Saturday, January 7, 2006

Mayer: Plenty of dirt on Rupp


You note Kentucky's 19-4 basketball advantage over Kansas University and you can conclude that the Lexington Wildcats are as dominant as the Jayhawks are over those other Wildcats 80 miles west of here.

Kentucky has seven NCAA titles, Kansas two. The Bluegrass Babes have won more games than KU, although Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina rule the college roost. Halstead, Kan., and KU produced the baron who triggered Kentucky eminence; we all take some pride in that. Yet for all the UK achievements since that first season in 1903, the school has seen terribly torturous times that tarnished the program and the late Adolph Rupp.

Even though KU falls short of Kentucky in a number of categories, it never has been scarred as was UK around and just after 1950. KU never had the NCAA cancel an entire season as it did for UK in 1952-53 because of gambling taint.

Would we trade our cleaner image for the successes UK has enjoyed? You'd be surprised how many of today's win-or-else people would nod "yes" as UK visits today.

Adolph Rupp played sparingly under Phog Allen on the 1923 national-title team at KU, coached high school in Illinois and took over at Kentucky for 1930-31. Whether The Baron was angry at Phog for not playing him more or was just jealous, we'll never know. While Doc Allen had good linkage with players who turned coaches, like Dutch Lonborg, Dick Harp, Dean Smith, Ralph Miller and Frosty Cox, his relationship with Adolph grew chilly.

They'd jolly it up at various reunions of Jayhawks, but Allen figured Rupp worked some questionable angles to gain stature, and hard-nosed Adolph would snicker in sometimes-derogatory tones about "the old man."

Rupp ripped Allen in the only face-off they ever had, 68-39 in 1950 at Lexington. But after years of warning about the dangers of gamblers for college ball, Allen got, if not the last, a real huge laugh.

Kentucky won the 1948 and 1949 NCAA titles featuring Alex Groza, Ralph Beard and Dale Barnstable. Later, a batch of City College of New York stars who won both the NCAA and NIT titles in 1950 were indicted for gambling connections. Then the fecal matter hit the fan for Kentucky. Along with Groza, Beard and Barnstable, other Kentucky stars were nailed for fixing and point-shaving; a "death penalty," no games for 1952-53.

Bent on revenge, Rupp and Co. practiced solo a whole season. UK went 25-0 for 1953-54, beating everyone by an average of 27 points. Except, Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioroplous had graduated, and the NCAA ruled them ineligible for the NCAA, though you can get by now. Knowing opponents would love to rip him, Adolph kept his star-less Wildcats home. LaSalle won the trophy.

Rupp got added lumps when a federal judge in the case, Saul Streit, called the Kentucky program "the acme of commercialism and overemphasis." He added he felt Rupp "failed his duty to observe the amateur rules, to build character and to protect the morals and health of his charges."

Whatever he said privately, Phog Allen graciously never rubbed it in publicly. Doc retired with 746 victories, Rupp with 876 (later overtaken by KU grad Dean Smith).

Adolph never quite got over the undressing due to the gambling mess, but most Kentucky fans and players today may not even be aware of that seamy chapter. Usually, "They'll dance with the devil if they win enough."

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