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1966 Kittens -- The Coaches: Harry Lancaster

From the Editor:  This is the fifth in a series of  short essays from A Sea of Blue member oldcat'69, who played as a walk-on on Kentucky's freshman team in 1965-66 during the Adolph Rupp era.

. . .baseball coach Harry Lancaster. Harry would never accept failure or losing, had a temper which matched his physical strength, and a gentle sense of humor on those rare appropriate situations. He had a memory like an elephant. Any mistakes a player made in his career was summarized for all to hear.”

Ray Buehl, UK BSEE ‘63, Wildcat baseball player

Ah, yes, Harry Lancaster. Depending on who you listened to, he was either the brains behind Coach Rupp’s success--he came onboard, after all, in 1946, just before Adolph won his first NCAA championship--or an ingrate who connived to get the AD job, thereby jumping from Rupp’s assistant to his boss.

In my mind, he was neither. From what I saw, and I overheard almost no private conversations between the two, but did hear quite a few semi-public ones, he was a sounding board, confidant, and friend who was allowed to voice his own opinions to the boss. In short, a trusted, honest and loyal assistant. He had one more characteristic that ensured his long tenure as second in command: his ego was considerably less inflated that Coach Rupp’s. I don’t think he minded not being on center stage.

Don’t get me wrong. Harry Lancaster knew basketball. In fact, he knew a LOT of basketball. In addition to having a pretty darned good big picture grasp of the game, he provided what little individual instruction the players received in practice.

With the “simple but complex” nature of the UK offensive patterns under Coach Rupp, Harry’s role as a freshman coach (in the years of three-year eligibility, remember) was much more important than that of many assistant coaches today. He was the one who taught the first-year players how to run the offensive patterns and what was expected of them when they got to the varsity. He was the one who introduced them to the second-guard plays, numbered five through ten, and he was the one who drilled them until they knew the plays in their sleep.

After a year with Harry, nobody had to call out a number or hold up some fingers. The players knew that if the ball went to the high post and the guard cut close by the center on the opposite side, it was “five”. And if the ball went to the forward on the side and the guard cut by the post on the strong side, it was “6”, and so forth. He also knew the many options and ad-lib moves that were available off each play, and he knew that shots would be available if the plays were run correctly. Simply stated, and not overstated, Harry laid the foundation on which the varsity teams were built.

Okay, here are some stories about Harry. Unlike the other anecdotes I’ve told, I didn’t observe the first one. In fact, I’ve read a couple of different versions of the first and it’s as much a Coach Rupp story as it is about Harry.

In Coach Rupp’s first game at UK, the Wildcats played nearby Georgetown College, whose star player was named Harry Lancaster. At the half, UK led by something like 28-2. In the locker room, the players thought Coach Rupp would be pleased. Instead, he grabbed the clipboard with the first-half stats, stared at it for a minute, then, in his nasal whine, said, “Who’s got that Lancaster? He’s killing us.” That’s right, Harry had the two points. By the way, UK won the game 67-19.

In my freshman year, we played the Vandy frosh in the second semester when we had only two scholarship players, and neither of them was over 6’2”. We were a little behind at the half, and were doing OK from outside, but were getting killed inside by 6’8” Bob Bundy and several other big ‘Dores. Our biggest guy was 6’5’ Tommy Stiggers. Now Tommy was a really great guy, but he made me look fast, and quick, too. So he had little chance against the Vanderbilt front line. In perhaps the most cruel comment I’ve ever heard, Harry, looked at the ever-present clipboard, and then at Tommy and said, “I guess it’s right what they say: you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.”

We stuck with them through a 65-65 tie, then they beat us to death in the last four minutes or so, winning by about 15.

On the other hand, the thing that I prefer to remember about Harry happened in my next-to-last semester. I was having lunch in the old Wildcat Grill across from the Coliseum. Harry and Coach Rupp often had lunch there, and came in while I was eating, taking a table between me and the door. As I walked by, Coach Rupp looked up and got a quizzical look on his face like he had seen me before. Harry turns and looks at me and said, “Hi, ’Oldcat69’, how are your studies going? Are you going to graduate on time?” I said, ”Yes, Sir, thanks for asking.” And he said, “Good luck.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was actually on the way to a nine-semester graduation because I had been partying and going to basketball games when I should have been studying.

In the end, I guess Ray Buehl had it right. There was more than one side to Harry Lancaster.