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The man in the brown suit tugged nervously at his socks, squirmed on his chair, periodically leaped up to loose a volley of abuse at a panting Kentucky player. Out on the floor of Louisville's Freedom Hall, the University of Kentucky basketball team was botching plays, losing passes, defending raggedly against an alert Illinois team. Coach Adolph Rupp relaxed only when a last-ditch Illinois shot rolled harmlessly off the rim, preserving a 76-75 Kentucky victory. Sighed the Baron: "That one nearly killed me."
In 28 years as head basketball coach at Kentucky, Adolph ("The Baron") Rupp, 57, has fretted and fidgeted his way through 595 victories, lost only 103 games. His teams have triumphed with a pleasant monotony characteristic of the New York Yankees, won the N.C.A.A. championship a record four times, the National Invitation tournament and 19 Southeastern Conference championships.
There have been troubles too. Kentucky's 1952-53 team was banned from N.C.A.A. play on charges that Rupp knowingly used ineligible players, condoned cash payments to his stars. But Kentucky did not blame the Baron, in fact gave him a vote of confidence.
"I Want to Win." "He's not the most modest coach who ever came down the pike," says West Virginia's Fred Schaus of Rupp, "but he's the greatest." Says Tennessee's Coach Emmett Lowery:
"Life doesn't hang on the result of a basketball game, but it seems like it when you play Rupp." Rupp himself cares little about the effect his self-centered personality has on others. Says he: "I am not engaged in a popularity contest. I want to win basketball games." So far this season, Kentucky has won them all in tough competition, e.g., St. Louis, West Virginia, Maryland, at week's end ran its record to 11-0 by dumping Georgia Tech 72-62.
Rupp's success at Kentucky is traceable to indefatigable recruiting, and a merciless concentration on perfection of fundamentals. Admits the Baron: "Of course, we get good boys here at Kentucky. Every boy in the state, from the time he's born, lives for the day he can play at the university." Once Rupp gets his players, he drills them endlessly and without letup. They live together in the same dormitory, eat a special diet. Practices are conducted in semi-silence, save for an occasional tongue-lashing directed by Rupp at a player who is not giving his all. "Boy," he will holler sarcastically, "give that ball to someone who knows what to do with it." To another: "Go back in the stands and read your press clippings."
Playing Together. After a defeat, Rupp has been known to order his players to keep their uniforms on until the crowd has left, then send them back on the floor to iron out the mistakes they had made in the game. There is seldom an outstanding star on Rupp's fast-breaking, hard-running Kentucky teams. Rupp does not believe in them. "If the star has an off night, the whole team has an off night." he explains. Says North Carolina's Frank McGuire: "Kentucky has found the secret of basketball, that it's five guys playing together."