Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Adolph Rupp
According to a 1996 Sports Illustrated article, then vice-presidential candidate Ed Muskie scheduled to present a speech at Memorial Coliseum, in Lexington, Kentucky in 1968. After hearing from the Secret Service that he needed to cancel one of his practices for Muskie’s speech, former legendary Kentucky Wildcats coach Adolph Rupp did not take this news lightly.
“If Muskie stops Kentucky’s basketball practice, he will lose votes here,” Rupp told the Secret Service.
As a result, Muskie chose to postpone his speech. Anyone who knew “The Baron,” as Rupp was commonly called, knew how seriously he took his practices, and refused to allow anyone to interrupt them.
Rupp, who played basketball under former coach Dr. Forrest C. “Phog” Allen at The University of Kansas, constructed his practices at Kentucky in a similar manner to the practices he went through at KU.
“He actually took classes with Dr. (James) Naismith,” said Rupp’s son Adolph Rupp Jr. “He took what he learned from both of those men, and then added his own innovations to it, to come up with Kentucky-style basketball.”
One of the aspects of Kentucky-style basketball that Rupp’s son refers to is the “fast break.” Before Rupp’s coaching tenure with the Wildcats, the game of basketball was unfamiliar with the modern day fast break.
Rupp originally learned the concept of the three-man fast break from Allen as a player. After making a few adjustments of his own liking, the fast break offense became the basic transition from defense to offense for Rupp’s Kentucky teams. However, in order for this idea to be successful, he made sure his players were in well enough condition to have the ability to run up and down the floor.
In a different Sports Illustrated article from 2012, former Wildcat Cotton Nash mentioned how Rupp’s teams practiced for an hour and 45 minutes a day. Having his players constantly move throughout practice allowed Rupp to focus more on the Xs and Os of the game, rather than spending practice time to condition them, which only benefited their play on the court.
“We tried to exhaust the other team, and we were in better shape than most teams we played,” said Nash.
The effect of the up-tempo offense, another concept Rupp learned from Allen, resulted in tremendous success for him throughout his 42-year coaching career with the Wildcats. By the time Rupp decided put away his coaching whistle, Kentucky had won 28 Southeastern Conference (SEC) championships, including 11 in a row, and earned 20 NCAA tournaments, including six Final Fours.
“Adolph became a great coach because he was smart and took advantage of his opportunities,” Allen once said in an undated article written by Jim Van Valkenburg of the Associated Press.
Although some may refer to it as superstition, Rupp felt that if he went through his own pregame rituals, the games would lean towards his way. Not only did he drive the same route to every game, he parked in the same parking spot as well. Another one of Rupp’s habits was that he also liked to have a four-leaf clover and loved to find hairpins before games, believing if he did that more luck would be on his side.
“He had his ways where he felt it was important for these things to happen in order to have the games to turn out the way he wanted them to,” said Rupp Jr.
The brown suit he wore for every game was no accident either. When Rupp landed his first coaching position at a high school in Freeport, Illinois, he felt so good about himself that bought a new blue suit before his first game. He ended up losing that game, and afterward decided that would be the last time he would ever wear that suit. After winning the next few games in his brown suit, he chose to never wear a different colored suit again.
Rupp’s rituals helped lead him to a career record of 876-190, including four National Championships (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958). His 876 wins were the most of any college coach in history at the time of his retirement, which passed his mentor’s (Allen) record of 746 wins.
Even though Rupp built his reputation in Lexington, he never forgot his roots and where he came from. As someone who was born and raised in Halstead, Kansas, Rupp made sure to come back and visit his home state at least once a year. In 1971, his sister, who lived in Lawrence, held a family reunion for Rupp before he coached his last game against Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse.
“Kansas meant a lot to my father. There is no question about it,” said Rupp Jr.
The younger Rupp went on to acknowledge the special bond his father had with his teammates at Kansas. He claims Rupp treasured the 1923 championship team and made it a point to keep in touch with his old friends.
They organized reunions every year, remembering the experiences they had on the court, as well as sharing their successes off of it. Rupp, Jr. recalled looking through old photos of his father’s reunions and seeing the amount of empty spaces in the photos increase, as those still alive at the time honored their friends that passed away through the years.
“He (Rupp) loved those guys, and they stayed close with each other. They exchanged Christmas cards and letters, and talked to each other periodically,” said the coach’s son.
People refer to a common list of coaching greats when the topic of best coaches in college basketball history is talked about. However, it is coaches like Rupp, who learned from Allen, the father of basketball coaching, who truly stand out amongst the best. It is schools like Kansas and Kentucky who set the precedent as to what the definition of a predominant program really is, something that even Rupp’s son admits to.
“They (Kentucky and Kansas) are two of the premier basketball programs in the nation, no question about it,” said Rupp, Jr. “You’ve got to mention them if you’re going to mention basketball.”
All because of a man from Kansas, who played and learned the game at his state’s flagship institution.
Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk