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ESPN on Adolph Rupp’s legacy, whether or not Calipari can surpass him

This summer, ESPN has been running a series on the programs in college basketball history with legendary coaches, and how they have — or have not — moved on from them. Today was Kentucky’s turn, and the ESPN staff ranked Adolph Rupp’s successors as such:

  • 1. John Calipari
  • 2. Rick Pitino
  • 3. Joe B. Hall
  • 4. Tubby Smith
  • 5. Eddie Sutton
  • 6. Billy Gillispie

What’s more interesting is the debate that follows. Jeff Borzello, Joe Lunardi, and Myron Medcalf tackled the issue of Rupp’s legacy, and whether or not Calipari can ever surpass him. The latter is pretty obvious, but the former?

“There are conflicting stories on whether Rupp actively recruited black basketball players before ultimately landing Payne,” Borzello wrote. “And that’s not even looking at the point-shaving scandal or rules violations under Rupp’s watch, leading to what the NCAA considers its first “death penalty.” So, yes, ‘complicated’ is certainly apt. I think as we get further away from his on-court accomplishments — the four national titles and six Final Fours — those begin to fade.”

“Rupp was a product of his time and place, in many ways the Bear Bryant of college basketball,” Lunardi argued. “That characterization alone cements a legacy of unparalleled success, conflicted priorities and societal impact. Viewing that impact positively or negatively may depend on whether or not you are a Kentucky fan.”

As the only African American on the panel, Medcalf had the strongest point of view.

“I get the numbers. I get the legacy. I get the history attached to his time at Kentucky, one of the greatest programs in college basketball history. But I see him as a man who wielded his power and influence to ban black players from one of the country’s most influential programs and extending the widespread discrimination among elite teams. I don’t reward Rupp or his peers for subsequently embracing the idea of integrated teams because I don’t believe they made those changes for anything but competitive reasons. Their morals hadn’t changed. They just wanted to win.”

As for Calipari vs. Rupp, I think you’ll like Lunardi’s answer.

“It’s not apples to apples. Kentucky for most of Rupp’s time was among the few state schools to really care about basketball. The competition was nowhere near where it is today, with the sport heavily concentrated among urban, and in many cases, private schools. Given that, Calipari won’t surpass Rupp in NCAA championships. He may already have exceeded the Baron, however, in terms of impact on the game. He is the perfect man to thrive in and survive the Kentucky crucible. And ‘Calipari Court’ at Rupp Arena sounds like the perfect ending.”

For more, head on over to the Worldwide Leader.



Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

17 Comments for ESPN on Adolph Rupp’s legacy, whether or not Calipari can surpass him

  1. 4everUKblue
    10:15 pm August 6, 2019 Permalink

    KYCAPSLOCK4EVER IS NOT GOING TO LIKE THIS ONE BIT…after all he shook Rupp’s hand many times.

  2. CrystalBall
    10:36 pm August 6, 2019 Permalink

    Medcalf is wrong. Rupp never tried to ban black players. The SEC office told him if he had black players, to leave them in Lexington when they played an away game,

    • serdi
      9:21 am August 7, 2019 Permalink

      Medcalf and so many people of that era are lazy and can’t get their facts straight.

      Rupp did not go to 6 final 4s. Only 5 He won all of them except 1966.

      Ranking Pitino ahead of Joe B. Hall is lazy national reporters who do not do their home work.

      JBH took UK to more final fours than P did. Joe B won more SEC Championships and on and on.

      It is an insult to those that know UK basketball and those who are old enough to live during the Rupp era to read the ESPN spin on history and how they want it to be

    • catsarerunnin
      11:14 am August 7, 2019 Permalink

      There are those who use a broad brush to paint everyone a racist escape in a time when many coaches didn’t recruit players of color. Medcalf is being politically correct to impress people.

    10:37 pm August 6, 2019 Permalink

    Rupp recruited his first black player before Bear Bryant, but you never hear the Bear called a racist…

    10:39 pm August 6, 2019 Permalink

    And, uh, don’t we already have “Cawood Court”?

  5. BBNDan7
    10:41 pm August 6, 2019 Permalink

    “Calipari Court” has a nice ring to it

  6. Wade
    11:28 pm August 6, 2019 Permalink

    Cal should get his own zone one side the erupption zone on the there the calzone that’s it .cal has a major part in this but without rupp we don’t get cal imo

  7. Big Sexy
    11:49 pm August 6, 2019 Permalink

    You also have to consider that Rupp recruited players like Wes Unseld and Butch Beard who said they didn’t want to be the first black player at Kentucky. I’m sure there were more that didn’t in the following 4 years or so. Did he recruit them as hard as white player? Who knows? It’s easy to sit back and cast slings and arrows, especially when you didn’t live in that era.

  8. Urincatland
    4:24 am August 7, 2019 Permalink

    Cal’s Court has a much better ring to it.

  9. CarolinaC_A_T
    7:01 am August 7, 2019 Permalink

    I agree Cal will probably never catch Rupp in championships.But, I fully believe that if Cal stayed at Kentucky as long as Rupp did, he’d easily pass him in every category.

  10. wildcatlove4life
    7:40 am August 7, 2019 Permalink

    Adolph Rupp used to tell black athletes to not even bother to try out for the b-ball team while white athletes would be lined up outside of memorial coliseum waiting to try out. He told that to my father-n-law’s face. Rupp was basically forced to start recruiting black athletes but his reputation prevented him from being successful and after not reaching a final four with Dan Issel, The game seemed to be passing him by so UK pretty much forced him out and promoted Joe B. Apparently Rupp was set to be the new coach at Duke but his farm in Harrison Co. caught fire killing his farm manager, whose funeral was Rupp’s first day at Duke. Rupp decided to attend his friend’s funeral and retire from coaching.

    • chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door
      10:39 pm August 7, 2019 Permalink

      Mike Casey’s broken leg had a lot to do with not making a FF at least one of those years, and probably 2 actually.

  11. JTHinton
    9:37 am August 7, 2019 Permalink

    The fact that this comparison is even being made tells you just how good Cal is in the eyes of the nat’l media. They bash us all the time during the season but they know that Cal has done exceptional at UK

  12. Big Sexy
    11:31 am August 7, 2019 Permalink

    If Rupp didn’t want black athletes and felt forced to recruit them then he got what he deserved. Because it arguably cost him championships and wins. He had 0 championships in his last 14 seasons. He probably would’ve been the first to 900 wins. It hurt his legacy as a coach, not only a person as well, if true. He could’ve retired with 5-6 titles and 900 wins.

  13. UKFanSC
    10:04 pm August 8, 2019 Permalink

    He was a product of his era, looking back on it it seems backward and odd but in 1948 that was the southern US. Unquestionably biased against blacks, in virtually every facet of life. It wasn’t Rupp exclusively. It was society in general.

  14. bbn606
    12:10 pm August 9, 2019 Permalink

    That situation was bigger than Rupp. Imagine what he could have done at a northern school.