COACH: ADOLPH RUPP
ALL-AMERICA: VERNON HATTON (G)
DID YOU KNOW? LED BY HATTON'S 30 POINTS, THE CATS TWICE BATTLED BACK FROM 11-POINT DEFICITS.
THIS IS A STORY about a brash young man who had the misfortune to run into the Old Master of tournament basketball, Adolph Rupp of Kentucky.
The brash young man was John Castellani of Seattle, a fast-talking, sharp-dressing 32-year-old. On the coaching level, it was no contest.
Since 1952-53, when Kentucky was obliged to cancel its schedule because of alleged violations of the NCAA code, Rupp, 56, has had one thought before him—"I will not retire until Kentucky wins another NCAA championship." But at the start of the season, Rupp could hardly have hoped for much more than the 18th Southeastern Conference title, if that.
As he put it, he had a collection of "fiddlers" when he needed "violinists." They were the holdovers of what he had termed possibly his worst team in years. But the clue was in that word holdovers. He had a starting five of four seniors and one junior. All had had three years of the rigorous Rupp discipline that makes, and let it be said, can break basketball players. With hardly a single freelance move, this team ran its patterns, getting better and better as the year wore on and won the SEC title. In the NCAA tournament it simply overpowered Miami of Ohio and actually humiliated Notre Dame by more than 30 points. In the semifinal against Temple it passed and ran until it found the tiniest chinks in one of the toughest defenses in the nation.
Rupp was within one step of the goal, but what a big step it was: The offensive versatility of Seattle's Elgin Baylor was a problem that hadn't been solved by many coaches. There was only one course open: Get rid of Baylor. And that's what Rupp did. He set up fast-moving patterns that forced Seattle into a continuous switching of defensive assignments until Baylor was left guarding John Crigler, easily the most underrated player in the tournament. Before the game was 10 minutes old Baylor had three fouls.
In the second half Castellani put his team into a zone defense, with four men out front, running ferociously to cover five Kentuckians, and Baylor under the basket. But there always had to be a free Kentucky player outside, and whether it was Johnny Cox in a corner or Vernon Hatton near the top of the key, he scored. Baylor still had 25 points, but Kentucky won 84-72. Rupp, a man dedicated to winning as the only reason for playing or coaching, had his fourth national title.
From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, March 31, 1958