Trying to determine which Kentucky basketball coaches, players, broadcasters, and other contributors deserve to be honored with their likeness carved into granite (or would it be limestone) on the side of an eastern Kentucky mountain -- my vote for the location of UK basketball's Rushmore -- is a nearly impossible task. There have been so many great players, great coaches, and great people associated with UK basketball over the last 100+ years, distinguishing who's deserving from who's not could take longer than the 14 years it took to build America's Mount Rushmore (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln).
I could probably type 1,500 words or more on who my four votes would go to, but instead of trying to convince anyone of who I think should be on UK basketball's Mt. Rushmore, I did what all good politicians do: conducted a poll. Because if there ever were a subjective subject, this is it. First, being on Rushmore might mean one thing to one person, and something totally different to another. And even if two fans agree on the meaning, there still is the debate on who is deserving. You get the point ... so back to the poll -- This highly unscientific poll is a widely varying cross-section of Kentucky fans: Some young (early 30's), some middle aged, some with gray hair, some with none (hair that is). Some work in an office, some work with their hands, some cover UK for a living, some live for UK, and some die a little when the 'Cats come up short, but rest assured, they are all dyed-in-the-big-blue-wool Kentucky basketball fans.
Some of the respondents included their reasoning behind their selections, I've noted in quotes their thoughts. But we begin with those who gave us only names. Giant, giant names:
We begin with our fearless leader, Glenn Logan:
Next up is Coleman Howlett, father of Ken, and former UK baseball player (1964-1966):
Joe B. Hall
Paul Jordan, founder of Wildcat Blue Nation:
Paul included that Jamal Mashburn was his fifth choice.
Attorney and A Sea of Blue author, Alex Scutchfield:
Donie Richardson, a friend of mine from Elizabethtown:
Daniel Morehead, my brother-in-law:
And now for those who added their thoughts to their selections. Beginning with Greg Edwards, writer for Wildcat Blue Nation, and frequent contributor/longtime member of A Sea of Blue:
- Adolph Rupp -- "'Nuff said."
- Rick Pitino -- "Some will complain about this one, but he resurrected the program and has his national championship. I give him props for that."
- The Unforgettables (John Pelphrey, Deron Feldhaus, Sean Woods, and Richie Farmer) plus Jamal Mashburn -- "I cheated on this one ... lol." Yes you did Greg, but considering the subject matter, we'll let it slide.
- Jack Givens
- Greg included a list of 10 who he thought deserved recognition, and they are: John Calipari, Tony Delk, Dan Issel, James Lee, Tayshaun Prince, and DeAndre Liggins.
Brian Eldridge, contributing writer for Scout.com:
- Adolph Rupp -- "He built UK basketball into a powerhouse. His legacy still stands at UK today."
- Cawood Ledford -- "He was the voice of the Wildcats for many decades and is highly thought of among the entire broadcasting world. Many Kentucky fans who couldn't see the Cats in person or on television relied on him, and he did a great job describing what happens."
- Jamal Mashburn -- "To me, Mashburn is the main reason UK basketball didn't die after probation. He was a quality recruit that ascended to greatness at UK and carried the Wildcats to a Final Four. He's still the best recruit Rick Pitino had at UK."
- Rick Pitino -- "Pitino, along with Mashburn, brought UK out of the darkest period in modern history. He injected excitement and he rejuvenated the winning mentality that the UK program had under Hall and Rupp. The way he left UK tarnishes his legcy in most people's eyes, but you can't forget what he meant to UK for his time there."
Larry Vertrees, a friend of mine from Elizabethtown (if you need a good pre-owned car, go see Larry at Hardin County Motors. He's honest as Lincoln, as dependable as mom, and a moderately hard worker).
- Adolph Rupp
- Joe B. Hall -- "In his tenure there he had great, great success, and in the last several years I can't think of any one individual who has represented the program better than Joe Hall. Whether it be at charitable functions, he's at all the ballgames, practices ... I think he deserves it for all that he's done, and still does."
- Dan Issel
- Kenny Walker
Our exercise continues with noted attorney, author (of the outstanding "The Thin Thirty"), and publisher, Shannon Ragland: Mr. Ragland begins his thoughts with this -- "When I think of Mt. Rushmore, I think of Founding Fathers and those who made a lasting impact. That excludes any player. So, who are above reproach in any way?"
- "Adolph Rupp on the left."
- "Harry Lancaster is second from the left. Why? Like Washington and Jefferson, they (Rupp & Lancaster) were founders, really, of Kentucky basketball. Lancaster was there every step of the way."
- "Joe B. Hall is our Lincoln, who bridged the past and the modern. Even if his contribution was marred a bit and relatively short."
- "Rick Pitino gets the final spot. He's the Roosevelt. A maverick; loved by some, hated by some, but respected by all. And his contributions to UK (UofL notwithstanding); resurrection from disaster, national championship and sets the table for Tubby (Smith) in '98. While he left UK, his experience at Kentucky is without blemish, even 14 years later. He won at UK and he did it the right way, under the most difficult circumstances, in a job that even PJ Carlesimo (remember him) turned down."
We end with this: First of all, I can't take credit for the idea behind this post. Norm Haney, sports program director for 1340 WBGN, came up with the idea for his radio show, "The Sports Guys." On Wednesday, when I join Norm and BC Thomas for Wildcat Wednesday on that same station, he asked me, on the air, who would be on my UK basketball Mt. Rushmore. Caught off guard a bit, and with only a couple of minutes to come up with the names, I responded with Adolph Rupp, Dan Issel, Kenny Walker, and Kyle Macy. In the interim, I've altered my list at least 10 times, but I think I've finally come up with my Big Blue Rushmore:
- Adolph Rupp -- The founder, the father, the innovator.
- Joe B. Hall -- The ONLY coach in the history of college basketball to follow a legend and succeed for an extended period of time. That in itself is deserving of lofty recognition. Since his retirement, Hall has become a most outstanding ambassador for Kentucky basketball, and probably the most beloved UK basketball figure alive today. He is identified with Kentucky basketball, whether he be in Harlan or L.A., and without his contribution the program would not be what it is today.
- Cawood Ledford -- Every time I hear Tom Leach, I think of Cawood Ledford. His presence was and is towering. Behind Rupp, he is Kentucky basketball.
- Rick Pitino -- Perhaps the most polarizing figure in college athletics (at least to UK fans), Pitino accomplished a feat at UK that no one, NO ONE, believed could happen. No one thought it would take less than five years for Kentucky basketball to return to prominence after the scourge of violations and probation exited stage left, and for most, five years was being very optimistic. No one thought Pitino could win 14 games in 1990 (the 'Cats were 14-14 in '90). No one. CM Newton, who was recruiting Pitino to be the new Kentucky coach, told him the situation was an unholy mess, and that it could take some time to rebuild. Time? Hah! In year two Pitino won 22 games, and the SEC regular season championship. UK fans were like, in shock, at how fast Pitino had made UK relevant again (not so dissimilar to what Cal is doing now, minus probation). For him to bring UK back so quickly from the depths of despair -- and for you younger readers, yes, it was despair, don't let your fathers or grandfathers fool you by saying it wasn't so bad, because it was -- only adds to the Final Fours and championship he ultimately earned while coaching Kentucky. Rick Pitino transformed a pile of rubble, magically, almost instantly, back into Camelot.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!