17 January 2009

Rupp's Falconry

I was privileged to become included in the second crop of basketball player walk-ons, in 1965-66, at the University of Kentucky (the year of "Rupp's Runts") after the three freshmen scholarship players became ineligible. At 6’2" and never a guard in high school, I actually got some playing time at forward.

I went on the bus road-trip to Knoxville, the only regular-season game the U.K. varsity lost that year. I remember the U.T. arena seemed to be strangely underlit. Perhaps that prefigured the quiet and mournful trip back to Lexington.

I used to take a long time showering after practice, so I met Coach Rupp twice as he was waiting for his driver to pick him up at the side door of Memorial Coliseum, in Lexington, on the Avenue of Champions. Coach Rupp apparently, as I saw once, got physical therapy from someone, possibly one of the trainers, so he stayed late, at least some evenings. He was quite friendly and talkative (in his high-pitched voice) and I was incredulous that he bothered to speak to me at all. He appeared to me as a giant falcon, with his aquiline, beak of a nose, soaring above the rest of us, but always capable of descending in a quick swoop on the flesh of mere mortals. Luckily, he was well fed (and friendly!) when I met him.

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