nationally. And as any UK fan can tell you, his 1984 team that made the Final Four before losing to fellow number one seed Georgetown Hoyas and Patrick Ewing, was a special group.
Hall ended his thirteen season head coaching tenure with a stellar 297 wins and 100 losses and just this year was elected to the National College Basketball Hall of Fame. For all he contributed in wins and losses Coach Hall’s greatest gift to The University was, and is, his character and gentlemanly spirit. In a time when coaches like Bob Knight were gaining much fame and praise for their over the top disciplinary style and outlandish antics (see 1974 when Bob Knight actually slapped Joe Hall in the back of the neck on the sidelines of a game between the two schools. Joe B, ever dignified, turned and walked away) Hall represented the university with class and honor, a gentleman who always credited others with success while taking full blame for any team’s shortcomings or losses.
He was known as the coach who replaced a legend but his truest task was connecting ideologies, old school to new school. He had to resurrect a Goliath from the dark ages into the new era of fast-paced parity, all under the critical eye of a fan base that longed for a time that had long passed.
Many of the great programs in college basketball hold their much deserved legendary coaches in high regard. North Carolina and their honorable, Kansas born and bred Dean Smith. UCLA and their majestic, Indiana native John Wooden and our own coaching giant, the Kansas born Adolph Rupp. But one of our legends is from the state where he did his finest work. Kentuckian Joe B. Hall is a living embodiment of what is great about Kentucky basketball and one we should fully honor and praise while we are lucky to have him here with us. He still lives in Lexington and does his radio show constantly trumpeting our beloved basketball team and program.
He may not have as many wins or titles, but no one has given a lifetime to a program or a state like one of the greatest Kentuckians, our own Joe B Hall.
In other Kentuckian news, I was asked to play in a charity kickball game benefitting Baron Davis’ Rising Stars of America foundation. It was an eclectic mix of NBA ballers and Hollywood types and fun was generally had by all despight it being about 170 degrees.
Anyway, big time rising movie star and fellow Kentuckian, Josh Hutcherson was there wearing a Kentucky baseball cap. We had met before so we exchanged hellos and I mentioned that we needed to get a pic with the two former Kentucky players that were participating. Josh paused and said, “two? I saw Tayshaun Prince, who else is here?”
I pointed across the dugout to Kelenna Azubuike who had just walked in and Josh lost every bit of movie star cool for just a second as he grabbed his buddy and, with all the intensity of a thirteen year old girl seeing Justin Beiber, yelled “Kelenna Azubuike is here too! Yes!”
In short, he’s one of us.