Almost as soon as he got on campus, John Calipari did everything he could to embrace former Kentucky coach Joe Hall and make him a vital part of the UK program again.
Yet in many ways, Calipari insists he got more out of his friendship with Hall than he gave to the former UK coach.
“He told me you are in the best situation in the world for basketball [after Calipari got the UK coaching job in 2009],” Calipari said. “He was that guy who wanted the university’s program, the state of Kentucky basketball’s program, to do well. It was nice to have that guy in your corner, and he was always in my corner.”
Hall passed away last month at age 93. Hall, a Cynthiana native, played one year at Kentucky for coach Adolph Rupp before transferring. He returned to UK in 1965 as Rupp’s assistant coach and was named Rupp’s successor in 1972 — the first-native born Kentuckian to be UK’s head coach since Basil Hayden in 1926-27.
He had a 297-100 record at UK before retiring in 1985. His 1977-78 team won the national championship when he was named national coach of the year. His 1974-75 team lost to UCLA in the national title game, and he also took a team to the 1984 Final Four. He won eight Southeastern Conference regular-season championships.
Kentucky unveiled a statue of Hall outside Wildcat Coal Lodge in 2012, and his passing brought an outpouring of love from former UK players, UK fans and rivals.
Dana Skaggs, a Louisville attorney, is one of many long-time UK fans who never met Hall but still admired him. “As is the case with some folks, I felt like I knew him. A fixture in Kentucky and for BBN,” Skaggs said.
Former UK point guard Roger Harden said nobody “gave their heart and soul to UK basketball” like Hall did because of his love for Kentucky basketball. “It was an honor to play for him, and I will miss my life-long friend. He was the only friend I ever needed,” Harden said.
Hall was remembered by many as a tough, no-nonsense disciplinarian. Jack Givens, the 1978 Final Four MVP after scoring 41 points against Duke in the national title game, got advice from UK All-American Kevin Grevey his freshman year that he never forgot.
“He told me not to take it personally when he scolded me. He said he had to learn thesame thing,” Givens said. “That was my saving grace throughout my career. But it truly was an honor to play for coach Hall. I grew to appreciate him more and more as I got older. I learned so much from him that had nothing to do with basketball. I am glad I got to be such good friends with him late in life.”
Hall should be remembered for a lot more than his wins, including the national championship.
— He helped fully integrate the Kentucky basketball program. Two of his biggest recruits were Lexington high school stars Givens and James Lee, but many more followed in his career. He never saw it as a big deal or even a courageous move because he didn’t see white or black athletes. He just wanted players of high character who could help him win.
— He got Wildcat Lodge built in 1978. It included perks such as extra-long beds that made life much more comfortable for players but also gave Hall a chance to keep closer tabs on his players. The NCAA later mandated that it could not be a facility for athletes only, so some regular students also became residents.
— He started Midnight Madness in 1982, and most thought he was crazy for wanting to have an open practice at 12:01 a.m. the first day the NCAA allowed teams to begin preseason drills. It became a huge event not only at Kentucky, but other schools that started doing the same thing.
— Hall had his team play intrasquad scrimmages across the state before every season. He wanted to give fans in remote areas — or fans with no access to tickets — a chance to see their beloved Wildcats play. The NCAA eventually stopped teams from doing this.
Hall also did the unthinkable — he followed a legend and . Rupp had won five national titles and had many. UK fans supporting his desire to keep coaching when he was forced to retire at age 70. Rupp did not attend the press conference introducing Hall as his successor. Rupp was allowed to keep an office in Memorial Coliseum. The former UK coach even had a weekly TV show after his retirement where he did not hesitate to second guess Hall’s coaching decisions.
However, Hall persevered in part because he knew Rupp would not just fade away after being forced to retire and did not let that distract him from coaching his team his way. Hall coached seven All-Americans at UK — Grevey, Givens, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy, Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin and Kenny Walker.
“I never thought Joe got enough credit for what he did at Kentucky,” said former LSU coach Dale Brown. “His teams were tough and always well-coached. And following Adolph Rupp, that’s so much harder than anyone today can even imagine. He was just a good man.”
Walker understood that, and so did Walker’s parents when Hall came to Georgia to recruit him. Hall sold Walker’s parents on being able to see most of his games on TV if he came to Kentucky. However, he did not guarantee Walker anything.
“He told my father I had to come in and prove myself. My dad looked coach Hall in the eye and said, ‘We don’t want you to give him anything. Just make sure if he earns it, you give it to him. I am not going to tell you how to coach him, but if he earns it, you give it to him,’” Walker said.
Walker’s father passed away in 1989, and the former UK All- American started looking at Hall as a father figure who was always there “to give advice as a teacher, mentor and friend” long after his UK playing career ended.
“He knew what he meant to me and other guys who have known him,” Walker said. “We are all a reflection of his vision of UK basketball and, more importantly, how we represent ourselves as people.” That’s the kind of impact Joe Hall had on a basketball-crazy state and why, thanks in large part to Calipari, Hall became even more beloved by fans in recent years than even was during his successful coaching career.
“Coach Joe B. Hall was not only a remarkable basketball legend, he was also a kind, generous leader who made an impact on his players and everyone who knew him,” Gov. Andy Beshear said.