Joe B. Hall’s decades as Kentucky basketball ambassador will be tough act to follow

In the long history of college basketball, perhaps no one has navigated the delicate process of following a legend better than Kentucky’s Joe B. Hall.

And it turned out that it was even better by following the following.

As each year has passed since Hall officiated in his last game at Kentucky in March 1985, he has become much more popular with those who are consumed by UK basketball.

While in the process of succeeding the legendary Adolph Rupp, who won four NCAA championships and 876 games in 42 years with the Wildcats, Hall was often criticized for his coaching acumen, sometimes viciously, despite the results. exceptional ones that included an appearance in the NCAA. title game in his third season and a national championship three years after that. Because Rupp had been there, done more, it could never be enough.

Until, thankfully, it was for so many years before Hall died Saturday in Kentucky at age 93.

Think of the unlucky managers who succeeded the greatest managers in the history of the game. Gene Bartow was one of the greatest gentlemen to ever set foot on a bench and won 647 games. But he lasted just two seasons at UCLA because of the pressure of following John Wooden, even though Bartow won more than 85 percent of his games.

Chosen to succeed Bob Knight after he was fired in September 2000, Mike Davis entered the national championship game in Indiana in his third season with only one future NBA player on his roster. However, after missing the NCAA Tournament twice, he revealed to the Sporting News with a month left in the season that he would quit when it was over.

Rollie Massimino had an NCAA championship on his resume when he went to replace Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV, but Coach Mass found himself leaving Las Vegas after two seasons. Kevin Ollie was a popular player in Connecticut, winning an NCAA championship in his second season and only lasting six years in the shadow of Jim Calhoun.

It wasn’t easy for Hall either, so his head coaching career was complete after finishing in the Sweet 16 in 1985. He averaged 23 wins per season, won the Southeastern Conference nine times: eight regular-season titles and the SEC Tournament. of 1984. — reached the Elite Eight six times, the Final Four three times and the top of the mountain with his extraordinary team from 1977-78. However, it was always difficult.

Hall’s former boss, along with Wooden, Phog Allen at Kansas, Hank Iba at what became Oklahoma State, John McClendon at four different HBCUs, and Big House Gaines at Winston Salem State, invented the game in anything but the literal sense. .

How do you deal with the pressure it engenders?

Eventually, the only way is to escape.

Hall was a few years short of his 60th birthday when he retired. “I didn’t want to be an old coach,” he said at the time, explaining that it was something he had promised his wife long before. He claimed to have decided before the 1984-85 season, then announced his departure after a loss to Chris Mullin and St. John’s in the Sweet 16. He recognized the challenge of his circumstance when he departed.

“I decided to let someone else feel the pressure,” he said then. “That’s a high-pressure way of life in Kentucky.”

As is often the case, Hall grew in stature as a coach as he moved away from the game. He had been a force in integrating Kentucky’s roster, recruiting local star Jack “Goose” Givens and guard Truman Claytor from Toledo to be essential players on the championship team; Givens is one of only three players to score 40-plus points in the NCAA title game.

Hall also hired Leonard Hamilton, now a Florida State head coach with 610 career wins, to be an assistant coach. Much of the criticism Hall faced while training stemmed from his decision to integrate more fully, and the importance of this became more appreciated over time.

The craze of contemporary demands from a fan base, certainly not limited to Kentucky, was now directed at someone else, and Hall’s impressive coaching record began to shine as well. He was voted into the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012. That same year, a statue of Hall was erected outside the UK team’s dormitory. Hall’s “shirt” is retired along with trainers Rupp, Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith.

Part of the reason Hall became more great as a former coach, though, is that he was so damn good at it.

Hall entered the banking business and became something of a former bank president, serving in that role until 1997. He had yet another career when he teamed up with Louisville legend Denny Crum for a two-week radio sports show. hours each morning at stations around the world. Kentucky for over a decade.

I was asked to appear periodically, and it was always a delight: the two old rivals now teaming up to discuss their status obsession and inviting a sportswriter into the discussion.

After John Calipari became the Wildcats’ head coach in 2009, Hall became a frequent visitor to the team’s practices. Shaking his hand, being greeted by his warm smile was even more worth the trip than seeing John Wall or Anthony Davis work on their games.

Calipari called Saturday’s huge win over SEC rival Tennessee a “celebration” from Coach Hall. UK Athletics honored him with a video tribute before the match. Calipari did so by running a convoluted program, something that was a habit for Hall, and opening the game in a 1-3-1 zone defense that was Hall’s trademark strategy.

“The best thing about all of this was that he knew what people were thinking and how much they appreciated and loved him before he passed away,” Calipari told reporters after the game. “He knew. Our fans have been great to him.”

Joe B. Hall wasn’t the best coach the Wildcats ever had, but he became their best former coach. It was no small achievement.