Top-10 Kentucky Detractors

  1. John Feinstein
  2. Sports Illustrated
  3. Jock Sutherland
  4. Bobby Knight
  5. Digger Phelps
  6. Billy Packer
  7. Denny Crum
  8. Bob Ryan
  9. Bob Gibbons
  10. Kevin O'Neill

This page is a gallery of major detractors of Kentucky Basketball over the years. It's purpose is to provide a historical perspective and information concerning events, people and places in this regard. To be sure, Kentucky has had its share of problems over the years and fully deserves a number of the criticisms such as the infractions cited in the 1985 Lexington Herald Leader articles and the infractions leading to probation in the late eighties. Many of these "detractors" have criticized UK for these and other perceived problems but to their credit most of them have also commended UK at times when they felt it was deserved. Especially recently, guys like Bobby Knight, Denny Crum, Jock Sutherland and Dale Brown, who may have gone overboard from a Kentucky fans perspective in the past, have been very complimentary of the program of late. Even Sports Illustrated was fairly positive about UK after the Cats won the National Championship in 1995-96. The notable exception is John Feinstein. He remains a stubborn critic of Kentucky, even taking what can only be a positive aspect about the program and turning it into a negative.


Disclaimer: The intention of this page is simply as a source of information and/or amusement. It's intention is not to personally attack the members included on this list, only to point out occasions in the past where some UK fans felt these people have used their positions as public figures to criticize UK. Admittedly an odd theme for a web page but based on responses from basketball fans of all loyalties, it's proven to be a fertile place for reliving and analyzing some important moments in time concerning Kentucky and college basketball in general. The page is written from the perspective of a UK fan but that in no way implies that this perspective is the only one or even correct.

That also doesn't mean to imply that these "detractors" criticized UK unfairly on all occasions or that UK didn't deserve the criticism. (In fact, some parts of the page consist of information that isn't a "criticism" at all, including interesting or background information, humorous moments and even evidence against Kentucky to support their claims.) It also doesn't mean to imply that these people are still critical of UK. Many of these beliefs, by myself or other UK fans, are highly subjective and most likely wouldn't be considered a slight by anyone else besides a UK fan. It is ultimately up to the reader to decide what is valid and what is not. While this page is not intended to slam the members of the top-10 list, in my estimation, it will have done some good if it alerts them to their perceived tendencies to overtly criticize one particular institution over another. If that leads to more balanced reporting, more professional journalism, or better understanding, I'll happily count that as a positive result.

Although the page is written from the perspective of a Kentucky fan, it is hoped that all fans will read it in the sentiment it was intended and be able enjoy it or learn from it in some way. If you disagree with any part of it, if you find that some part of it is inaccurate or if you would like to add an anecdote, quote or have suggestion, please mail me. I trust you'll find that I have been very accommodating to the views of those who have written, both pro and con. Unfortunately, John Feinstein has shown to be incapable of appreciating the intent of this page and chose to pen a lame and apparently pointless editorial against this page without attempting to contact or correct me. I felt it was important for me to respond which is included on a separate page.

*John Feinstein

Matt Jones: Do you, but I mean you, you are smart enough to follow college basketball to know that the things Kentucky was doing, they weren't the only school to be doing . .

John Feinstein: NEVER were they the only school to do that.

Matt Jones: But I've sensed a dislike of Kentucky by you, more than others.

John Feinstein: Here's ... let me say this. Let me put it to you this way.

And this isn't going to make Kentucky fans happy, but I'm going to say it anyway because it's what I believe.

I think there are places, Kentucky is ONE of them, where sports is too important. In this case it's basketball. I think football is too important in the entire ... ,college football, is too important in the entire Southeast.

Matt Jones: Would you say it's too important at Duke?

John Feinstein: Ah, at times yes. I think that ... I don't know why this always comes back to Duke?

Matt Jones: Because you went to Duke.

John Feinstein: Yeah, I did go to Duke. But nobody's been a bigger admirer of the program at the University of North Carolina through the years than me, and that's why ...

Matt Jones: Are you an admirer now?

John Feinstein: And that's why what's going on right now is so disappointing to me because of how I feel about Dean Smith, then also how I feel about Roy Williams...

Matt Jones: But Kentucky fans see you...

John Feinstein: See, here's the thing. Let me say this Matt.

Kentucky fans can see me anyway they want. But the answer always is: 'Oh, well isn't everyone else guilty?'

Matt Jones: Yes!

John Feinstein: But that ... that's only part of the point. That's like Richard Nixon saying: 'Other people broke the law in politics' when he resigned. If you cheated, you cheated ...

JPS Response: I'm not a UK fan who always answers with the 'Everyone is guilty' line of defense. That's intellectually dishonest of Feinstein to suggest that this is ALWAYS the answer.

Kentucky has made mistakes in the past and has been punished for it. I don't have a problem with that.

Where I have had problems is in some cases where I believe the N.C.A.A. handed down punishment without sufficient proof, or even a plausible explanation for their conclusions. I also believe the N.C.A.A, a few times, has overstepped their authority.

Beyond that I have had problems when the N.C.A.A. and yes, some reporters, have skewed their investigations toward particular schools, to the exclusion of others.

North Carolina is a perfect example. Feinstein himself talks about how he's been a great admirer of the University of North Carolina program, but we're now learning that the entire UNC program was a sham, and has been for decades due to institutionalized cheating done in order to keep their athletes eligible.

Feinstein also obviously holds a lot of respect for Dean Smith, but it was under Smith's regime that this cheating was created and was fostered to the point that players were graduating from the school without being truly educated.

That is exploitation at its worst, and Feinstein has no response but to feel disappointed. If this had gone on at Kentucky I have to believe he would have been significantly more outraged. I'm pretty sure he would have penned an article or two about it. But for the cherished Tar Heels ? Not a peep from him.

The fact that the African American Studies Department was used as the primary vehicle to commit this fraud and to cheat predominantly black athletes out of an education is especially galling and a travesty.

Where the 'everybody does it' line I think is valid, is when asking why reporters such as Feinstein fixate on criticizing one school (in his case Kentucky) to the exclusion of others. There are many examples shown on this very page where Feinstein digs back 10, 20, 50 years to take a shot at Kentucky when there are more recent, and frankly more valid, examples right in front of him, yet he fails to acknowledge them.

Matt Jones: But here's what I don't. . . I go to Duke, you were at Duke.

All those kids go to school there, their parents end up with great jobs in the city.

I think the things that happen in Durham are the same things that happen everywhere else, yet somehow he is so ... it's considered more pristine because Duke is considered a 'good' school.

And so we look aside that Sheldon Williams and all these people's parents end up working, they end up moving from Alaska, in Carlos Boozer's case and end up with ...

John Feinstein: No, that was Trajan Langdon

Matt Jones: Trajan Langdon, $150,000 jobs for their parents.

You all never bring that up, and I don't understand that. That happens everywhere, but at Duke we look past it...

John Feinstein: Does that happen everywhere?

Matt Jones: Well it happens at Duke!

John Feinstein: Well, it happened a couple of times as far as I know.

Matt Jones: So where's your criticism of that?

John Feinstein: I've said over the years that, I brought that up. I brought it up to Mike. You know.

And see, the point here ... and what bothers me is you've got a tweet today, from somebody saying that I had said: 'You can tell the Kentucky fans, because they're loud and out of place?'

JPS Response: I believe Feinstein that he talked personally with Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski at some point over his concerns, but I don't believe for a second that he openly criticized Duke (via a national medium such as writing an article) over Carolos Boozer's dad, or Chris Duhon's mom etc. getting a high paying job from Duke boosters in the Triangle while their sons were playing basketball there.

If he did, then he or a reader can kindly point me to such an article and I'll gladly retract this.

To me this is yet another clear case of hypocrisy on the part of John Feinstein. If something like this had happened at Kentucky, Feinstein would be all over it and would certainly have written an article or two with national reach. (More likely he'd likely be repeating himself for the next 20+ years, oftentimes getting the actual details mangled along the way as is his custom.)

It is interesting to note that Feinstein quickly tried to divert the conversation to a completely different topic, and one which he knew had no substance and was a misunderstanding. IMO he switched topics for good reason, since mentioning Duke's issues reveals his double-standards.

John Feinstein: What I said to him when John Wall was given the Rookie of the Year award by the US Basketball Writers Association, in 2010, and I was sitting next to him on the dais. And he went up and talked about John Wall and what a great student he was, and how he was going to graduate.

And I was: 'Why wouldn't he just talk about what a hell of a basketball player he was?'

Matt Jones: But maybe he can do both?

John Feinstein: But he didn't win an award for being a student, he won the award for being a basketball player...

JPS Response: I find it insincere that Feinstein was so baffled by John Calipari's remarks.

To me it was clear what Calipari's motives were, and that was to directly challenge the mindset of many sportswriters (including John Feinstein) present and others who automatically assume that because someone is a good basketball player that they don't attend classes, or don't work hard in the classroom.

And to Matt Jones' point this assumption was often made directly against Kentucky, when the reality is that by-and-large the opposite is true.

John Wall was not a great student (i.e. certainly compared to the likes of Brandon Knight), but he was certainly capable and when he came to Kentucky he made a commitment to do his classwork and finish out the semester, even though he had decided to enter his name into the NBA draft. To his credit he made good on that commitment and Calipari was recognizing him for such.

Under Calipari nearly every other basketball player has done the same (the lone exception being Daniel Orton, who wasn't even a Calipari recruit). This, along with other initiatives to bring back players who have exhausted their eligibility to return to school and finish their degrees etc., shows a commitment to education by Calipari, the basketball program, the athletic department and the school.

So when Bobby Knight, or John Feinstein or some other naysayer makes a remark insinuating that these players don't go to class, or skip out taking any classes the second semester (yes some have erroneously claimed this), it's not only untrue, but it's insulting to the players who are putting in the time and effort, and a sign of sheer ignorance on the part of the critic.

John Feinstein: YOU said ... I said ... you said I mocked Kentucky fans for caring TOO much. I think there are many fans in all sports...

Matt Jones: But why is it Kentucky that you focus on?

John Feinstein: Because Kentucky comes up. Because they're on television all the time, because they're good, because they have the history that they do.

You can't sit here Matt, and tell me that their history is PERFECT. It's not!

Matt Jones: Nobody's is.

JPS Response: It's nice to hear that Feinstein can at least admit that Kentucky is good. Still doesn't explain his obsession with criticizing them disproportionate to any other school, however.

And nice straw-man argument by trying to assume Matt claimed UK's history was perfect. I don't know of anyone who has made such an argument. UK's history isn't perfect, and most serious UK fans are fully aware of. But then neither are any of the other schools who Feinstein treats differently than he does UK.

Matt Jones: In 1966 the famous game, Rupp's Runts. All-white Kentucky. All-black Texas Western team.

In the semi-finals, who did Kentucky beat?

John Feinstein: They beat an all-white Duke team.

Matt Jones: And if Duke won that game?

John Feinstein: Then probably Vic Bubas would have gotten the label that Rupp got...

Matt Jones: So when I hear you criticize Rupp, why not for Vic Bubas too? Your alma mater.

John Feinstein: OK, because, number one there were two black freshmen at Duke that year, and were not eligible to play.

Matt Jones: Black players started at Kentucky the next year...

John Feinstein: Who were not eligible to play, OK, and Rupp has a history. You know I know Kentucky people argue this but Rupp had a history of saying he didn't want black players.

Matt Jones: And neither did Duke. Duke had no black players.

John Feinstein: Duke did have black players... Matt, racism existed throughout the South!

Matt Jones: But the one that matters to you. You focus on Rupp because he won. But your school was the same. And you never bring that up.

John Feinstein: It wasn't the same and I do bring it up. I have said on more than one occasion that Duke was lucky to lose that night.

JPS Response: This is illuminating to me to learn that John Feinstein still actually holds the belief that Rupp "had a history of saying he didn't want black players."

Not only is there no first-hand evidence of this, if anything it's the opposite as there is plenty of evidence which illustrates that Rupp was working diligently to integrate UK's basketball program, despite the fact that at the time no one else in the SEC had made any effort and was in fact largely hostile to the idea. Rupp was outspoken enough in favor of integration that he and the University were the targets of hate mail and death threats.

First of all, Rupp coached black players in the 1920's while he was a high school coach of basketball and track.

1927 Freeport (IL) High School Track Team

For example the photograph above shows Rupp (far right side second row) with the Freeport track team, including David Lipscombe (seated on first row third from left) and William Moseley (fourth from left). They, along with Moseley's younger sister Katherine were the only black students in the entire school (of about 800 students) at the time.

Beyond that, Rupp went out of his way to coach black players in exhibitions, to instruct black coaches at coaching clinics etc. even during a time period when it was against state law for blacks and whites to be educated together in the same classroom.

Rupp was vocal in the national press indicating his willingness and desire to sign black players to his basketball team. When the University finally gave him the authority, that is exactly what he did, starting with offering a scholarship to Wes Unseld in 1964 and continuing every year thereafter for the remainder of his career.

Where I think Feinstein and others likely gets misled on this issue is the often-repeated claim with respect to Texas Western's coach Don Haskins telling his players before the 1966 National Championship game that Rupp had said something to the effect of 'no five black players could beat my team'.

The problem with this is that there's no evidence whatsoever that Rupp ever said this. Through the years as reporters picked up and repeated the claim, Haskins distances himself more and more from it to the point that he refused to speak of it. Unfortunately, very few reporters had the curiosity or fortitude to investigate whether there was any substance behind the remark, or whether it was simply a motivational ploy by Haskins to get his players psyched up for the game (which is what Dan Wetzel hints at in Haskins biography, Glory Road.)

Another claim which Rupp critics have taken out of context and run with is a remark in UK assistant coach Harry Lancaster's book about Rupp where Lancaster describes a meeting between Rupp and then-president of the University John Oswald, with Oswald reportedly wanting UK to sign black players and Rupp apparently refusing.

What is misleading about this is that the issue wasn't over whether Kentucky should recruit black players, the issue was over whether they should partake in 'tokenism.'

Kentucky had already determined to allow their coaches to recruit black players under Frank Dickey, Oswald's predecessor. By the time Oswald was in office UK and Rupp were already actively recruiting black players. However Rupp was going after bona-fide players who he knew could succeed both on the court and off. He did this after consulting with Branch Rickey, who through Jackie Robinson successfully integrated the Brooklyn Dodgers and Major League Baseball.

Rupp did not agree with the idea of tokenism, and felt that taking a black player who could not succeed would put the player under undue scrutiny and would potentially place him in physical harm when travelling to the South and placing him on the bench where he would be a sitting duck for slurs and objects thrown from the stands. (which Kentucky already endured on the road, even being all-white.)

Oswald was apparently more interested in signing ANYONE, in order to tick off a box that the team was integrated and thus eligible for additional Federal funding for the school.

Rupp's critics (including apparently Feinstein) have seized on this exchange to claim that he did not want to recruit black players, when the actual facts during that time period demonstrates the exact opposite.

By the way, I don't know who Feinstein is referring to when he says there were TWO black players on the Duke freshman team in 1966. One was C.B. Claiborne. Who the other is I have no idea, who he's referring to. Even if Feinstein is correct (not a given with his poor track record with facts), this mystery player didn't stick around to play varsity.

Claiborne is actually an example of what I am talking about with respect to tokenism. Claiborne was known as a good student, but not a particularly good basketball player.

Claiborne endured a number of slights during his time in Durham, including not being able to attend the team's banquet due to it being held in a country club that did not allow black guest. It's not certain, BTW, that Duke ever awarded him a scholarship. This was a common tactic among some schools during that time period (both northern and southern), i.e. to not only adhere to a quota of black players on their team but oftentimes to not provide a scholarship to them while providing them to white players.

Maybe what Matt Jones should have asked Feinstein is whether he supports tokenism? Because this is exactly what he's praising Duke for when he claims that they were measurably ahead of Kentucky with respect to the issue of integration of their teams.

For the record, while I wish that Rupp had been more aggressive and more successful in recruiting black players during that era, I think he was correct to shun tokenism as a quick fix. He was correct at the time and still correct even looking back 50+ years with the advantage of hindsight.

Feinstein and the other Rupp critics either 1.) don't really understand what the real issues were at the time or 2.) believe that tokenism is laudable and a legitimate means of saying you accomplished something.

Matt Jones: Was Duke basketball program racist?

John Feinstein: Of course it was.

Matt Jones: So the next time ....

... both talking at same time...

John Feinstein: ...until Dean Smith got there, so was North Carolina.

Matt Jones: Let me finish this. So the next time you talk about. I want you to do me a favor. The next time Rupp comes up, it will come up at some point, you're a college basketball historian, and you talk about the 'racist Rupp'.

Will you do me a favor and say, racist UK Rupp AND Duke?

John Feinstein: No, I will say and the rest of the South. How about that?

Matt Jones: So you won't say Duke?

John Feinstein: Of course I'll say Duke, because Duke is included in that.

Rupp is the symbol. Everybody gets to be a symbol for good and for bad.

Matt Jones: Because he was good?

John Feinstein: Partly, yes, absolutely.

Matt Jones: That's why. He was a symbol.

John Feinstein: Absolutely. ... If you're not good, you don't matter.

JPS Response: It's nice for Feinstein to recognize that there were other institutions who struggled with integration and the issue of race beyond Kentucky.

But it is interesting to me that he still holds this sort of sacred trust when it comes to Dean Smith and North Carolina. For the record, Dean Smith was head coach at UNC for SIX seasons before he had a black player (Charlie Scott) on the varsity team. (and more if you count his time as assistant coach).

Smith did try the token route at one point by having a black player (Willie Cooper) on the freshman team earlier, but he wasn't offered a scholarship and never ended up playing varsity.

It's noteworthy to me that Feinstein heaps praise on Dean Smith when neither he nor Rupp were successful in terms of integrating their teams during the early 60's.

Yet at the time Rupp was actively offering scholarships to black players (when Smith was not), Rupp was hosting black players in Lexington (going back to the early 1950's both during the regular season and for events such as the Olympic trials) when UNC was still not hosting integrated teams on their campus more than a decade later, and Rupp was quoted nationally saying he was in favor of integration, when there have been no such quotes seen from Dean Smith. [If anyone knows of any please let me know. I've looked and asked numerous persons and have been unsuccessful.]

Much has been made of an occurrence when Dean Smith was an assistant coach that he took a black student with him to The Pines restaurant. That's to his credit, but it was only that one afternoon. The stunt did not result in any fundamental change in policies at the restaurant or in the town of Chapel Hill. In fact, a number of years later that very same restaurant was the scene of organized sit-ins, which resulted in protesters getting doused with bleach.

In comparison, Rupp (who is vilified by Feinstein and many others) was instrumental in arranging hotel accommodations for St. John's in 1951, which had black player Solly Walker. This began a parade of integrated opponents who travelled to Lexington in the 1950's and 1960's to play and were accommodated at local Lexington Hotels (such as the Phoenix and the Lafayette) as a matter of course.

I don't know for a fact if Rupp was the first to secure accommodations for blacks in Lexington hotels but he certainly made it commonplace, and this set the stage for broader integration among other businesses in the city.

There were some instances of problems, such as in the late '50s when someone at one of the hotels refused to serve an integrated Temple team in the hotel's dining room. This prompted Rupp to drive down to the hotel to personally ream out the manager and ensure that the team was served.

Yet despite this, Rupp is still labelled as evil by Feinstein and others. Note that the above examples are not meant to criticize Dean Smith, as much to contrast one person (Smith) who is nearly universally lauded for his stance/accomplishments on race, and in fact has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom largely based on this.

In contrast, a second person (Rupp who by many measures did appreciably more positives with respect to race prior to and during that exact time period than Smith did) is generally scorned.

The remainder of the exchange starts to get to the crux of the matter. That is that Rupp is a convenient symbol for Feinstein. He is singled out because he was so successful. The actual facts don't seem to matter.

This desire to scape-goat Kentucky and Rupp is so strong that Feinstein refuses to agree to name anyone else. It's kind of a step forward that Feinstein is willing to acknowledge and generalize the numerous other schools and throw them under the bus as well for not doing more with respect to integration (which IMO is largely justified)

But it does beg the question why he feels the need to single out UK, when in many aspects they were the leader. [For example it was UK who first took the step to open their athletic programs to black players without the SEC's consent and prior to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which in theory assured accommodations for black persons in the South.)]


So what are the takeaways from this interview ? I took away that:

I actually consider this progress. Baby steps... But progress.


JPS Note: Anyone who is tired of Feinstein's garbage might consider letting media outlets such as NPR, the the Washington Post and ESPN know about his mockery of the position which they have inexplicably afforded him.

Synopsis
Current Irritation Score - 8
Height of Irritation - 10
Notes: Feinstein is one class act (NOT). It's going to bite him in the ass some day.

Back to top.

*Sports Illustrated

*Jock Sutherland

*Bobby Knight

*Digger Phelps

*Billy Packer

*Denny Crum

*Bob Ryan and the East Coast Media

*Bob Gibbons

*Kevin O'Neill

Please send all additions/corrections to

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Compiled by and unattributed sections written by Jon Scott