Bob Tallent, whose place in Kentucky basketball history includes being dismissed from the team for having the courage to challenge Adolph Rupp, will be among the ex-Cats returning to UK this weekend.
More than 90 former UK players are expected to attend the Blue-White Game on Friday, Saturday’s team practice and a cookout on Saturday night.
Tallent will return not as a prodigal son who has seen the error of his ways. He said he returns about every year to visit a sister who lives in Lexington. And he remains close with former UK teammates like former roommate Thad Jaracz, Jim LeMaster and Tommy Porter.
“I love to come back and watch the Cats play,” he said.
Tallent paused momentarily when asked to retell the story of what caused him to transfer from UK to George Washington in 1967.
“That’s a long story,” he said. “That’s an old, old story.”
It was Tallent’s junior season, which could have been titled Karma Comes to Kentucky. The season before was the David-and-Goliath thrill ride conducted by Rupp’s Runts. Cosmic payback came in the form of a 13-13 record in 1966-67 (the worst record in Rupp’s 42 seasons as UK coach). A back injury limiting the effectiveness of Pat Riley made for a sour season.
“If Pat’s back was OK and he could play, they weren’t bad,” said Billy Reed, who covered the team for the Courier-Journal. “But if he couldn’t play, they stunk.”
Rupp sang praises
Tallent was a good-shooting starting guard from Floyd County (Maytown, to be exact). Rupp thought highly of him.
Tallent said he saved an article in which Rupp sang his praises. “That Tallent, he’s better than King Kelly Coleman,” he remembered Rupp being quoted as saying in the story. “He’s a better shooter, and he goes to class.”
But during a season when it seemed everything went wrong, Tallent sprained an ankle in practice days before Kentucky played at arch-rival Tennessee.
“He was mad at me because I told him I couldn’t play,” Tallent said of Rupp.
Tallent ended up playing at Tennessee, but not effectively. Rupp kept putting Tallent on the court, then benching him.
About the third time this happened, Tallent said he asked Rupp, “‘Why did you take me out?’
“We exchanged words. It wasn’t really much I didn’t think.”
When Reed learned that Tallent had been dismissed from the team, it became front-page news in the Courier-Journal, Reed said.
The episode and subsequent media coverage divided the Big Blue Nation.
“Some people for me, some people for Rupp,” Tallent said. “I apologized to him. But he wasn’t going to change his mind.”
Secret recording device
In retrospect, it seems that the questioning of a Rupp decision would be like talking back to God.
“You didn’t do it,” Reed said. “You just didn’t do it. It was unheard of.”
Reed recalled Tallent as a mild-mannered, dependable person. “He was no troublemaker, by any means,” Reed said.
Tallent recalled that Rupp stopped making the flattering comparisons to King Kelly Coleman. During a radio show, Rupp questioned Tallent’s leadership. Tallent said he thought of seniors Louie Dampier and Riley as team leaders.
Riley showed a form of leadership when he crossed paths with Tallent as Tallent was heading to Rupp’s office to offer an apology.
“Pat was coming out of the office,” Tallent said. “I’ll never forget. He said, ‘Be careful what you say. They have a tape recorder under the desk.’”
Despite the apology, Rupp insisted Tallent could not rejoin the UK team. Rupp also limited Tallent’s transfer options.
“He told me flat-out, ‘You’re not going to go to Louisville, to Western Kentucky or an SEC team,” said Tallent, who did not want to transfer anywhere. “I didn’t want to leave,” he said. “Lord, no. I loved Kentucky. But that was it. I had no choice.”
‘Turned out great’
During the process of transferring, Tallent talked to coaches at Virginia Tech. Lefty Driesell, who was then the Davidson coach, “recruited me real strong,” Tallent said.
A friend in the banking business in Washington, D.C., made George Washington more attractive. So did GW’s offer to let Tallent coach the freshman team in the season he would sit out as a transfer. And to sweeten the deal, GW would give younger brother Mike a scholarship to play on the freshman team.
“The only basketball I knew was Kentucky basketball,” Tallent said of this introduction to coaching. “So that’s what we ran as the freshman team. We ran it exactly.”
Tallent later coached George Washington’s varsity for seven seasons (1974-75 through 1980-81).
In his one season playing for George Washington, Tallent set four single-season school records, including scoring average (28.9 ppg), and consecutive free throws made (41). He was named team Most Valuable Player and All-Southern Conference.
Mike Tallent scored 1,085 points in his George Washington career. Another brother, Pat Tallent, scored 1,725 points for the Colonials.
“It turned out great,” Tallent said of his transfer from UK to GW. “Life is funny. You come to a fork in the road, and you can go either left or right. I’m a lucky guy. I’ve got friends, great friends from my Kentucky teams. I talk to them all the time.
“And I have all the people here at GW. I guess there’s no dress rehearsal for life. You’ve got to play it as it comes.”
The media that cover the Southeastern Conference voted the Wildcats to win the league this season and honored three UK players with selections to All-SEC teams on Tuesday.
Kentucky was voted to beat out Florida for league supremacy. The rest of the predicted order of finish was: LSU, Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi State, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Missouri and Vanderbilt.
Kentucky sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans was named to the preseason All-SEC First Team along with Florida’s Kerry Blackshear, Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, Mississippi’s Breein Tyree and Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry. Blackshear, a transfer from Virginia Tech, was voted preseason SEC Player of the Year.
UK sophomore forward EJ Montgomery and freshman point guard Tyrese Maxey were selected to the Second Team along with Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr., Arkansas’ Isaiah Joe, Florida’s Andrew Nembhard, LSU’s Skylar Mays and Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner.
Kentucky was voted the preseason favorite for the ninth season in a row. During the eight-year stretch just completed, UK won four regular-season championships and four league tournament titles.
Overall, Kentucky has won 48 regular-season titles and 32 tournament championships.
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena
TV: SEC Network