Rupp: Baron of the Bluegrass
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Rupp's "Fabulous Five"
By Bob Carter
Special to ESPN.com
March 23, 1948 - Adolph Rupp called his "Fabulous Five" the "greatest basketball team of all time," and in the 1948 NCAA finals at New York's Madison Square Garden, they must have looked like it to Baylor and the crowd of 16,174.
The smaller Bears, winners of the Southwestern Conference, favored a deliberate game but had little chance to display their style. They were held scoreless for five minutes as Kentucky took a 7-0 lead. The Wildcats then boosted their advantage to 13-1 and 24-7.
They coasted to a 58-42 victory, the first of four NCAA titles under Rupp. Leading Kentucky was Alex "The Nose" Groza, the 6-foot-7 center who was the game's high scorer with 14 points and dominated play inside.
Afterward, the usually stoic Rupp got misty-eyed before lauding his players. "You've done everything you've been asked to do," he told them. "You won your own SEC tournament. You won the NCAA championship. You've kept training and made sacrifices to do these things, and for all of it, I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Odds 'n' Ends
In the early part of the 20th century in Halstead, Kan., Rupp started playing basketball on dirt courts. Even in high school, the courts were often unique - one had a stove in the middle of the floor.
Once reminiscing about his youth, Rupp said, "I was born out on the plains of Kansas, and the only thing we knew was that we chopped wood and piled it high so that we had enough to burn for heat."
In Rupp's senior season at Kansas in 1923, the Jayhawks went undefeated.
Rupp's first collegiate victory came when Kentucky defeated Georgetown (Ky.) 67-19 on Dec. 18, 1930. No Kentucky team had ever scored more than 59 points.
From 1944-59, his Kentucky teams had an average record of 27-3.
Besides winning, Rupp also was known for his vanity. Game balls at Kentucky were imprinted with his autograph.
About why he always wore a brown suit, Rupp said, "I once wore a blue suit to a game and we got the hell beat out of us. I figured I'd better go back to brown after that."
Rupp had a 450-acre farm in Bourbon County, Ky., and loved talking about his cattle and tobacco.
In 1946, Rupp gained his only National Invitation Tournament title when Kentucky beat Rhode Island, 46-45, in the final.
Kentucky successfully defended its NCAA championship in 1949 after it was eliminated in the first round of the NIT by Loyola of Chicago, 67-56.
Though Kentucky won the SEC championship in 1949-50, it didn't get a chance to win a third consecutive NCAA title. At that time, a league crown didn't mean an automatic invitation, and North Carolina State received the district bid to the tournament.
Kentucky then played in the NIT, and was embarrassed by CCNY, 89-50. CCNY went on to win both the NIT and NCAA.
Georgia Tech became the first team to beat Rupp twice in one season in 1955. The Yellow Jackets' 59-58 victory on Jan. 8, 1955 ended Kentucky's NCAA-record, 129-game homecourt winning streak that spanned 12 years. Tech won the rematch, 65-59.
The first Georgia Tech game was also the first time that Kentucky lost at Lexington in the SEC in almost 16 years, since Tennessee's 30-29 victory on Jan. 21, 1939.
Rupp was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 1959.
Rupp reached 700 victories on Feb. 3, 1964, when Kentucky beat Georgia, 103-83.
After his 1963-64 Century Express team, which averaged 101.5 points in one six-game span, beat a taller Notre Dame team, 100-81, Irish coach Johnny Jordan said: "You can't pass against them; they'll steal your pants. I've never seen a quicker bunch of kids."
Pat Riley, who played for Kentucky in the loss to Texas Western in the 1966 NCAA final, said: "It was one of the most significant games ever played because it dispelled the absurd illusions that too many people in this country held to be true [that five black starters could not win a title]. It was one of the worst nights of my life, but I'm still proud to be part of something that changed the lives of so many people."
When Rupp reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1972, he didn't want to step down. "If they don't let me coach," he said, "they might as well take me to the Lexington Cemetery."
Rupp is a member of the Helms Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame and the Kansas Hall of Fame.
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