Joe B. Hall's transformation from — pardon the redundancy — beleaguered Kentucky coach to admired elder statesman seems completed Sunday night with his induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Every UK basketball coach must prove himself worthy, none moreso than Hall, who had the unenviable task of replacing the iconic Adolph Rupp. Any meaningless setback in the grand scheme of things — a loss at Ole Miss, for instance — seemed significant because a Rupp team hadn't sustained such a loss in decades. Or ever.
"Those just hit you in the face," Hall said Friday night.
The 1978 national championship. Three Final Fours in 13 seasons. The continuation of UK's dominance in the ever-more-competitive Southeastern Conference. Mere epilogue.
Having grown up in Cynthiana and played for UK, Hall knew what to expect in the can't-win-for-losing task of replacing Rupp.
"If I wore a blue suit, (critics would say) 'Coach Rupp wore brown. Why doesn't he wear brown?'" Hall said. "If I wear brown, they say, 'Oh, he's trying to copy Coach Rupp.'"
Retirement after 13 Kentucky-sized successful seasons slowly brought renewed appreciation. But Hall balked — in his light-hearted way — at the notion of becoming an elder statesman.
"First of all, you're not any wiser," he said, "and there's nothing grand about growing old."
When pressed about being a statesman, Hall said, "Look, I'm from Cynthiana, Ky. I know my roots."
So fellow luminaries like Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Willis Reed, Patrick Ewing and Phil Ford will take bows as members of the new Hall of Fame class in Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday night. Hall will think of himself like he always has: The Kentucky boy who made good thanks to the help of others. Assistant coaches. Players. Rupp. Family. Friends.
He recalled being the little boy who rooted for UK. He saved an article from the Herald-Leader in which Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones talked about the benefits of drinking milk.
"You think I didn't follow that?" Hall asked.
His goal as UK coach was basic: Don't let the flag hit the ground.
"It was in my blood," he said. "... It wasn't like I was a stranger coming in, and then I could get on the bus and leave whenever I wanted to. I had no place to go."
Hall, who turns 84 on Nov. 30, turned out to be wrong. He had a place to go: the Hall of Fame,
Family, friends and people from many stops along his life's path plan to be in Kansas City. Shepherdsville High. Regis College. Central Missouri. The son of his coach at Sewanee, where he transferred to get more playing time.
"That just thrilled me when I got a call from Jimmy Varnell," he said.
Might those in the audience include UK Coach John Calipari, who has led cheers of appreciation since coming to Lexington?
"He's a busy man," Hall said with a smile. "I would be shocked.
"If he was there, I think I'd break down."
Business of basketball
With charming self-deprecation, Lexington businessman Jim Host called his induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame "the greatest upset in modern-day basketball."
Actually, it's as obvious as the dunk that follows a steal and breakaway drive to the basket.
Host introduced college basketball to the modern world of business, corporate sponsorships and entrepreneurial possibilities. When he began working with the NCAA in the mid-1970s, there wasn't even an official label called "Final Four." Two staffers, Tom Jernstedt and Dave Cawood, ran the NCAA Tournament. The arena for the Final Four produced an official program. Earlier rounds had no program. A single sheet of paper contained bare bones information.
Host, who turns 75 on Friday, helped the NCAA learn to market basketball and, in particular, its post-season tournament.
Official programs for each site. A national radio contract. Corporate sponsors. Host recalled Gillette paying $500,000 for sponsorship rights and then generating $41 million in revenue.
When NBC, surely to its eternal regret, balked at a higher TV rights fee, CBS got the NCAA Tournament and agreed to televise all rounds.
This Genesis project began with Host. Let there be March Madness.
"When I look back on it," he said, "maybe I did make a little bit of a contribution."
Health concerns will prevent another Hall of Fame inductee, Joe Dean, from attending the ceremonies in Kansas City. His contributions to the game include as player, shoe company representative for Converse, athletic director and, most famously, as television commentator for SEC basketball.
His son, Joe Dean Jr., explained the origins of his father's trademark TV catch phrase.
"When Dad was growing up in New Albany, Ind., the kids in his neighborhood played basketball in driveways and on outdoor courts in the community," Joe Dean Jr. wrote in an email. "During these games, they would use catch phrases like 'in the blue for two' and 'string music.'
"When he began broadcasting SEC games he instinctively used the 'string music' phrase after a sweet jumper. It stuck, and the rest is history."
Dean, who played for LSU with Bob Pettit, began providing commentary for telecasts of SEC games in 1969. He worked SEC games through the 1987 conference tournament.
Beginning with a bang, his first game was LSU at Alabama. Pete Maravich scored 69 points, which remains the SEC single-game record.
As part of Friday's home opener against Lafayette, UK used its new 6,000 square-foot locker room area for the first time. The area is functional at this stage of construction while still needing polishing and detail work. A few impressions:
■ A simple opaque door as immediate entry to a square locker room is so yesterday. Now there is an indentation in the hallway wall that marks the locker room's location. Glass double doors reveal a foyer where the free throw lane from the 2012 Final Four sets on the floor. Pictures from the Final Four adorn the foyer walls, but the you-are-back-in-New Orleans illusion needs enhancing.
■ Authenticity won over brand loyalty when it came to color. Rupp Arena and UK basketball officials debated about the pale green color on the portions of the Final Four court used as parts of the flooring in the foyer and locker room. Should it be re-painted Kentucky blue?
It wasn't. As you walk into the foyer, the half-moon semi circle at the top of the lane is the same pale green as when UK beat Louisville and Kansas in the Final Four.
■ A silvery name plate — "The Jerry and Sarah Healy locker room" — hangs on the wall outside the circular locker room, which is to the left and out of sight from the front of the foyer.
■ The new K Fund area, which is part of Rupp Arena's $3 million upgrade, was not ready for use. A line of cushioned chairs still wrapped in protective plastic set facing the glass wall, which will give K Fund donors a look at players moving through an inner hallway en route to the court.
A Turner Sports crew spent Tuesday through Sunday in Lexington working on a documentary on UK basketball. It will air on either TBS, TNT or TruTV during the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
"We're trying to tell 100 years in an hour," director Mike Tolajian said of the project. "The history and legacy of Kentucky basketball. The whole sweep of what it meant and what it still means."
While in Lexington, the Turner crew interviewed former coach Joe B. Hall and 1978 championship game hero Jack Givens. They hope to talk to such figures as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Pat Riley.
There's no working title on the project. One idea under consideration is "The Barons of the Bluegrass."
Why Kentucky? Why not, say, North Carolina or Duke or Indiana or Kansas?
"Turner really wanted to do Kentucky," Tolajian said of his corporate chieftains. "The fact they won the (2012) national championship and Coach Cal (John Calipari) and what he's done here is probably part of it."
UK basketball has dramatic and compelling highs (national championships, larger-than-life personalities) and historic lows (Christian Laettner game, loss to Texas Western), he said.
Whine and done
After Duke took (assume ironic quotation marks) four charges against Kentucky in the first half, John Calipari told ESPN's Andy Katz in a brief halftime conversation that the Blue Devils were adroit at flopping. Calipari, who had a slight knowing smile on his face throughout the exchange, said that Duke's actions would draw fines in the NBA, which is seeking to crack down on flopping.
In the post-game news conference, Calipari initially claimed that he did not remember what he said to Katz. When a reporter summarized the comments, the UK coach said, "It was a joke. C'mon, you guys at Duke can take a joke, can't you?"
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who needed no refresher on Calipari's (shall we say) topical sense of humor, defended his team's tactic.
"He has a right to say whatever he wants," Krzyzewski said of Calipari. "I thought we took some amazing charges, and I thought we took a couple more (in the second half that were not called).
"There's a difference between a charge and a flop. A flop means you didn't take any contact."
There's irony here. When critics question UK's dependence on so-called one-and-done players, Calipari notes that he is following the rules. Likewise, UK opponents like Duke are following the rules when players get in position to force referees to make a decision on blocking or charging.
Tie to runner?
Mike DeCourcy, a respected nationally known reporter who covers college basketball, suggested that the UK-Duke game defied the referees' intention to call block/charge differently this season. Referees intended to give the benefit of the doubt to the offensive player, he said, before citing the baseball bromide of a tie going to the runner.
Not true, said Gerald Boudreaux, the supervisor of SEC officials.
"There has not been a rule change," Boudreaux wrote in an email. "We are applying the same principles of guarding as we did last year."
Where are fans?
In speaking to Herald-Leader reporter Ben Roberts last week, Coach Rob Fulford lamented how his highly regarded Huntington Prep (W.Va.) team does not draw much interest from fans in the West Virginia-Ohio-Kentucky Tri-State area.
"I know there's nothing else better to do than to come and watch," said Fulford, a Marshall graduate. "The unfortunate part about Huntington is they haven't really bought in to supporting the games here."
Huntington Prep, which USA Today ranks as the No. 1 team in the country, does not have a home gym or a school, per se. Its players attend St. Joseph High in Huntington.
Because Kentucky recruiting target Andrew Wiggins is a team leader, Fulford hopes UK fans provide an attendance boost.
Perhaps it will help generate fan interest when Huntington Prep plays a team from North Carolina on Sunday at Scott County High. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.
To Alex Legion. He turned 24 on Friday. ... To Jerry Green. The former Tennessee coach turns 69 on Tuesday. ... To Bret Bearup. He turned 51 on Saturday. ... To Sonny Smith. The former Auburn coach turned 76 on Thursday. ... To Clarence Tillman. He turned 52 on Thursday. ... To Tom Payne. He turns 62 on Monday. ... To Louie Dampier. He turns 68 on Tuesday.