Coach Cal’s Champs, Coach Joe B.’s Legacy

You probably have to be an insider of all that goes on in the unique world of University of Kentucky basketball to appreciate fully what Coach Cal has meant to former Coach Joe B.

Full names are intentionally left off because the full names really aren’t needed, are they?

After all, both Joe B. Hall and John Calipari coached  the Wildcats to national championship teams.

Joe B. won his title in 1978 in St. Louis. Calipari is the reigning monarch of the kingdom of the Wildcats having guided the Big Blue to the national title in New Orleans earlier this year. It was UK’s eighth national championship.

Throughout the short reign of Calipari, he has made Hall more than just welcome – he  has all but insisted that he come to nearly every practice and he picks Joe B.’s brain.

One of the morning jobs of UK team student managers is to call Hall and tell him when and where practice is that afternoon or night.

Coach Cal’s Kindness 

For a man who had just lost his beloved wife, Katherine, Joe B. needed that. He and his friends have appreciated Calipari’s kindness, but Coach Cal will tell you that Hall has meant so much to him.

For instance, Cal never stops picking Hall’s brain – and he listens. Hall’s inbred devotion to UK basketball and what it means to Kentucky has inspired Calipari to do things the Joe B. way – as much as the NCAA will allow.

Hall always took his Wildcat teams to a different region of Kentucky for intra-squad games each preseason. The turnouts and the insatiable desire of little towns all over the Commonwealth to be host to the Wildcats was unbelievable.

Hall kept a map of Kentucky behind his desk with each high school marked with colored tacks. One color was for past visits, another for sites that had pleaded for one.

I accompanied the team on trips to Glasgow, Hazard and Ashland. You had to see the awe in fans’ faces when the Wildcats came out in their blue and white uniforms.

NCAA: No, No!

The tour was so popular that other teams, including the University of Louisville and Indiana University, started doing the same thing. Of course, the NCAA decided that it was unfair to other teams and passed a rule against off-campus intra-squad games.

Coach Cal arranged for a train to take his NCAA champions on a tour of Eastern Kentucky shortly after this year’s tournament. And they made bus trips, too, to other sites.

Hall told me that it was so hard for his teams returning to Lexington on late-night trips after games that he was going to try to raise money for a dormitory for just his players. The Joe B. Hall Lodge across from Memorial Coliseum was built. But the NCAA said that it couldn’t be for just athletes, that regular students had to be residents too.

Coal operators lined up to help build the building. And a huge outer fireplace was built of large chunks of coal.

Said Hall, “The coal operators liked to take visitors to see the fireplace and would tell their friends, ‘This block of coal came from my mine!’”

Now UK has turned to the coal industry once more to build a new a Wildcat Coal Lodge.

Craft steps up again

And, yes, 32 regular students will also live in the Lodge along with the basketball team.

Joe Craft of Alliance Coal once more stepped up for UK athletics to head the fund-raising drive. Among the donors recognized  were two mountain men who are bankers, Hazard’s L.D. Gorman and Luther Deaton, who now heads Central Bank of Kentucky.

And a statue of Joe B. Hall, sitting on the bench and with an ever-present  program rolled up, was dedicated Sept. 18.

Of the 400-pound statue,  Hall quipped, “The pigeons will appreciate it.”

Hall was a good basketball player himself, having starred for Cynthiana High School. UK coach Adolph Rupp recruited him. It was poor timing for just good players to try to play for the Wildcats because the Fabulous Five of Ralph Beard, Kenny Rollins, Alex Groza, Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones and Cliff Barker were in their prime. They won back-to-back NCAA championships and helped the American team  win the 1948 Olympics in London.

Lon Varnell, the coach at University of the South (Sewanee) was a friend of coach Rupp and they arranged for Hall to transfer to the Tennessee school. It all worked out just fine for Hall. He set the all-time scoring record at Sewanee and eventually worked his way back to succeed Rupp. The rest is history.