Fifty years ago, on March 27, 1972, a legend retired from college basketball. By the time Adolph Rupp stepped down as head coach of the University of Kentucky Wildcats in 1972, he’d won 876 games in 41 years, making him second in all-time winning percentage for men’s college coaches. His teams appeared in 20 NCAA tournaments and won four of them. He produced 44 NBA draft picks.
When The Saturday Evening Post profiled him in 1947, he was 16 years into his tenure as head coach at Kentucky; at that point, he had won 283 games and lost 64. But his winning record wasn’t the result of cherry picking the best players across the nation; in fact, 80 percent of his players came from Kentucky. The reporter of the Post article, Collie Small, wrote that the small, rural hamlets of the state produced expert ball handlers, despite the lack of big-city conveniences:
When Sharpe High School won the state championship, tournament officials were momentarily stumped to find there were no telephones in Sharpe to receive the news. In Kentucky they have a way of solving these small dilemmas, and they simply telephoned to the nearest town, where a man on horseback picked up the news. He rode to a swollen river and yelled the word down to a man in a boat, who rowed across the river and told another man on horseback, who obligingly galloped off and over the hills to Sharpe, carrying the good news from Lexington.
The coach vetted the high school contenders ruthlessly: “Rupp simply points to the top of his office door—six feet, two inches high—and says, ‘If they don’t bump their heads when they come in, I don’t even shake hands.’” The reporter noted that Rupp was so revered that he was one of the highest paid basketball coaches in the country, at $8,500 a year, the equivalent of $108,000 today. (The University of Kentucky’s current coach, John Calipari, makes $8 million a year.)
The Wildcats may be out of the NCAA tournament, but due to the hard work and sharp eye of Adolph Rupp, their basketball program remains legendary.
Featured image: Adolph Rupp in 1963 (Wikimedia Commons)
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