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undated Interview with Adolph Rupp AF007:1996OH022 A/F 537 00:42:44 University of Kentucky Athletics Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Rupp, Adolph, 1901-1977 Allen, Forrest Claire, 1885- Meanwell, Walter E. (Walter Earnest), b. 1879 University of Kansas--Basketball University of Kentucky--Basketball Horceracing Basketball coaches--Biography Lexington (Ky.) UKAW Adolph Rupp; interviewee Russell Rice; interviewer 1996OH022_AF537_Rupp 1:|11(7)|21(5)|31(2)|41(8)|50(8)|60(11)|70(4)|80(7)|92(10)|102(8)|111(8)|129(5)|139(2)|148(10)|156(1)|164(5)|176(3)|185(4)|194(11)|204(11)|215(13)|235(1)|249(6)|260(7)|269(8)|280(5)|300(5)|312(3)|323(9)|332(10)|363(2)|379(6)|391(12)|402(5)|415(3)|426(3)|444(2)|461(9)|471(10)|494(13)|504(12)|524(10) audiotrans ARupp interview RICE: All right, it's working. Okay, you want to turn your little switch off a minute? RUPP: All right. On that pl--where is it? All right. All right, I got it on. Well, in going back to basketball, we had, naturally, a wonderful opportunity at Halstead that got us away to a good start. In those days, there were very few teams that played basketball. And at the end of the year, anyone that had a basketball team and wanted to enter it into a tournament went to Lawrence, Kansas, where they played on cross courts of old Robinson Gymnasium two games at a time, and eliminated the teams in that way. Sometimes thirty or more teams would enter that tournament and they had to pay their own expenses. They stayed at fraternity houses, and whoever would put them up. And I don't know if they charged admission or not, but Halstead was fortunate enough to win the first tournament there in 1909 and, of course, that set Halstead afire. You can imagine a little town back there out on the Plains with about twelve hundred people, being the state champions in basketball. Well, that fired up a lot of the kids around Halstead, and they had most of these boys back that won the state tournament, so they did have a lot of experience. And they were a fairly good basketball team at that. Now, basketball, of course, has changed. The team came back the following year and repeated as state champions. And, of course, that then meant that things were really picking up. They formed a league then that was composed of Newton, our county seat, Halstead, the smallest town in it. There was one high school in all of Wichita, that was Wichita High School, and it had enormous enrollment. There was Kingman, there was Arkansas City, there was Winfield, and there was Hutchinson, and Reno County, all in one league. And, of course, Halstead dominated that for a long time, but the other teams finally caught up. And as these other schools expanded, some of them built nice gyms. We, of course, had the old city hall to play in, which wasn't a great place but it was good enough, and our teams continued to be fairly good basketball teams there for years and years, and I think now since they've divided it into divisions, Halstead has a total of five state championships. But our neighboring town, the county seat at Newton, they had a--built a new gym, and it was the biggest in our area. I think it seated about three thousand or something in that neighborhood. And they had a coach there by the name of Lindley. And I still regard him as possibly the finest coach in high school in early days. He'd have to be ranked as the number one coach in the world because he studied the game, and I think he might have gotten some of his ideas from Meanwell, because he succeeded in running the screens. We finally got down to the semi-finals of the regional tournament, that the winner would go to the state. That was Wichita, and some other team, Newton and Halstead in this tournament. And at the end of the first quarter, Halstead led Newton 16-2, I believe it was, and they called time out. Of course we never had a coach so we just stood around, and he, of course, told them to start using the screens and their plays, which they were saving for Wichita. And Wichita was there, and they didn't want them to see what was going on. Well, at the end of the half, the score, I believe, was tied. So it showed that the coaching of this man Lindley really showed up. Then they went through, Wichita won, they went to the finals that night, and Newton, of course, won, went on up to Lawrence and won the state tournament, which they dominated for years and years and years while this man was there. And they developed some of the outstanding players for the colleges in the state of Kansas. The game has changed quite a bit. Of course, they had two forwards, and they didn't do much defensive work. They were just supposed to get the ball when the guards got it to them. One guard always stayed back. That was a fundamental requirement. That was one of the great coaching demands of the time, that one guard, or a standing guard, stayed back, and he was supposed to keep the fast break from developing while the others hustled back to help to do the best they could. They played man to man. I don't think there was a zone defense in the time that I was at Halstead, at least as far as I know. And we never had a coach. We had a manual training te--manual training teacher who chaperoned us, and then we had a principal who hadn't played basketball or seen basketball, and he was designated as a coach, so you can imagine how much coaching we got. We went out there, of course, and played the best we could, made up our own plays and worked them out as best we could. But the predominant defense was one guard back, the other guard in between, possibly scored once in a while but very seldom, but the forwards and the center did most of the scoring. Now I, of course, was the biggest boy on the squad. I jumped center and, of course, I did most of the scoring for the team while I was there just because that was the way the system was built in those days, and there was no coaching at all for the next, oh, I guess six or seven years at Halstead, where they hired someone. There wasn't anybody that was a basketball coach because schools were not hiring them in the first place, and in the second place, the colleges were not developing these coaches. And, my goodness, you can imagine how things were developed from that day to this. I could just take you through day after day talking about the basketball and how it has grown. But that's the way it developed there in early days in Kansas. RICE: Did you see the ball much when you all went to watch them(??) play? RUPP: No. No. Never saw anybody. We never got to the tournament while I was playing on the high school team. And they didn't recruit. I had a--the president of Emporia State Normal School came to visit me one time while I was working in a grocery store, and said that they'd like to have me come to his school, and that was the only contact I had. And when I appeared for basketball practice the first time in Lawrence in my freshman year, it was just a general invitation that was extended through the student newspaper, that everybody that wanted to try out for the team come out. And there was a fellow by the name of Schlademan, who later was football coach, and then from there went on and became a great track coach at Michigan State, I think possibly the greatest track coach they've ever had. But he coached the varsity one week, I believe, and decided he didn't like it, so Phog Allen, who was athletic director and was coaching the freshmen, decided he would take over the varsity coaching job. He had coached before at some school in Missouri, and also had coached Kansas in 19--I believe, I don't know what the date was, but then he started there. But the--Schlademan then [telephone rings] had the freshman team, and I, of course--Yeah, I'll talk to her or anybody that's there. I'll talk to them, if they want me. And, of course, he picked the boys that had size. Wasn't much of a picking contest because five of the kids were from Lawrence, Kansas, that had graduated, and they had won the state championship that year and they were all out for the freshmen-- [Pause in recording] RUPP: Now, you want to know about the style we played there? RICE: Right. RUPP: It's on. The style of basketball that we played when we got to the University of Kansas, of course, was one that Phog Allen had developed down through the years. He had a lot of experience in coaching basketball, and was regarded as one of the finest coaches in the game. We were, of course, in a nice conference, and we had adequate competition there with about four or five schools always fighting for the top. Now, the basketball had changed in the meantime, and this standing guard had been eliminated, and they were using a five-man offense, but the guards still were--one of them had to be back, which is still one of the principles that we use to this day. Someone's responsible for the play, when a play develops, someone is responsible to see that the fast break doesn't develop in case this play fails. Well, we had trouble getting things across because we spent entirely too much time on fundamentals. And I just want to give you one idea. We used, sometimes, ten, fifteen minutes throwing hook passes. Well, we didn't use any hook passes, but we used a lot of those things in those days in our fundamental drills that did not pertain to the game. We don't do that anymore. We only use things today to develop fundamentals that will be used in our team play. And so Phog would keep us there, had no idea of time. Time didn't mean a thing to him. He'd start at two o'clock in the afternoon if he felt like it, and practice until 6:30, and then sometimes get us back in the evening and practice some more. But that was a rare occasion. But he was a great developer of ideas. When he had an idea, he developed it. And whether it worked or didn't work, he stayed with it and worked with it, and worked with it, and finally, I don't think we ever had a definite set of plays while I was at Kansas. We did have a zone defense, which we had to put in to counteract the University of Missouri, who was coached at that time by Walter Meanwell, one of the great coaches of all time, that had this pick off and screening offense, and we couldn't stop it. And so Phog put in a zone defense with two men back. I was always in the back row, and we had, of course, the other material, all of good size, good shooting ability for those days, and good board men and, of course, in those days, we controlled the boards mighty well. And, of course, our scores with Missouri will show that our style of play was very successful. But we did have a good zone defense. We hustled, we ru--and, of course, that's the secret of any defense, if you hustle. And, of course, we did. Phog insisted on that, and you didn't stand around unless you conformed to this style of play. When I came to Freeport High School, I, of course, followed a very bad situation. The team the year before had won the state championship, and all of them but a big, slow, rough boy, about 6'2'' returned. He was the only one back. The others--they had two divisions at that time, lightweight and heavyweight. Anyone be--under 135 played in the lightweight division, and the others played in the heavyweight division. Well, the evil there was, if you had an aggressive lightweight coach, he would get these boys around 140, 142 pounds, and actually put them on a diet. And you had to weigh in always, I think, at two o'clock in the afternoon. Both teams had to weigh in. And these kids sometimes didn't eat for three or four meals before that, and then, of course, as soon as they weighed in, if they weighed 135 pounds, they were allowed to play that night and, of course, they rushed out and got something to eat as fast as they could. And it's a bad situation, and was a bad situation, because many of those kids that played at that weight, if they'd have played at their proper weight, what might have been around 145-50 pounds, and they could have helped any of those, or I could have had a lot of help from those boys, and eventually they all graduated, and by the time they were juniors and seniors, to that weight division. But we used, I used a combination offense. I put in the Kansas style, as best I knew, with their zone defense. And I studied the Meanwell style. The University of Wisconsin, he was there then, and they were only about seventy miles from Freeport, and we used to go up there for their games and we always got in somehow or another. I don't know, they just had a little small place to play, but they always got us in. And I studied the plays. Dr. Meanwell was very nice, he always let me sit up with the team. And I got to studying the plays as they developed, and after all, that's a pretty good place to see a game, when you're sitting about--he had a balcony built for himself and his team, and his team had to come down a ladder when they reported for the game. But I, I then talked to the boys and I talked with him. He was very gracious, and I put in some of his screening plays. Not nearly what we had, but they were the beginning, they were putting germs in my head that gave me some ideas as to what it would take to get the man loose, because just playing freelance basketball was a thing of the past. You had to have organized basketball, and we started organizing this thing to where we had plays, and we went to the blackboard and diagramed the plays, then set the plays up on a floor, and worked them from there with some screens. And that was the style of basketball that I brought down here to the University of Kentucky when I came here as coach. We used the zone, the Kansas zone, when I started coaching at Freeport. But after I studied the Meanwell style of playing, contrasted with that of the Kansas style of play, I knew that I had to change some of these things. And we then went to a man- to-man and a zone defense. And I think the man-to-man defense, at that time, didn't have to be as rugged as it is today with all the contact and stuff. You couldn't get by with that kind of stuff today--I mean in those days. What we have today is all that contact. That wasn't permitted, and so it wasn't hard to teach this man-to-man defense, if you'd allow people to go through. And I let them go through instead of staying with your men. I put openings in where they could slide through and stay with our men if possible. And then later, of course, I changed that when I came down here, and I stuck to the man-to-man principle in--for about six or seven years, and we didn't shift at all on a play. And I just made them put their heads down and go through with the screen. And then, of course, you can tell what happened after about the '40s started and we had to change everything around to modern basketball. We had seven basic plays at that time, and we practiced those all the time and got them down pretty good. RICE: Now, in Freeport, did you have any basic plays that you ran there? RUPP: We had possibly two or three, that's all. RICE: What would they consist of? RUPP: Well, they consisted of a couple of screens that I picked up from Meanwell's style of play. And I would say three plays were the most. The rest depended on fast break situations, and on rebounding, and follow-ups. RICE: How did you play originally? What did the guard do, toss to the forward? RUPP: Well, it was a--it was more of a--it was simply a play where I used the pivot--a pivot man, and used him, mainly, as a feeder. And the guard passed into the forward, went inside or outside, forward passed, kept moving, passed to the center, the center passed to whichever man was open, whether it was a forward cutting across or the guard going around. And with the forward on the other side following, and the other guard filling in there above the free-throw--I mean above the free-throw circle. RICE: Now, this--to me, that-- RUPP: Well, in those days, of course, when I came here to Kentucky they were all football minded. And the first thing I did, of course, I helped coach football about four or five years. But then I had, fortunately, I had some good boys that came back from the team the year before and they wanted to practice, and so I didn't have any way of running the practice until--unless it would be after the football practice was over. Well, at that time, we were all eating at boarding houses. We didn't have any such thing as a training table. We never heard of one. And these boys all had to eat at a certain time, so I couldn't practice then. So if we were going to practice, we had to practice as best we could. So I had the boys come out, and had a fellow by the name of Pisgah Combs that graduated the year before and was a fine, excellent basketball player. He was a good basketball player. And he told me he would take the team and get them ready, fundamentally, and get them ready and conditioned so that they'd be in good shape when football was over. Well, I thought that was a good idea, and I would talk with Pisgah, and we'd go over the plans for the day. I usually come in, basketball would be about over, and if it wasn't over I came in and watched basketball for a while, and then sat down and talked to the boys, and we had a nice bunch of boys, all friendly, and the press was very friendly too. We got a man here by the name of Hoover, I think later was killed in an automobile accident, and we had Neville Dunn, and he was a great booster, because he was expecting for us to have a good basketball team. And, Neville came to practice, and of course, the football team wasn't winning the way they wanted them to, and so it wasn't hard to make friends with him. I remember one day he came to me and he said, "Let's go out to Polo Club and ride around a little bit." I said, "All right," I didn't have anything to do. And, so we went on out to Polo Club, and we got a couple of ponies out there from Mr. Madden, and I wasn't too hot about these ponies, and I watched these polo games that they had, and so I got on one of these (chuckle) horses, and I had an awful time getting him under motion. And, I finally kicked him a couple of times, and he reared up, and I told Neville I believed I had about all the polo I needed. And he got out and rode around on his a little bit, and hit a ball, and they'd run after the ball and hit it again, and so they were just friendly fellows all the way around, and I enjoyed the friendship with them. We went on parties together, and always had--there wasn't much going on in those days, I'll tell you that, but whatever happened- -I was single at the time, and didn't have anyone to run with, so I made friends with these folks early, because I didn't see any use to step out of the way to make enemies with anybody. I knew I'd get enough of those eventually. So, these folks remained my friends to the very end. Pause in recording] RICE: Got it on? RUPP: Yeah. RICE: We know the brown suit happened; I've got all of that and everything. But now, after you came here, you kept playing up that brown--you wore brown all the time, and you've pointed to that many times. And you had people wearing brown, even. RUPP: That's right. Well, the whole thing is, in those days, I don't think anyone had a lot of clothes. I know I didn't. Didn't have any money to buy them with, to start with, and the salary I was making wouldn't allow me to go out and buy a lot of clothes. So, I had a good brown suit, and that's the very first game that we played here at the university, I wore brown. And, I wore brown in ever game that we ever played here at the university, and I think every game I ever coached. So, it just happened that we were doing well, we got started well here, in the first year I was here, I think we won about twelve or thirteen straight, before we lost our first game, and that was down at--it was at Georgia, and then the next night at Clemson. And--but I stayed with brown all the time, because that experience I had with blue up there at Freeport, that ended that blue business for me. RICE: Are you a superstitious person? RUPP: Am I a superstitious person? Yes, I am. There are some things that I'll reveal for the first time in my life. I always came out last. I got on the plane last. I got on a bus last. I sat down at the table last. I always wanted my boys to have the benefit of saying, "Well, the coach didn't jump in here and get the biggest steak," and all that stuff. And I always was very careful that the team was taken care of. When we got to a hotel, I checked the rooms, every room, to be sure that we didn't have a little fellow sleeping in a bed seven feet, and a seven footer sleeping in a bed six feet. So, I checked all those things to be sure that the boys were comfortable, and then, of course they knew the plan before I got to their rooms, because that was outlined, and well defined before we even got on a car, or the bus, or however we traveled in those days. Usually by bus and train. Well, that was the only way you could go, there were no planes. And, I felt that the comfort of the boys was the main thing, and I'd get up during the night and see that. If there was a lot of noise in the hall, I'd get out there and try to put it down. And--but the boys came first, as far as I was concerned. RICE: Okay. The publicity you got when you first came up here, when you started--(??) now Johnny Mauer didn't have a bad record here. RUPP: No, a terrific record. RICE: And you had a--he had the old, slow ball. RUPP: Yeah. RICE: And, they played--even the players, after the season was over, Aggie Sale(??) and that bunch, talked about what a difference it was playing for you, and playing under the old system. RUPP: Umhmm. RICE: And I think that tells us something, I'm sure. They must have enjoyed the game. RUPP: Yeah. RICE: Did your players always enjoy playing for you, at Freeport and those places? RUPP: Yeah, always. RICE: I figured they must have. Well, when you first came, now, we know about you all, Carey Spicer talk to them(??), put in a new system-- [Pause in recording] RUPP: Didn't get it, I guess. So we went out there to the races, out here where this housing district is now in the northern end of town, and they had an old track there, and it didn't amount to much, but Brownie said that, "When I go out with someone that had never seen a race, and you never have," I said, "Never seen a horse race in my life." "Well," he said, "I always let him pick the first horse." Well they had a horse in there by the name of Thunder. I'll never forget that horse. And, Brownie looked at me and he said, "Oh, good Lord coach," he says, "Don't you ever read the paper?" I said, "Sure do." "Well," he said, "what makes think this horse is going to win?" I said, "I just like the name," I said, "that's--he'd come thundering in first," I said, "that's the reason I picked him." "Well," he said, "I don't think he's that good, but" he says, "we'll bet on him." And, so we bet on him, and I'll be dag goned if he didn't come in first. And Brownie says, "That's pretty good picking," he said, "I didn't think that horse had a chance." "Well," I said, "I didn't know anything about horse races, I don't know anything about the horses that are out there, I don't know if Man-O-War's out there," I said, "I don't know who they are," and I said, "I just picked it." He says, "Well, go cash the ticket." I says, "Well what do you--where do you cash a ticket?" And he showed me where to go and I went up there and got the little money there that was available, and didn't keep track of it, because it--we didn't bother the income tax in those days, and so I stayed with him then, we enjoyed the afternoon, nothing else to do, and so they finally got around then, later, and they tore this track down, and they built Keeneland out here, and so the trots, I think, were held here at that time, but then they were just very small too. But there wasn't a great deal to do, go to a picture show, that was a big thing. You'd go to a show, there were about four or five theatres, and I think the old Opry House was supposed to have the best pictures in those days. They had--they were wild pictures in those days, where a boy kissed a girl, something like that, you know. And so (chuckle) that was pretty wild in those days, some people thought, but they've developed quite a bit since then. Well anyway, in the evening, there was little entertainment. I don't know of anything. I don't know of any clubs, I don't--nobody went anywhere that I know of. The social life that was here, consisted of about the same crowd they've got now, and that didn't include me, and it was the people out here on the farms that had these parties, and that's about the only social life that they had. In fact, I never even read the social pages. I just threw them away. Whenever I'd buy a paper, I'd get the sports news, and the front page, and throw the rest away. RICE: What about the economy back then ----------(??)? RUPP: Well, in that time, they--we still had the old streetcar system, and we had--well, if you come out Euclid Avenue now, the second house on the left as you turn down the Russell Cave-- RICE: Russell Cave Pike? RUPP: Russell Cave Pike, yeah, Russell Cave Pike, was the last house on that street on either side of the street until you got down here to where about where the warefarm(??) is. There was some homes over on the other side, but I don't remember--they weren't big farms. So, we come out and--well, it was a rural community, to a large extent is, for that matter, because it depends on horses, it depends on tobacco, and agricultural products to a large extent, and of course, it's also manufacturing now, something that they didn't allow in those days. They wouldn't allow a factory in here until World War II. And, so there was really no social life of any kind. We'd all meet out at some home, and I just had a room, so it--I'd have to go somewhere and Carey Spicer used to have us in, and we'd go over there and have a lot of fun with his dad. His dad was a great joker. And, we'd go over there. RICE: Did you date any? RUPP: How's that? RICE: Did you date any before you-- RUPP: No. No, never had a date while I was here in town. RICE: Okay, now one last question, now you organized the first officials group here, you had a clinic, you explained the rules to people. You had newspaper articles about basketball, you wrote about how it began, and you, always, each year, you'd come back from the convention, and you'd have a story in the paper, and you would talk about the rule changes, and all that stuff. You wrote various articles for the paper, you wrote about all parts of the game, and you had a WHES radio show where you talked about basketball. RUPP: Yeah. RICE: By the time you came here, basketball was suddenly --I mean, that part of the game, not just the game itself, but during the summer you kept basketball--people knew what was going on. I know that must have been by design, or--just, why did you do that? RUPP: Well, I don't think it was by design. I don't think--basketball, of course, being my life, and I, of course taught basketball at all the service clubs, they didn't have a great many of them here in town, only about four or five, and I taught there, and well, I'd go downtown. We- -I used to go down to the old--there were two drugstores down there. One run, I believe, by the Jones brothers, and another one run by Owen Williams. And, we used to gather down there on--after the games, and talk about the games, and I met a lot of people there, you know, they- -we'd rub shoulders, and talk to each other, and then we'd go down there on Sunday, I'd always go down there and buy a paper on Sunday, and there'd usually be a bunch of them in there, and we'd review the game, and sit down there, probably drink a Coca-Cola, and a cup of coffee, and spend the whole morning there until these fellows had to go home for lunch, and so that was about the way we entertained each other. I spent a lot of time, of course, by myself, reading, and of course we had some other coaches here. We had Len Miller who was single, we had--then Spinner Camel(??) came in here, and he was single, and we had fellows that I ran with, almost all the time. We'd eat together, and we'd--that was about the extent of our social life. RICE: Your whole life revolved around basketball, right? RUPP: That's right. RICE: You went fishing with Neville Dunn, you said, "I think about my team next year all the time." And hell, this is in June. RUPP: Uh-huh. RICE: After the May, official closing in May, this is the first day of June. You're thinking then about your team. RUPP: That's right. RICE: For next year. You told him that. RUPP: Yes. Well, I used to go fishing with Neville, and go fishing with anybody, because I didn't have anything to do. And I really enjoyed getting out like that, and I don't recall telling Neville about--I was thinking about my team for the next year as early as June already, but I was thinking of them all the time, and thinking where I'd have to plug holes, and where I'd find someone to plug it with, and that's why I always went to the state tournament, and I went to a lot of high school games. I'd go to a high school game every chance I had, and at least in this area here. We'd sometimes drive to Louisville. And, that's where I found Goforth, and I found Ellington, and I found Red Hagan, by going down there, and watching them play. And they had some excellent basketball in those days, and those fellows came here to play, turned out to be real wonderful athletes for us here. RICE: While you're writing about basketball and everything, and doing-- and making these speeches, you're still the assistant football coach. RUPP: That's right. RICE: But you never talk about football. RUPP: Well, I didn't know enough about it, I guess, to talk about it. RICE: Did you guys ----------(??) football games, and discuss it on Sunday down at the-- RUPP: Football? We did, yes, I imagine we did. I never went into the discussion of football, because that was not my domain, and anything that I would say might be misinterpreted, and whether we got beat, or whether we won, that was, of course, of interest to me, and--because I wanted to win everything, didn't make any difference what it is, whenever a university does something I want them to win, and that's - -was the case. I imagine we did go down after every Sunday and discuss the football games. RICE: So was that factory, insurance man, people like that? RUPP: Everybody used to come down there, yes. Some of the prominent people in town used to come down there for those things. RICE: That's pretty well what I thought. I better let you rest, I guess. [Pause in recording] RICE: I'm not much on the in over there, coach, I don't know much about what's going on, they keep me out, you know, it's Hagan, Larry Ivy, I really don't know a hell of a lot. [End of interview] Adolph Rupp talks about playing high school basketball in his hometown of Halstead, Kansas, the loose organization and lack of coaching prevalent until leagues were formed, and the style of play employed in those days. He discusses the almost complete lack of recruiting for college teams, general tryouts for the University of Kansas team, playing under Coach Phog Allen, and a focus on fundamentals that was often a detriment to the game itself. Rupp then discusses at length the zone defense practiced at Kansas, and his study of Walter Meanwell's style which led him to bring the man-to-man defense to Kentucky. He talks about his nickname "The Man in the Brown Suit" and relates some of the many superstitions he had as a coach. The interview concludes with Rupp's memories of society and culture in Kentucky when he first came to Lexington in 1930, including horse racing, fishing, and movies.