In the basketball world there are many greats and many of them have passed through the University of Kentucky Program. That being said, if the role that this one person played for Kentucky never happened then the University of Kentucky basketball program may not be the powerhouse it is today. I am not talking about a player but a coach; that coach is Adolph Fredrick Rupp. If Rupp was never head coach of the University of Kentucky then Kentucky may not be the basketball oriented state it is today. Before Rupp Kentucky was known as the horse capital of the world but with an aggressive coaching style of Kentucky was now known for a game that originated from a ball and a peach basket. Adolph Fredrick Rupp gave Kentucky the reputation it has today and made basketball a common sport in Kentucky.
On September 2nd, 1901 Adolph Fredrick Rupp was born in Halstead, Kansas. He was the born to Mennonite German immigrants that lived on a 173 acre farm. Adolph played his collegiate basketball at the University of Kansas in 1919 through 1923. Although Rupp was on the team of the Kansas Jayhawks at this time he didn’t receive much playing time because he wasn’t a started, he was actually only a reserve or bench player that didn’t have a set position. To help pay for his college Adolph worked part-time at a coffee shop to help pay for his education. The head coach at Kansas during this time was legendary head coach Forrest “Phog” Allen. During Rupp’s junior and senior years at Kansas Coach Allen seemed to have a secret weapon on his bench that was a played but a coach, Dr. James Naismith. Dr. Naismith is the person that invented basketball some 30 years prior to this in 1891.
This not only helped coach Allen in coaching his players but this also helped to give Rupp a very good understanding of the game since the very inventor of the game was coaching him. Not only were Coach Allen and Dr. Naismith Adolph’s coaches at this time but they also became good friends which is good in a coach to player relationship. Also during Rupp’s junior and senior years at Kansas they won the Helms National Championship back to back, proving that they were the best. After playing basketball at Kansas and graduating (in 1923) Rupp coached at Freeport high in Illinois. In 1930 Adolph Rupp got the job at the University of Kentucky as the country took a turn towards a depression.
Rupp’s practices weren’t a walk in the park. “From Day One in Lexington, the 29-year-old Rupp was a terror. His practices were run with military precision; in fact, Rupp and his longtime assistant, Harry Lancaster, always wore starched khaki uniforms just like those in the armed forces at the time. Rupp’s cardinal rule for practice was, “Don’t speak unless you can improve the silence.””(Reed) This is probably why most of his players feared him but that doesn’t mean they didn’t do well under his command. Coach Rupp strived for perfection, if he didn’t receive it from his players he would let them know; usually it would be with a sarcastic comment to get his point across. Rupp was also very superstitious, if he thought something was luck he would stick with whatever it was to try to get the luck with him. His superstitions are actually why he always wore brown suits during games, once he wore a blue suit to a game when he coached at Freeport high school and his team was beaten badly, a thing that rarely happened to Rupp and from that point on he never wore a blue suit to a game again.
In the history of the University of Kentucky’s basketball program they have had a total of twelve head coaches on the payroll throughout the years and coach Rupp was number six. Not until this point did the UK basketball program start to have consistent success. Adolph Rupp was head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats from 1930-1972 and this is where he earned the name “Baron of the Bluegrass.” Rupp’s old coach Forest Allen had a record 746 total wins in his career. Well, Rupp passed that record with a total of 876 total career wins for the Baron which calls for the cliché of the student surpassing the teacher. Coach Rupp did not take losing very well, Kentucky’s basketball team had won 126 home games and when they finally lost to Georgia Tech on January 8th 1955. After the game Rupp told his players that they “would have to live with the shame of the defeat for the rest of their lives.” (Scott)
In 1948 coach Rupp was on the coaching staff of the 1948 Olympic basketball team where they earned a gold medal in London. The gold medal came just after Rupp earned his first NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) basketball title with the University of Kentucky Wildcats a few months earlier. Rupp went on to win three more national titles, all with the University of Kentucky. His team’s dominance from 1948 carried over to the next season because the Wildcats won their second championship in ’49 and then Rupp’s other two followed in ’51 and ’58.
With all these wins Kentucky gathered many fans; these fans are known as the Big Blue Nation. The Big Blue Nation is made up of current University of Kentucky students and alumni, as well as faculty and anyone else that appreciates Kentucky basketball like Ashley Judd that stay true to the blue. By winning 876 games in 42 years Rupp had created a winning tradition at the University of Kentucky where Wildcat basketball was expected to win.
The only thing that seemed to haunt Rupp’s career is the lack of diversity on the team. In Rupp’s first 39 years as a head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky he did not have a single African American player on his roster. The lack of an interracial team lead others to believe that he was a racist. The movie Glory Road depicts Rupp as being a racist as his all white team plays Texas Western’s team that started five Black players as Texas Western shocked the basketball world as they beat Kentucky in the NCAA Championship game. Rupp’s assistant coach Harry Lancaster remembers the coach being upset after a meeting with the current University of Kentucky President Dr. John Oswald by saying, “Harry, that son of a bitch is ordering me to get some niggers in here. What am I going to do? He’s the boss.” In all of his four national titles Rupp had an all White roster.
On the flip side of that Rupp did have a Black player on his high school squad in Illinois that he had start for him. The Baron was also quoted saying that he (Rupp), “hoped Kentucky fans would treat Solly Walker (a Black St. John’s player) with kindness and respect” when St. John traveled to play the Wildcats at memorial Coliseum. In an interview with Ben True, who is a double major student at the University of Kentucky I asked him what he thought about Adolph Rupp being a racist. Ben said, “I don’t believe that Coach Rupp was a racist. You have to think that at the time there were still many people against Blacks playing sports not to mention at the college level so I don’t think that it was necessarily his fault (Rupp) that he didn’t have any Black players rather that the team would lose fans if a black player was on the team.” This seemed to change since other teams were starting to add Africa Americans to their teams. After the pressure of his superiors putting pressure on him to recruit Black players he set out to do so but many believe that he did this half heartedly. He wasn’t not involved so much in the recruiting of his players which is a reason why skeptics think that Black players didn’t want to come to play for the University of Kentucky since Rupp’s lack of presence was a sign that they were not wanted on the team. Despite the accusations of racism those same people believe he was a racist they do generally do no talk about Don Barkle. Don was on the 1948 Olympic team that Rupp coached and was the first African American to win an Olympic Medal.
In an attempt to get away from the negative accusations of racism Rupp finally found a talented African American player good enough to be on his Wildcat roster. The University of Kentucky eventually received their first African American basketball player when they got Tom Payne, the 7 foot 2 inch out of Seneca High School of Louisville Kentucky in 1969. Coach Rupp even traveled to his home in Louisville to be a part of the recruiting process to prove to Tom that he wanted him Lexington. This ended the all white era of Wildcat basketball and the beginning of integrated ethnic basketball teams where the wins just kept coming in. Tom’s first year at the University he did not pay due to his grades but he got them up for his sophomore year and had a good season. In fact his season was so good that he caught the attention of professional basketball scouts and after his sophomore season he left the University of Kentucky to play at the next level. Payne was among the first Kentucky players to leave college without receiving their degree to play in the pros.
When Kentucky games at Memorial Coliseum started to getting too crowded the University decided to build a new facility to play basketball. In 1976 a new arena was built for the Kentucky Wildcats powerhouse and it was named Rupp Arena after the great basketball coach who just kept on winning, Coach Adolph Fredrick Rupp. The arena, which seats 23,000 people, is a standing reminder of the legacy of the greatest coach to come out of the University of Kentucky. When attending the Kentucky basketball game against Radford earlier in the 2011-2012 season I asked Patrick (who is a current student at the University of Kentucky that I had met at the game earlier in the day) if he knew who or what Rupp Arena was named after and he quickly replied “Coach Rupp of course.” Since it was opened the new facility has proven to be a space of excellence because the Wildcats have won 90 percent of all the games played there (UK Athletic Department) this is just one example that the legacy of winning is still carried on today in Lexington, Kentucky. Even though Rupp Arena was built for the University of Kentucky’s Wildcats but it is the main part of the Lexington Center Complex where the arena host concerts and NCAA tournaments that bring in many fans to Lexington.
With a legacy of success high school players around the United States dream of playing basketball for Kentucky. This is why the Wildcats are always so good because they have the talent and generally talent leads to wins and wins lead to championships. Every year Kentucky gets the best players in the country to ensure that the next basketball season will be just as good or better then the last. The players coming through Kentucky are so good it is actually getting hard to keep them in college to play as Wildcats because they move on to the NBA (National Basketball Association.) Despite this fans do not mind because they want nothing but the best for their players, on and off the court.
At the age of 70 years old Coach Rupp was let go by the University of Kentucky due to its age policy. Any person that reaches the age of 70 that is employed by the university are in turn let go. Coach Rupp didn’t like this and wanted to stay and coach more at Kentucky but they made him step down as coach and Joe Hall was his predecessor. For a long time Rupp thought that Hall just wanted his job and that is why he was let go and not because of the age policy but that is not the case. Even after Coach Rupp left the Wildcats have continued to succeed by winning another 3 national titles. The University of Kentucky is the first program in NCAA basketball history to reach 2,000 wins and as the wins keep coming they hope to be the first to 3,000 as well.
Rupp’s career as had its ups and downs, he has won national titles and many other thrilling games but at the same time he has been depicted as a racist coach that did not like African Americans on his team. Despite all this perhaps the greatest moments in Kentucky Wildcat basketball history is when Coach Rupp was coaching in his brown suit. Coach Rupp’s career was one for the record books with 876 wins, 4 NCAA Titles, 1 NIT (Not In Tournament) Title, 4 time Coach of the Year, and a gold medalist.
In 1969 he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. “Adolph Rupp is synonymous with winning. As coach of Kentucky, he was a pioneer in the Wildcats’ fast-break offense while becoming the winningest coach the game had ever seen.” (UK Athletic Department) Another thing that Rupp was known for was his man-to-man offense that opposing teams had trouble stopping. With the help of Adolph Rupp Kentucky basketball is widely known as one of the best college basketball programs in the United States, he created a dynasty of greatness that have continued to carry on to present day.
On December 10th 1977 the University of Kentucky won yet again this time beating Rupp’s alma mater Kansas. Unfortunately later on that night he passed away due to complications with cancer, he was 76 years old. He is buried in Lexington Cemetery. “During Rupp’s 42 seasons as coach of the Wildcats, beginning in 1930 and ending in 1972, Kentucky won 876 games…and four national titles (Rupp is second on the all-time list, behind John Wooden, who had 10 at UCLA).” (Reed)
The University of Kentucky is such a basketball powerhouse it’s hard to believe where Kentucky basketball would be now if Adolph Rupp had never came and coach in Lexington. At the time when Adolph Rupp took the coaching job at Kentucky basketball as a sport was still young and many different people were trying to make a name for themselves in the sport. The fact that a coach of Rupp’s caliber was even around at this time is something in itself. His basketball IQ matured so much faster than many others putting him among the top in the basketball world. It makes you wonder; would another university be graced with basketball the winning mentality of Coach Rupp if Kentucky would have never put their trust in a high school basketball coach from Kansas?