If you are like me, your pregame ritual before each Kentucky Wildcats contest in Rupp Arena is always the same.
Before the ball is tipped, I unfailingly look across the court to see if former UK coach Joe B. Hall is in his familiar front-row seat across from the visiting team’s bench.
Hall, 90, was in Rupp Arena to see John Calipari’s 2018-19 Cats polish off fellow college basketball blue blood Kansas 71-63 two Saturdays ago. But he had been absent from the run of games in Rupp that preceded UK-KU.
Hall says he has had to miss Kentucky home games this season due to persistent pain in his left ankle that, at times, makes it difficult for him to stand and keep his balance.
“It just feels like bone on bone in there,” Hall says. “A lot of the time, I just can’t put any weight on it at all.”
Given his druthers, Hall lives a life on the go that is filled with the attending of sporting events.
In past years, I’ve run into Hall in Danville at a high school football game, in Morehead at an Ohio Valley Conference basketball game, and in Sparta for NASCAR races at Kentucky Speedway.
I was at all those places as a sportswriter doing my job.
Hall was there because he loves sports and being around people.
Now, when Hall can’t always go when and where he likes “it’s tough on him,” says Rick Derrickson, one of Hall’s sons-in-law. “He likes to get out there. And he’s a people guy.”
Derrickson says the thing Hall might miss most is being able to regularly attend Calipari’s UK practice sessions. “He really enjoys that,” Derrickson says. “And I don’t think he can do it as often as he was.”
Suffice to say, Hall’s bad ankle is cramping his style.
“I’ve fallen, like, 10 times now,” Hall says. “I’ve sort of learned how to go down (in the safest manner possible). But that’s not always going to work.”
Hall has both a cane and a walker at his disposal. Before one UK home game this season, the ex-UK head man says police met him out front of Rupp Arena with a wheelchair and wheeled him into the game.
That was not an experience Hall enjoyed.
“I prefer to get around with my cane,” he says. Having to rely on more than the cane to keep his balance “is degrading. It’s undignified. I just don’t like it,” Hall says.
Last week, Hall went to the doctor for a blood-plasma treatment. “I had one before and it seemed like it helped, then it sort of wore off,” Hall says. “So I am hoping a second treatment will make (the ankle) feel better.”
As is, Hall still gets out and goes when he can.
On Jan. 24, Hall was in Berea to see Eastern Kentucky University upset OVC leader Jacksonville State 88-70. EKU Athletics Director Steve Lochmueller, who played basketball at UK for Hall from 1972-74, had invited his former coach to an Eastern game.
Because the All “A” Classic was being held in Eastern’s McBrayer Arena, Hall saw the Colonels play in Berea College’s 2,000-seat Seabury Center.
“That little arena over at Berea is beautiful,” Hall says.
After missing several Cats games in January, Hall made it back to Rupp Arena to see UK play Kansas.
At one point during the Wildcats victory over the Jayhawks, they showed Hall on Rupp’s giant video screens. The season-best crowd of 24,387 roared.
Joe B. never realized the cheers were for him.
Hall plans to return to Rupp Arena on Tuesday when the Wildcats face South Carolina at 7 p.m.
Bill Kelly, a post player who played for Hall when he was the head coach (1961-64) at Regis College in Denver, is coming to Lexington from Chicago to attend the Wildcats’ game vs. the Gamecocks with his former coach.
Hall says on those game days when his ankle hurts too bad to come to Rupp Arena, he gives his tickets to family or friends and settles in front of the television at game time.
In the meantime, if you ask Hall about his left ankle, the ex-Kentucky coach has a winning line waiting in response.
“The ankle I dunked off of has gone bad on me,” Hall jokes.