Jacob Toppin, Sahvir Wheeler, Antonio Reeves, and Oscar Tshiebwe on the floor in Rupp Arena (Dr. Michael Huang Photo).
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) –According to Bellarmine head basketball coach Scotty Davenport, it’s important for his players to understand the history and tradition of the teams they are competing against and the historic venues in which they play. For basketball purists around the country, that’s music to everyone’s ears.
But it’s also much easier said than done. Because over the course of the past nine days, Davenport’s Knights have trekked across the continent playing No. 8 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, No. 19 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, and finishing up this evening with No. 15 Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
Only four other teams have ever accomplished that feat (St. John’s, North Carolina, Louisville, and Notre Dame)—and none of them within such a brutally short time span.
The 60 – 41 loss to Kentucky notwithstanding, Davenport was adamant afterwards that his players were all the richer for the experience.
“The last nine days have been a privilege in every way possible,” said graduate guard Juston Betz. “Obviously starting at Duke, going to UCLA, and ending it here at Rupp. We’ve definitely taken the history into account…It’s stuff we’re striving to get to as a program. It’s an honor not only to play at these places but to play against the teams that we’ve played because they have amazing players, amazing coaches, and it’s all first class.”
“I think coaching is teaching [and] teaching is coaching,” Coach Davenport emphasized. “They should look up who Coach Rupp is. They should do that. They should understand Coach Calipari coached in the NBA—not just at Memphis and Kentucky. They should know about Coach Wooden. I take that very seriously. And what’s great is—they embrace it.”
Herein lies the rub. For many of Calipari’s recruits here at Kentucky, playing in Rupp Arena amounts to nothing more than a weigh station on their way to NBA riches. They know nothing about the jerseys hanging in the rafters of Rupp or the history behind the players who wore them.
And yet, you can’t really blame them. They’re eighteen-year-old kids from different parts of the country born in the early 2000s for God’s sake. You can’t expect them to appreciate the fact that the platform they are enjoying today is a direct result of the blood, sweat, and tears of the UK greats who blazed the trail before them.
The truth of the matter is that the players on this team wouldn’t know the difference between the Fiddlin’ Five or Rupp’s Runts, Joe B. Hall or Memorial Hall, Winston Bennett or Michael Bennett. They all think the Fabulous Five played for Michigan. Not only are the Unforgettables long forgotten, they most likely never entered their mindset in the first place.
Maybe that’s why the passion for Kentucky Basketball is no longer what it once was. Or that Rupp Arena remains only partially filled with plenty of good seats to be had. Perhaps that’s why this team—although uber talented on paper—still occasionally looks like a rapidly assembled, mid-level, run-of-the-mill basketball squad obsessed only with their professional futures.
It’s the age-old adage of focusing on the name on the back of your jerseys rather than playing for the name on the front. You’re talking about the program with the greatest tradition in the history of the sport.
“It was a dream come true,” said Jacob Toppin when asked about how he felt when he first put on the Kentucky jersey and stepped out on the court. “Honestly, not a lot of people can say they played in Rupp Arena. Not a lot of people can say they played for Kentucky Basketball. So, I’m definitely grateful for the position that I’m in today.”
It’s Kentucky, Man! Embrace it. Play like wins and losses matter. Coach like the legacy of the program matters. If you do that, then everything else will take care of itself.
Dr. John Huang is a UK columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. He also covers the NFL and MLB for Sports View America. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. If you enjoy his writing, be sure to check out his new book, KENTUCKY PASSION. https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669
2 thoughts on “It’s the Tradition, Man!”
I agree the players should have a class called KY basketball the history but its the fans fault we dont fill rupp arena and dont cheer
Being a daughter of a 1921 UK graduate who attended basketball games in Memorial Coliseum for years before graduating in 1960, I can appreciate your fine article.
I enjoy all of your articles.
Thanks and keep up the great work.