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1971 interview with Adolph Rupp defending delayed integration of UK Basketball

Rupp said he faced issues that were out of his control.

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Last week, there were a lot of questions being raised about the legacy of Adolph Rupp. A group of faculty members in UK’s department of African American and Africana Studies sent a letter to president Eli Capilouto wanting Rupp Arena to be renamed.

That letter led to a lot of debate about Rupp and the way he handled race relations in the 60s. This is a conversation that has came up a number of times in the past.

On Thursday, Jon Hale of the Courier-Journal released an interview he discovered in the UK library system’s Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. In the 13-minute interview, Rupp explains why it took six years for him to sign an African American player at Kentucky.

“We had a very difficult time in doing so, because as you can see, a conference that had not allowed Negroes or Blacks to participate up until this time, no one wanted to be the first to break with that tradition,” said Rupp. “I never felt at all that Negroes should be barred.

“There was no use for us to recruit colored athletes here for the simple reason that we couldn’t play them in conference competition. I had some people say to me, ‘Well why didn’t you drop out of the conference?’

“I don’t drop out of a conference. That is a matter for the athletic board and for the board of trustees to decide the conference that the university belongs to, and not the basketball coaches. It’s just as simple as that.”

There was a tense relationship between Rupp and UK’s president, John Oswald, who insisted that Rupp recruit and sign a Black player even if the player had to ride the bench. Rupp then describes a “heated” interaction with Oswald.

“I can find someone that can get in here, but I can’t find someone that could play. I’m not going to get someone to have them sit on the bench. I don’t recruit that way,” Rupp stated. “When I recruit, I’m going to get someone that can play.”

Rupp did in fact try to recruit players that would be able to play. He detailed his efforts to try and bring in Wes Unseld, Butch Beard, and a few other players not mentioned by name. He even mentioned a handshake agreement with Beard, Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball of 1965, where Beard agreed to go to UK before signing with Louisville.

You can listen to the 13-minute interview below:

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