There are many former Kentucky Wildcats players that remember, dreaded, and experienced what it meant to ‘run the wall.’
This term dates back to the Joe B. Hall era, and basically meant that if player did something wrong in practice or a serious team rule was broken, the end result was running the wall. The player had to run up the stairs, all the way up through the second tier of bleachers, touch the wall, and then run back down. This was executed in the old Memorial Coliseum.
Once the team moved to Rupp Arena the number of steps was much greater, the top of the seating area much higher, so the “wall penalty” was adjusted.
The infractions carried varying degrees of consequences and the player might have to run one wall or as many as 10 walls. Coach Hall recognized the exercise as good for team discipline but also a valuable conditioning tool as well.
After a mishap, Hall evolved and running the wall meant running up and then walking back down. Larry Stamper took a tumble as he was running down one day and that made it obvious that running full speed down a flight of stairs was risky.
One of the memorable Wildcats of the past was James Lee. He and the rest of the team was on the receiving end of Coach Hall and the wall. The team was supposed to have run 10 walls. Joe B. noticed that James was not coming all the way back down the stairs to the floor, he was stopping early and then heading back up. Hall then informed Lee that he was not done because he had not done it right.
James Lee exploded, got angry, and quit the team right then and there. He had enough and went home. That might have been the end of James Lee’s UK career, simply because he had failed to run the wall properly. It was his choice of course and he had made it.
That evening, Coach Hall received a call from the father of James Lee, a pastor of a large church in Lexington. Reverend Lee wanted to know why Hall was so upset with his son. As the coach explained the situation, the father said his son insisted he had run 10 walls, to which the coach explained he had not, he had cheated, and he had not done the work the rest of the team had one.
Reverend Lee listened as the coach explained and then asked, “Coach Hall if you will let James Lee come back, he will run the walls.” Coach Hall agreed. The next day, James returned, ran the walls, and his Kentucky basketball career was back on track.
It was an important lesson for James Lee then and for people who hear the story even to this day. Those who desire to win, become the best version of themselves, and are willing to overcome the obstacles to become champions will embrace hard work. They embrace the grind, even when it is tough.
The work and discipline is a necessary part of what it takes to win. The work and the stuff that sometimes is tiring is painful and is what you give up to become great. Those who don’t know how to win, don’t like to win, or expect it to be easy see the work and discipline as punishment. There is a difference and that difference makes all the difference.
Coach Hall was trying to teach his team a lot of things but one of the easy to miss lessons was how important it is to do the work necessary to win. That kind of work usually happens when no one is looking, no one is cheering, and no one is going to reward you for it. It is the sweat and hustle of what it takes to be a champion.
That is a lesson we should all remember when we seem to be facing the “wall.”