As early as the 1960's when Kentucky first recruited a black player, Wes Unseld, from Louisville, Kentucky has been plagued with problems convincing black players to make the move to Lexington. Their coach at the time, Adolph Rupp was slow to integrate his basketball team and was considered by many to be racist. Louisville benefitted greatly during that time with the anti-UK perception in the black community despite the fact that the U of L coach, Peck Hickman had been coaching since 1944 and hadn't recruited a black player until 1962 when Hickman integrated the program with Wade Houston from Alcoa Tennessee. Earlier, Hickman was pressured by the community to recruit Wes Unseld's older brother, George but the offer never came.
"People are always mad at Kentucky for being segregated so long," he [George] reflected after a long career as athletic director of the Jefferson County (Louisville) public school system, "but you've got to look at Louisville like people look at Rupp. To me, they're two peas in a pod - at least at that time." - by Lonnie Wheeler, Blue Yonder, Orange-Frazer Press, 1998, pg. 48.
Despite the fact that only two years separated the Universities of Louisville and Kentucky from when they recruited black players, the after-effects gained momentum and led to deep divisions in perception for the rest of the century. Louisville began to recruit more and more talented black players and with the ascension of Denny Crum in the mid-1970's, became a vanguard program for the utilization of athletic black basketball teams. Kentucky, on the other hand, went through most of the 1960's unable to sign black players, many of whom turned down Kentucky offers to sign with Louisville or another in-state power Western Kentucky. Joe B. Hall made great strides as head coach beginning in the early 70's to attract black talent but his (and his successor Eddie Sutton's) structured style of play did little to win over the admiration of young black athletes, thus perpetuating UK's lowly position. This perception has continued to this day despite constant work by Kentucky coaches, most notably Rick Pitino, to improve relations in the city including holding scrimmages which benefitted the Urban League and by inviting a Louisville legend, Muhammad Ali and other prominent blacks such as Spike Lee to sit on the Kentucky bench. Pitino was also instrumental in hiring Bernadette Locke who later went on to become the head coach of Kentucky's women's basketball team and with supporting Orlando Smith for the UK position when Pitino stepped down in 1997.
"The passion they have in a negative sense I feel very uncomfortable with," Pitino said. "Certain things you can't change because they don't want to change. Both black and white. But a majority of people do want to see us come together where the University of Kentucky is 'we' and 'our' and not some place over there in Lexington." - Rick Pitino, by Jerry Tipton, Lexington Herald Leader, "UK Basketball Scrimmage To Benefit Urban League, Improve Race Relations," October 9, 1992.
Wes Unseld admitted to some concern when he found out his favorite niece had enrolled at Kentucky. "When my niece first enrolled, I thought, 'How could you ?' " he said. "But I realized that had nothing to do with her. She wasn't even born when most of that happened." - by Jerry Tipton, Lexington Herald Leader, "Spurned by UK in '60s, Wes Unseld to Coach in House that Rupp Built," October 20, 1992.
Unfortunately, the effort has not been entirely successful. Rick Pitino mentioned in a Sports Illustrated Article that Jason Osborne's grandparents informed him that no grandchild of theirs would set foot on the campus of Rupp's university. (Sports Illustrated, "On the Scene," April 1996.)
Pitino thought he had a good shot at stealing Jason Osborne from the grasp of hometown University of Louisville. The 6-foot-8 forward from Male High would be the state's Mr. Basketball in 1993, and Pitino envisioned him as his first foothold in the state's most fertile basketball breeding ground.
Then he stepped into the family's West End living room.
What he heard that day was similar to what he heard three years earlier in the living room of Dwayne Morton, the 1990 Mr. Basketball from Central: "We like you; we like your style of play; we like your results. But you're asking us to send a black child to Adolph Rupp's university. Not a chance."
"I felt sick when I walked out of there," Pitino said. "(Osborne's) grandparents said, 'We'd never let him set foot on that campus.' " - by Pat Forde, USA Today, "Legacy of Rupp Slow to Recede Repercussions of 1966 Title Game Still Echo in Many Ears," April 2, 1996.
Despite constant problems associated with rival schools trying to woo recruits away from Kentucky based on racial fear, Kentucky continues to improve in the area and attract great black players who aren't easily swayed by desperate recruiting pitches by rival coaches.
Before becoming a Cat, he [Derek Anderson] pondered UK's poor image in Louisville's inner city. "I was thinking my friends are going to hate me for going to Kentucky," he said. "I thought about it for 30 seconds. Then I decided I wasn't going to worry about it." - (Lexington Herald Leader, "Success of Anderson Aids UK in Louisville," November 10, 1996.)
Anderson and Kentucky were rewarded in 1996 when UK won the national title, often starting five black players.
"There's a big difference coming back from winning the championship," Anderson said. "Everybody's a lot more aware of Kentucky now. People you'd never think would give Kentucky praise, they did it. I don't know if they're actually fans or happy I was there, I don't know what it was, but there was a bunch of blue and white in the community." - (Lexington Herald Leader, "Success of Anderson Aids UK in Louisville," November 10, 1996.)
Return to Kentucky Wildcat Basketball, detractors or Rupp page.Compiled by and unattributed sections written by Jon Scott