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Adolph Rupp

Vaught’s note: Vaughtsviews.com contributor Rene Cornette gives us a glimpse of what the documentary, “The Sixth Man: A Krazy Love Story,” about the passion of UK basketball fans involves. It’s a terrific read, one I guarantee you will enjoy. The movie is being shown at The Grand in Lancaster Thursday at 7:30 p.m. I plan to be there. Come and join me for this look at what the Big Blue fans are like.

By RENE CORNETTE

“The Sixth Man: A Krazy Love Story” is a documentary but even more than that it’s a love letter to Big Blue Nation. It’s a documentary that literally gave me chills just from watching the trailer for it. I have anticipated it’s debut for months and even with all that build up, “The Sixth Man” still exceeded my expectations. I have watched it multiple times and I fall in love with a different part every time. I notice a new quote that pulls at my heart strings. I scream when I recognize one of Kentucky’s super fans. I laugh at the craziness of our fans and I even cry when fans tell their stories. My point is this documentary is everything that sets Kentucky fans a part from all others.

It’s a documentary that we all can be proud of. A documentary that we all can relate to. It spans generations from the days of Rupp to Calipari. It touches upon our long gone heroes like Cawood Ledford and reminds you once again of what made you a Kentucky fan. I found myself pausing the DVD constantly to talk to my husband about my early childhood memories of Kentucky basketball that came pouring back to me from watching, “The Sixth Man.”

That’s Kentucky basketball. It’s family. It’s crowding around your radio as a kid listening to Cawood, Harlan County’s own, call the game. It’s huddling around your tv praying that the CATS can comeback just one more time. It’s later fighting back tears as you watch your CATS go down on a last second shot. It’s being so proud watching Kentucky win a national championship that you swear your heart could burst. “The Sixth Man” is all of that and more.

It’s our story. Our journey through time told by the people who lived it. Kyle Macy, Dan Issel, Kenny Skywalker, Joe B Hall, Ralph Hacker and our own, Larry Vaught. It also featured famous fans Laura Bell Bundy, Josh Hopkins and Kevin and Brian Richardson of the Backstreet Boys. My personal favorite famous fans from the movie were Josh Hutcherson and Steve Zahn. I loved their enthusiasm. I loved listening to their stories but most of all I loved how they showed Kentucky basketball fandom knows no income limit. I think Ralph Hacker said it best, “It didn’t make any difference whether you were rich or poor your voice was just as loud when it came to cheering for the Wildcats.” Amen, Ralph. Amen.

“The Sixth Man” goes beyond all of that though. It displays every type of fandom. From the crazies who dress up and get tatted to the fringe who burn couches and call into radio shows disparaging our coach and players. It shows fans who have turned their homes into shrines for Kentucky. It even touches upon a Kentucky and Louisville fan who came to blows at a dialysis center. If that doesn’t prove the instate rivalry is the greatest in college basketball than I don’t know what will. This movie is every single person who has been touched by the “blue dust” as Calipari calls it. It’s a life long affair without an end in sight. It gets in your blood and never leaves. It’s as a fan pointed out in the documentary, it’s being born with blue blood not red. That’s what makes Kentucky fans special. Others talk about it but we live it, every single day and, “The Sixth Man” displays it perfectly.

By the time, “The Sixth Man” movie portrays Kentucky basketball as a religion you know why. It’s our sanctity, our solace and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s getting caught up in a game for a few hours and forgetting you worries. It’s our unadulterated joy. The time when we remember what it felt like to be a kid. The time we thank God that we were born into a family of Kentucky fans. The time we bond with our families and the time we pass the love of our team down to the next generation of CATS fans. It’s what our own, Larry Vaught described perfectly, ” If you have a chance to watch the basketball game or go to dinner with your spouse, you know what that’s going to be. You’re going to watch the basketball game.”

“The Sixth Man” even ends with it’s own redemption story. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll just leave it at that. I just want to say this documentary is a must see for Big Blue Nation. We are UK and as Coach Cal said, we truly are the sixth man. You won’t regret buying this movie. You won’t regret going to watch the documentary at your local theater if you are so lucky as to have it come to your town. Most of all, you wont ever regret once getting lost in 88 minutes of the best portrayal of the greatest fan base on Earth, Big Blue Nation. A nation that I’m so proud to be a part of. A nation that is more like a family and this documentary is our homecoming. Buy it, watch it, watch it again, and then watch it just a few more times in a row. It’s that good. It’s that addictive but hey why wouldn’t it be, it’s about the greatest fans in the world who power the greatest college basketball program. Big Blue Nation is the best and this movie shows why. Go buy your copy now and remember why you fell in love with Kentucky basketball in the first place. I’m just going to watch, “The Sixth Man” one more time…..okay, maybe twice more.

By LINDA SINCLAIR

My friend Christy Barger and I went to the Alumni Game together.  She got to our seats before I did.  TShe asked where the seat and row was when she was at the top of Rupp.  I was talking to a man too young to be wearing a blue coat and was telling him if he could wear a blue coat so could I, he agreed.  I want my BLUE COAT!  I asked him where the seats where, he said all the way down in front.  I said how far down, he said all the way down. I said where?  He said you see that concrete and the walkway, I said yes, he said that row of seats, the first row.

I thought I was going to give birth to the next 5 Five star recruits right there on the spot!  FIRST ROW, ALMOST UNDER THE BASKET, RUPP ARENA…I GOT DOWN ON MY KNEES WHEN I GOT DOWN THERE AND THANKED THE BASKETBALL GODS, BUDDHA, EVERY SUPREME BEING I COULD THINK OF, SAINTS, ANGELS, SERAPHIM’S, ARCHANGELS, COACH RUPP, NAISMITH and even my dearly departed.

Can you imagine?  It was only the Alumni Game, but holy moly, I, Linda Sinclair, little old lady from Lexington West was sitting in the first row at Rupp Arena.  OK, it was not center court, but boy oh boy.  It can’t get much better than this.  I have met my idols, Mickey Mantle and Ali.  I met Pete Rose, got kissed by the Lettermen, made Bill Medley blush, left Robic and Kenny Payne speechless.  I made Matt Jones night a couple years ago. I also made Mickey Mantle smile. BUT to have front row seats in Rupp Arena, to see AD, Josh ‘Never Keeps His Promises’ Harrellson, PPat, MKG, TJ, Ramon, Jared, John ‘The 23 Yr Old $80 Million Man’ Wall, etc up close and almost personal…someone pinch me please.

I think I have died and gone to heaven, my Blue Heaven!  Christy and I both looked at each other when I finally sat down and said the same thing at the same time, “Can you believe this?”  She was so nervous she could not hold her hand still to take a picture.  I was so elated I could not sit still in my seat…oh wait, that is me all the time!

I talked to MKG’s mother and thanked her for her son and for the fine young man he is.  She said she didn’t do it for anyone other than for him.  Well, I still thanked her any way, we need more like her, Mrs. Patterson, Mrs. Knight, Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Bledsoe and all the wonderful mothers who raise wonderful children.

I wish I could calculate how much money was on that floor tonight but I do not think it was anything close to the amount of pride if you could have measured the pride in Cal’s face.  I know how proud I am of all my boys and I can only imagine what he must feel.  I doubt if there are any words at all to describe it.  Some of the pictures I got of him I think reflect what he was feeling.

This game and evening may be a great recruiting tool, but to me, it is a great memory to carry with me when I’m rockin’ in the rocking chair at the nursing home and can’t remember much else.

I didn’t have to worry about losing, no matter the outcome, it was a win/win situation. Yes, in my heart I know it was not a ‘real’ game but you will not be able to tell me that tomorrow, next week or the week after or the week after. It was John Wall, it was AD, it was TJ, it was MKG, it was Brandon Knight, it was Patrick Patterson, it was so much more than those names. It was my boys wearing blue and white, running up and down the court at Rupp Arena again, enjoying themselves, feeling the love amongst themselves, feeling the love of the BBN, seeing the pride on Cal’s face and knowing that they had once played in the Cathedral of College Basketball, knowing they were still welcomed, still loved and still brothers. Most were only there for one spectacular year, a few for more than that. Some were there before Cal and Cal has embraced them and made them feel a part of this program again. He has invited them back home on more than one occasion. Doesn’t that just bring tears to your eye, it does to mine and I hope I will not bore you with another story about last night again too soon. I sure hope some of y’all start posting again. I think I am all used up right now! LOL Isn’t there some kind of game coming up this weekend?

I don’t want to forget, I don’t want the ‘glow’ to wear off for a long time.  They mean so much to all of us. There were so many of them in one place at one time, so many in the Cathedral of Basketball entertaining the Emperor and his subjects. We think we will never have another group like we have in the present year and Cal brings in a new group and what do you know, we have more special young men. Some of these young men Cal never got to coach but can you imagine if he had?

I think Jay is having a bro affair with Cal now. I know he is having a love affair with Kentucky and the BBN. Cal is a genius, he invites Jay to his home and Jay is mesmerized by him and his personality. Cal works his magic gives him some good old Kentucky cooking and bourbon and Jay is a fan for life. He got to see the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Cal has the biggest heart of anyone. He truly cares; sometimes I wonder how he finds time to do all he does and still have time to breathe.

BTW, Got to meet and talk with Tod Lanter.  Very nice young man and he had a smile on his face from ear to ear and he was very pleasant and kind to this old woman.

Thank you Coach Cal and thank you Coach Rupp.

By LARRY VAUGHT

USA Today compiled its list of the 10 most hated coaches in college basketball and not only did current Kentucky coach John Calipari land on the list, but so did Adolph Rupp and Rick Pition. The list also included Jerry Tarkanian, Jim Calhoun, John Chaney, Bob Huggins, John Thompson, Mike Krzyzewsk and Bobby Knight, who was No. 1 on the list.

Let me know what you think. Do Calipari, Rupp and Pitino belong on this wacky list?

Calipari came in at No. 5 and here’s what the article said about him: With his slicked-back hair and expensive Armani suits, John Calipari is like the Gordon Gekko of college basketball coaches. Those snake-oil-salesman mannerisms rankle a lot of people — among them Jim Calhoun, who called Calipari “Johnny Clam Chowder” for faking a Boston accent while coaching at Massachusetts. Some fans think Calipari could be as crooked as Gekko, too. Final Four appearances at UMass and Memphis were vacated due to NCAA violations. These days, some are unwilling to believe his success at Kentucky, with rosters full of one-and-done future NBA lottery picks, is legit, and they point out he never has been personally implicated by the NCAA.

Rupp got the No. 3 spot in the article: In his 42 years at Kentucky, Rupp became one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, and also one of the most disliked due to his nastiness. Rupp ran his teams as if he were a drill instructor, and years after playing for him, former players spoke of Rupp like an abusive father.

“He wanted everybody to hate him, and he succeeded,” UK legend Bill Spivey once said. “He called us names some of us had never heard before.” Added former Wildcat Tommy Kron, “He was a tough, gruff kind of guy who would verbally abuse his players to get them to play harder.”

The Wildcats’ dominance in the Southeastern Conference under Rupp proved, to a certain extent, that his tactics worked.

Rupp has been further demonized over the years by portrayals of racism, such as a very unflattering Sports Illustrated article by Frank Deford. While accusations of racism have been strongly challenged in the Bluegass State, the perception remains and tarnishes his legacy in the eye of the public.

Pitino? He got the sixth spot for these reasons: It’s a good thing New Yorkers have thick skin, because this sweet-talking Long Islander native has been called every name in the book over the last two decades in the NBA and college basketball. Shameless self-promoter. Egomaniac. Whiner. Opportunist. Weasel. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. No one hates Pitino more than the fans in Lexington, who watched him leave a dream job at Kentucky for the NBA, only to return to college ball four years later to coach bitter rival Louisville. Fans like to point out that Pitino looks a lot like Al Pacino in the 1997 film The Devil’s Advocate — especially in his patented white suit. In case you haven’t seen the movie, Pacino plays Satan.

uk basketball logoBy LARRY VAUGHT

Vaughtsviews.com reader Steve Moody has asked me a question that I can’t honestly answer, so I need your help. Here goes what Moody sent me:

“Are you familiar with a second album that Coach Rupp did with Cawood Ledford in the late 60′s or perhaps just after he retired? I have the one titled ‘Great Moments in Kentucky Basketball’ that was put out by the Committee of 101 in 1969, but I recall listening to another one when I was about 14 or 15 years old that had some game clips as well as some clips from his postgame shows. Some of the stuff was really entertaining. One I remember in particular was after a road win at Auburn or some other football outpost where Coach Rupp was reminiscing about all the different gyms they had been in over the years.

“‘Cawood, we’ve been in all kinds of gyms down here. From an armory to a quonset hut to an L-shaped gym.’ When Cawood responded, ‘What do you mean ‘L-shaped?’ Rupp replied, ‘L-shaped. I would always worry about the boys when they were down on the other end. I didn’t feel good again until I saw ‘em coming around the corner!’”

So if you know of a second album and any way that Moody might be able to obtain one, let us know.

Anne Crawford's painting of the UK national championship coaches. (photo submitted)

Anne Crawford’s painting of the UK national championship coaches. (photo submitted)

By LARRY VAUGHT

For several years Tim Bess had been encouraging his wife, Danville artist Anne Crawford to do a painting based on the tradition of the University of Kentucky basketball. Last summer she found herself considering the best way to portray the deep tradition of UK basketball in an original oil portrait.

“Her artistic, creative mind went to work. She then invited our family to share ideas, to discuss the painting, to conduct research, and to take a close look at all that is encompassed by UK Basketball’s tradition throughout the decades,” said Jean Crawford Griffin, Anne’s sister.

Finally, the idea came. Why not a painting with each of the UK coaches — Adolph Rupp, Joe Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and John Calipari — who won a national championship with the Wildcats.

“Each coach and championship trophy became a part of Anne’s vision for the painting,” Griffin said.

The painting shows each coach with the trophy — or trophies for Rupp — he won. They are all standing on the Rupp Arena court.

“We looked at things to see how to portray each coach, but Anne creates her own vision. She has to have some reference for facial features, but everything Anne does is an original and this certainly is a unique piece of art,” Griffin said. “We thought about including all the UK coaches, but we decided we did not want one (Billy Gillispie) of them in it. So we thought the best thing to do was go with coaches who won a championship.

“We started the research and started looking at the trophies and how they have changed over the years. We wanted to make sure we were as historically accurate as possible.”

Anne Crawford, 51, is well know for her portrait and equine art. She has done historical medical art, but this is her venture into what she hopes might turn into a series of legacy paintings.

“We don’t think there is anything like this piece of art anywhere,” Griffin, who has two degrees from UK and once worked in the UK athletics department. “Our whole family is Wildcat fans and we knew if Anne was going to broaden her horizons into the sports world this would be the best way to start and a very talked about piece of art because there is nothing like it. We looked at maybe doing one for football, and thought no. Anne is really good at catching game action, but this one with all the coaches is what came to mind and what all the family liked best.”

Griffin, a six organ transplant recipient , calls herself a grassroots donate life ambassador and is active in the annual UK-UofL Gift of Life Challenge between Kentucky and Louisville during basketball season. It’s a drive to sign up organ donors that began in 2001 and the winner will be announced when UK and Louisville play at the YUM Center in December.

Crawford and Griffin would like to think there might be a way to get Kentucky coach John Calipari involved with using the painting to promote organ donations. They are considering producing a limited number of prints and Griffin and hopes there might be a  way to involve Calipari and/or Louisville coach Rick Pitino in the project.

“We would just do a limited number of prints so that people would be very proud of having print No. 1 or print 100,” Griffin said. “We want the original painting to be in the best possible place whether that be in an individual owner’s hands or one of the UK coaches or his family. Maybe it belongs in the UK basketball offices. It’s not easy to know exactly where it belongs or what will be the right thing to do.

“But if there is a way to promote organ donation and the tradition of UK basketball at the same time, that would be great for everyone. This is a unique painting and we are open to any and all ideas because we know how unique this is from anything else.”

photos by Lauren Colwell

Vaught’s note: As Kentucky gets set to start another basketball season, here is a reminder from UK fan Lauren Colwell about how the Cats can bring generations of family members together for the season reason — supporting UK basketball.

By LAUREN COLWELL

We cheer. We yell. We jump with elation at a win, and we pound our fists in the air at a loss. We tear up when we hear replays of Cawood Ledford’s voice or watch old tapes of Happy Chandler singing “My Old Kentucky Home.” The pomp and circumstance of Big Blue Madness each year makes us proud to be a part of the Big Blue Nation. To us, Joe B. is a living legend; Adolph Rupp is immortal. We are UK basketball fans, and I come from three generations of them. For over 60 years, my family has laughed, cried, and bled blue.

It started with my grandfather on my mother’s side. The Cincinnati Reds and UK basketball were his favorite teams. Games were only on radio for them, they didn’t own a television set yet. My granddad sold tobacco each year and bought a battery for the family radio, and it had to last a year until another one could be bought. Radio time in the house was sacred, but the Wildcats were a priority. He listened to the play-by-play of The Fabulous Five in 1948, Rupp’s victories in 1949, and probably heard every shot Cliff Hagan made in the 1951 game.

In 1954, my dad came home from serving in the Air Force in Germany, and enrolled at UK as an agriculture major on the G.I. Bill. Mom tells of a much different Lexington back then when they lived in married housing on UK’s campus. Central Baptist Hospital, next to their married housing, was only one building; Circle 4 was an unpaved road with cattle farms that we now know as New Circle Road. The Parkette was their favorite place for Saturday night dates, and I’ve heard strange stories from her about UK basketball games at Memorial Coliseum not selling out. Hard to imagine Rupp Arena left with empty seats in lower arena for games in my lifetime, but that was common back then. When they could, Mom and Dad would move down from the student section to seats closer to the floor. They never missed a home game while Dad was a student there, and he met Coach Rupp several times as a student when he would come in the agriculture building.

During the 1958 Championship game, my dad, a UK senior, lay in the floor of my grandfather’s house beside the radio. They had a television, but the game wasn’t televised for them, so they listened. He would beat his fist on the floor when things were tough, and cheered for the Cats when baskets were scored. I’m sure everyone in the house breathed a sigh of relief when UK won over Seattle, 84-72.

After graduation in 1958, my parents moved from Lexington to Princeton, Kentucky. The move west (before the Bluegrass Parkway was built) and the three children that followed made attending games impossible, and they gave up their season tickets. They relied on WHAS out of Louisville to bring the games to them, but the signal was sometimes weak. They would drive to nearby Dawson Springs and park on a hill where the reception was clearer. Dad’s 1954 Ford had a noisy heater, so in order to hear the game they had to turn the heater off. During breaks in the game, or when their teeth started to chatter louder than the game, they’d turn the car back on to warm up. With no floor to beat on, Dad would give the dashboard a sound thumping with each missed shot.

My grandfather passed away in 1975, three years before the next championship win. The family once again planned to watch that game at my grandmother’s house. Various aunts, uncles, and cousins all crowded into the tiny living room and gathered around the floor model TV set. My uncle’s mother-in-law, from Ohio, didn’t quite have the same appreciation of our beloved Wildcats, and was subsequently relocated into the kitchen. (In my mom’s words, “She wouldn’t hush during the game, so we ran her out of the room.”) You didn’t create unnecessary noise during a UK game, something I struggled with as a child in the 1980s. I learned to get anything I needed from the kitchen (which involved a trek in front of the TV screen) before game time. Once Cawood was on, I stayed out of sight. I could tell how each game was going by the cheers or stomps I heard coming from the family room. Even to this day, when a game is close, one of my nephews will send me a tweet saying, “I dare you to call Mamaw right now.” And I always tweet back, “I’ll give you $5 if you try it.” No one has yet to take the offer.

By 1996, I was a college student at Morehead State University. I watched the championship game in my dorm room, and walked to the front of my 6th floor room afterward to watch the chaos on campus below. Several groups of friends were heading out at the buzzer to revel with the UK students in Lexington. In 1997, Kyle Macy became coach of the Morehead State Eagles. I was in the cafeteria one day and turned around and almost bumped into him. No doubt he saw the stunned look on my face, so he said hello – I did the only thing I was capable of at the moment – giggled and ran back to my dorm to call my mom.

I had gotten engaged two days prior to the 1998 game, so my soon-to-be husband and I watched it together. When I started my teaching career, I would turn on the radio broadcast online and let my students listen to it as they did their computer assignments. One year during the SEC Tourney, one of the administrators came to each room and tuned the classroom TVs to the game. It was a fuzzy picture, but it was our Cats nonetheless. The principal came by 15 minutes later, threw open the door, stared at my TV and the eyes glued to it, and slammed the door. Evidently every classroom had the game on, and he knew this was a battle he wouldn’t win. We all got the watch the game.

By 2012, we watched the game with our two daughters. I spent part of the game with my UK blanket over my head when the score got too close… the other half I spent sitting in a chair pulled directly in front of the TV with my family yelling, “Get out of the way!!” It’s a wonder I didn’t get moved to the kitchen.

We went to a UK fan store yesterday and my 8-year old daughter spent part of her birthday money on her first UK basketball. She says she’s going to use it if Coach Cal ever holds a Father/Daughter Basketball clinic. Ah yes, the family tradition continues.

 

By ASHLEY SCOBY

As a journalist, there are a lot of times in your career when you have to search for stories – dig into small details to find the one that could make a story.

But there are other times when the good stories just walk up to you and announce themselves, and that’s what happened with Eric Mobley and Jim Potter at Calipari’s Fantasy Experience last weekend.

On the agenda of Cal’s camp for Friday night was a trip to WinStar Farm, a thoroughbred horse farm in Versailles, where participants would get together for the famous Kentucky mint juleps and a night of relaxation.

It somehow ended up that I was sitting next to Mobley and Potter while we all ate the (delicious) food provided for us, and we struck up a conversation.  Potter started telling stories about Adolph Rupp, and soon had everyone hooked.

Wait, rewind. That Adolph Rupp? Well, is there any other?

It turns out that Potter is a former member of the “101 Club” (think: the blue jackets at Rupp Arena) during Rupp’s and Joe B. Hall’s tenures at UK. He went on recruiting trips to high schools with the coach and even got to travel to SEC tournaments with the team.

Of course, with Rupp in tow, a trip to Nashville for the SEC tournament was never just a road trip.

“Kentucky had lost, and he (Rupp) really liked his Jack Daniels after a loss, so I got to drive him back to Lexington from Nashville,” Potter said. “He was about half a bottle in, and we stopped at a Denny’s or a Shoney’s or one of those, to eat. The waitress asked us for our drink orders. Rupp just said, ‘Now honey, don’t offer us any alcoholic beverages. We’re Mormon.’”

Potter says that was one of the more memorable moments he shared with The Baron, but admitted that there were many more.

Potter, now the director of corporate relations for the MBA Center at the University of Kentucky, wasn’t actually a participant of the Calipari Experience, however. Instead, he was Eric Mobley’s guest for the portion of the camp at WinStar Farm.  Mobley, a former Transylvania University basketball player, has known Potter for years, dating back to when they were tennis partners about ten years ago.

One might think that Kentucky basketball (or just basketball in general) is what connects Potter and Mobley. Instead, the biggest connecting factor is about 1500 miles away: Haiti.

Mobley and Potter have started their own foundation, the Kentucky-Haiti Partnership, that funds two students per year to leave Haiti and come to study at the University of Kentucky – for four years.  This year, for the first time, two girls will be funded.

The two founders have also travelled to Haiti to do further work in the country.  Mobley, a pediatric dentist who currently lives in Atlanta, has performed hundreds of dental procedures on children in Haiti.

Kentucky basketball itself will also serve to help the Kentucky-Haiti Partnership.  Mobley, as a current Atlanta resident, acquired six tickets to the Kentucky-Duke game in the Georgia Dome this year, and is donating them to an auction the foundation is having this Sunday, September 23. The program also will be holding a dinner at Malone’s that day.

If you are interested in donating or learning more about the Kentucky-Haiti Partnership, I would be happy to put you in contact with one of these two.

As for the rest of Potter’s Rupp stories?  Well, he might have to write a book for that one.

By LARRY VAUGHT

He was an All-American at Duquesne and helped the Dukes reach the NCAA Elite Eight, became one of the first two African-Americans in the NBA to play on a championship team and even played with and against the Harlem Globetrotters.

It was quite a successful basketball career for James D. Tucker of Paris — who is known as Jim or J.D. to his friends — and even today he says he owes it all to legendary University of Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, the man often accused of being a racist .

Tucker, 79, made it clear during a trip back to Kentucky for his induction into the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame — he led Paris Western to four straight Kentucky High School League state tourney berths from 1947-50.

“I still feel the same about Adolph Rupp as I did back in 1950 when he helped change my life,” said Tucker. “Had it not been for coach Rupp, I would have still been in Paris, Ky., and that’s not what I wanted to do.”

Instead, he helped Duquesne routinely stayed ranked in the top 10, including a two-week stint at No. 1 in 1954 during a 26-win season, and averages 4.1 points per game during a three-year NBA career with the Syracuse Nationals that included the 1955 championship. After spending time with the Globetrotters, he worked 20 years for the Pillsbury Corporation and 15 years for Northwest Airlines, both in Minneapolis.

Tucker did not have a scholarship offer when Rupp saw him play and was impressed. At that time, Kentucky had no African-American athletes and the South certainly was not ready to add black athletes to its major sports programs. However, Rupp told Tucker he wanted to help him find a big-time college that could use his talent.

“I knew with his power and relationships with other college coaches and how much they admired him in spite of what they were saying about him that he might make that happen,” Tucker said. “Believe it or not, I had a scholarship offered to me by one school I won’t name and they said, ‘If Adolph Rupp recommends you, then you have a scholarship.’ That same day I received a telegram from Duquesne saying they had reviewed all my credential and were prepared to offer me a full scholarship.

“That is the power he had. He did not have to do that. He did not have to make one phone call for me. He did not have to come down and say I had a lot of talent and since I had not heard from any black colleges that he was going to help me.”

But Rupp did even though critics have always accused him of being a racist and resisting integration, among other things. About seven  years ago WKYT-TV in Lexington did a documentary on Rupp and the role not only Rupp but UK played in integration — Rupp’s first black player was Tom Payne in 1970. That documentary gave Rupp’s players a chance to tell their side of the story about the coach they insisted was not a racist.

The documentary also included Tucker praising Rupp for helping him and noted that Rupp twice petitioned the SEC to integrate — both were denied — and that Rupp add Don Barksdale, an African-American, to the 1948 Olympic team.

“I would have enjoyed playing for him,” Tucker said. “I played with Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and some other University of Kentucky players on the Globetrotters and they were gentlemen. They were just very nice people. I would not have had any problems playing with them because they were just delightful, regular people. Same with coach Rupp.

“I think coach Rupp saw me play and just thought I had the talent to play at a big-time school. He didn’t want me to waste me talents. The rest is history. When you get two scholarship offers just based on Adolph Rupp’s recommendation, that says it all. We never really crossed paths again. We did not stay in touch, but I always watched Kentucky play whenever I could. Somehow it just did not seem to matter to him or me that we take it any further as long as I was doing what he thought I should be doing.”

Tucker did everything well. He retired to Florida before moving back to Minnesota recently because of his wife’s work — she is sales and marketing manager in charge of the Midwest for her company — but made so many friends in Florida that 15 of them surprised him Saturday by coming to Lexington for his KHSAA induction. The ceremony just happened to fall on the same weekend they normally get together at Daytona Beach, Fla., for a weekend golf outing.

“They are a great bunch of guys and I am so glad they came,” Tucker said. “The whole event was magnificent. I told Earl Lloyd (the other African-American on the 1955 NBA championship team) that it was the greatest show I have ever been to. Everything went absolutely perfect.  You would have thought it was a MGM production. People at my table were tearing up. My wife was tearing up. There was not a dry eye, including mine, at our table.”

Tucker said numerous people at the induction ceremony thanked him for “setting the record straight” about Rupp during his remarks.

“What he did, he did. He did something special for me. I got an education, played ball and got good jobs because of what he did,” Tucker said. “People still ask me about him and I will never say anything bad. He did not do anything for me but give me a life I never would have had without him.”

Doesn’t exactly make Rupp sound like the racist bigot some portray.

“The way I felt was that the situation he was in, he did not have a choice (about integration). The administration did that,” Tucker said. “He did manage to get Tom Payne, and then he had problems. But I am sure the good ole Kentucky boys didn’t really want to integrate that school. Kentucky was No. 1 for so many years and did not need to add that distraction. But that was not Adolph Rupp’s decision to make.

“Coach Rupp and his players were not like that. When I was traveling with the Globetrotters and playing with and against Hagan, Ramsey and those guys, it was fine. We flew together, played cards together, played basketball together. They all knew what kind of man Adolph Rupp was and so did I and no matter what anyone else has ever said, I’ve never had a reason to doubt that what I know is right.”

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For IPhones/IPads, and new for Android devices, the Catalist app by Larry Vaught is the best way to keep up with UK basketball. It's free!

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