"We compete more against Kentucky's past than against present teams."
Joe B. Hall
The burden Hall once coveted and later despised had been lifted. With as memorable a performance as the NCAA championship will see in years, Jack Givens had allowed Hall to escape the enormous shadow of Adolph Rupp and he volunteered one brief, inner glimpse.
"The pressures to continue (Rupp's obsession with winning) are tremendous," he said,"and a coach there had better feel this-or not be there. Nothing diverts me from my work.
I may miss out on a lot of things in life. But I was a Kentucky fan before I was a Kentucky player. And I was a Kentucky assistant before I became head coach. No one has ever run that gauntlet at Kentucky."
Gauntlet is the correct descripotion. Hall's gentle, almost meek, exterior hides a competitive fire as fierce as any. Kentucky epitomizes the winning-is-everything mentality of so much of semiamateur sports, and Hall spoke of winning this NCAA basketball tournament the way many NFL coaches speak of winning the Super Bowl.
Four years ago, when Givens, Rick Robey, Mike Phillips and James Lee were freshmen, Kentucky also was in the NCAA finals, in San Diego.
"We went to Marineland, had an Easter egg hunt, that sort of stuff,"Hall said. And Kentucky lost, to the last of John Wooden's great teams. The moral was obvious, at least to Hall.
"There was nothing like that this time,"he said."Dullsville. But wwe won the national championship."Hall spied his fine shooting guard, Jay Shidler, and said:"Are you havidng fun?"
Yeah," Shidler said. "We won."
That Kentucky would beat Duke seemed probable more than 48 hours before it took place, because of the reactions of both teams after semi-final victories. Duke had been delirious after beating Notre Dame. Kentucky seemed irritated after it beat Arkansas.
The contrast was clear. Hall had done what is known in sports as a Lombardi on the Kentucky players, driven them in wasy that startle-and often dismay-most of us. He once called Givens "gutless." He said the team might be known in Kentucky history as the "Foldin' Five" after oneloss this season.He benched three starters at half-time of a regional playoff.
To a man, the players said, in so many words, "Thanks, I needed that." Hall seemed dto stick that fleshy neck of his out about as far as possible this season-and won. But the risk in fact was minimal. He might as well have followed his instincts, because anything less than a final-four appearance probably would have driven him from his job, anyway.
So Kentucky has assembled as wonderful team, one with enough power, speed and intelligence to play anyone at any tempo, and win. But it inspires little elation beyond its True (Blue) Believers.
In fact, hall's first public postgame words were: "I've been so rough on 'em, I hope this is worth it."
Hall was bounced from one postgame radio and television interview to another, and his sermon was that his Wildcats were better humans off the court than players on the court. At one point, he said: "I know that there are a lot of great poepole in this country, but these players are some of the best in the world."
Frequently-and properly-he made references to business, as in, "This is what we're in the business for" and, "This is a very businesslike group." And the freshly minted Hallism: "We stuck to our knittin'."
Hall said he would be able to savor the championship about 12 hours! Then he must continue an equally important season-recruiting-before getting a chance to fish and relax on his farm.
"The pressure's been lifted for the time being," he said. "But when theyd get the balls out again next fall, it'll begin again."
There had been talk, which he did not discourage that he would retire if he won the NCAA title. TYhe fellow who seems to broadcast out of Hall's hip pocket. Cawood Ledford, gave his say-it-ain't-so-Joe pitch.
"We're just foolin' 'em, Cawood," Hall said."We're staying!"
The free world breathed easier. And down a corridor, not 15 yards away, this curse of No.1 was being passed to the Duke coach, Bill Foster, by a reporter who broke into a crowd and chirped: "Gee, this (being runner-up to Kentucky with no seniors) means you'll get tod be ranked first in the preseason polls!"
Foster flinced. One of his standouts, Eugene Banks, had received a pregame death threat. Foster had gotten the worst technical-foul call in memory. His team played well-but lost. Now this.
He delivered his reply on ice:
"Oh, great." He clapped his hands. "I'm so glad to hear that. hoe Hall had such fun this year being picked No. 1. I'm going out right now and celebrate.