University of Kentucky Basketball History

The University of Kentucky basketball program has a history that rivals that of any college in any conference in America. The Kentucky Wildcats, located in Lexington, Kentucky, boast at the top of their resume the most wins in college basketball history. An arguably even more important record held by the University of Kentucky basketball program is the high water mark for the greatest winning percentage of all time. Among the other notable accomplishments in the hundred plus year history of Kentucky basketball are seven national championships (second only to UCLA) and 98 NCAA Tournament wins (second to UNC).

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The Kentucky program has had enviable success in every decade of an existence that started with an inauspicious beginning when the inaugural 1903 season was completed with a dismal 1-2 record, the lone win coming against the Lexington YMCA. Underwhelming success for the upstart program nearly resulted in the basketball squad ceasing to exist past the first decade of the twentieth century. With a cumulative record of 15 and 29 after the 1908 season the university administration voted in 1909 to dismantle the program. Fortunately the student body rallied to save the team and effectively what would eventually become the culture of the University of Kentucky.

The first paid head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky was a man by the name of E.R. Sweetland who also concurrently coached the football team. Under coach Sweetland the future powerhouse experienced its first taste of success with its first winning season (5-4) in 1909 and an impressive undefeated season (9-0) in 1912. It was during this era that the nickname Wildcats was first attached to the university. Commandant Corbusier, head of the school's military department, is credited with coining the term after commenting that in a victory over the University of Illinois the Kentucky squad "fought like Wildcats." The nickname stuck and to this day college basketball fans around the world know the University of Kentucky team as the Wildcats.

New coach George Buchheit took over the program in 1919 and instituted a bizarre system by modern day standards whereby one player from his team remained under each basket for the entirety of each game. After coach Buchheit a number of coaches preceded the famed Coach Adolph Rupp including C.O. Applegran, Ray Eklund, Basil Hayden, and John Mauer. Maur is particular noteworthy for installing what were at the time novelty offensive components that included screens set away from the ball and the deceptive bounce pass. Opposing teams were so thrown off by the ingenuity of the bounce pass that they referred to the dizzying floor maneuvers simply as the "submarine attack."

Kentucky basketball turned a critical corner with the 1930 hiring of Adolph Rupp who would hold the position of head coach for an awe-inspiring forty two years between 1930 and 1972. Coach Rupp experienced such success and national acclaim during his tenure that when the University of Kentucky opening a new stadium in 1976 the faculty selected Rupp Arena as the name of the 23,500 seat home for the Wildcats.

Although Coach Rupp was a tough act to follow he did cement the groundwork for successful Kentucky teams in the decades following his retirement. Among the high profile coaches that have tried their best to fill his shoes are notable names such as Joe Hall, Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, briefly Billy Gillispie, and current head coach John Calipari who at the time of this writing has the Kentucky Wildcats in position to fight for their eighth NCAA national championship. Regardless of whether Coach Calipari wins a basketball national championship at the University Kentucky the one thing that history has taught us is that the quest for an elusive eighth championship is not a matter of if it will happen, but rather when will it happen.


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