Joe B. Hall coached the Kentucky Wildcats in 10 NCAA Tournaments, three Final Fours and two national title games.
Yet, for giving a guy some butterflies in the stomach, none of that may compare to coming back to your hometown to have a 30- by 35-foot mural of you unveiled in front of the people who knew you best.
“I’m a little nervous. I’ve never had anything like this,” Hall said Monday afternoon. “This is my hometown.”
Amazing. I don’t see how (artist Sergio Odeith) did that.
Joe B. Hall
On an idyllic, sunny Tuesday, Cynthiana gave one of its favorite sons the ultimate “big picture” tribute. Before a crowd in the hundreds, the town formally introduced a mural of Hall painted by Portuguese artist Sergio Odeith on a wall of the Masonic Lodge.
The mural depicts Hall from the second half of his head coaching days (1972-85) at Kentucky. Hall is shown decked out in a blue blazer, clutching his familiar rolled-up game program — and wearing a ring representing the NCAA championship his 1978 team won for UK.
“Amazing,” Hall said of the mural. “I don’t see how (Odeith) did that.”
Commissioned by the Cynthiana Arts Council, the mural is the second Odeith has painted in the Harrison County town. Last year, he did a “Walking Dead” mural to honor Cynthiana natives Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, respectively the creator of the comic book series that inspired the cable television show and the artist for the first six issues of the comic book.
Roger Slade, president of the Cynthiana Arts Council, said Hall was chosen as subject for this year’s mural “to acknowledge what he’s meant to Cynthiana, Central Kentucky and, really, the state of Kentucky.”
To be honored like this in your hometown. It is special.
Joe B. Hall
Odeith said the key to a successful mural is nailing the initial outline. “If the lines are not correct, the face will never look like the person,” he said.
For Hall, 88, it was where the mural was commissioned that made it so meaningful. “I’ve never known a bad person from Cynthiana,” he said Monday. “And I mean that.”
In Hall’s telling, the Cynthiana of his youth in the 1940s was the small-town ideal.
There were seven fishing holes only a bike ride away for a young Joe Hall. The future Kentucky coach and his buddies often played pickup basketball into the dark hours of the night on a goal at Billy Fitzgerald’s house — which was next door to the well-lit hospital parking lot.
Hall’s father, Charles, was known as “C.C.” He worked for the post office and later served a couple of terms as Harrison County Sheriff. Hall’s mom, Ruth, was a longtime florist in Cynthiana.
In Cynthiana, they still recall the beaming pride of Charles Hall the day Joe B. was named to succeed Adolph Rupp as Kentucky head coach.
“They lived on Church Street, and we lived across the street,” said Lona Brunker Rorer. “I went across the street to congratulate Mr. Hall and he said ‘If it hadn’t been for me, this day would never have come.’”
According to Rorer, the elder Hall told the story of the time Joe Hall came home far too early from Cynthiana High School basketball practice. He told his perplexed father he had quit the team.
“C.C. Hall said he told (Joe) ‘you get back to that gym, you run, don’t walk, and apologize. The Halls don’t quit what we start.’ Mr. Hall felt like if that day hadn’t happened, everything that happened after that might have been different.”
These are the people who knew Coach Hall (the person), not the head coach of UK and all he became. For them to honor him in this way, it’s probably one of the greatest honors he’s got — and he’s had a lot.
Former UK player Kenny Walker
On Tuesday, Joe Hall came back to the town where they know him best on a chartered bus with family members, close friends and some former players in tow.
Among Hall’s ex-players in attendance were Jim Andrews, Larry Stamper, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy, Roger Harden and Kenny Walker. (Jack Givens got there just as the formal program was ending, too).
Walker said when Hall invited him to the ceremony he could tell how much the mural meant to the ex-coach.
“These are the people who knew Coach Hall (the person), not the head coach of UK and all he became,” Walker said. “For them to honor him in this way, it’s probably one of the greatest honors he’s got — and he’s had a lot.”
It turned out, coming back to his hometown to be honored with a mural overlooking Main Street meant enough to Hall that it made an NCAA-championship-winning coach nervous.
“To be honored like this in your hometown,” Hall said Tuesday, “it is special.”