An assist from Darrell Griffith, the Doctor Dunkenstein

My son Steve was four or five years old, my wife was teaching summer school at Male High School during the summer of 1979.  For some reason he had accompanied her to school that day.

He doesn’t remember the experience but his mom sure does, and his dad will always be envious.

Darrell Griffth with Denny Crum at the NCAA Region last season.
Darrell Griffith with Denny Crum at the NCAA Region in Lexington last season.

Around lunchtime they wandered down to the gym. Everything wasn’t air conditioned in those days so it was pretty hot in the middle of the summer. Much to their surprise, they find a basketball player with a University of Louisville sweatshirt dribbling around a jumbled row of chairs, working on his foot work.

After a little small talk, the player tossed the ball to Steve, wanting him to take a few shots. But the highlight for his mother came when the big guy, 6-foot-5, would pick up the little guy, 3-foot-9, and raise him above his head so junior could shove the ball in the rim. He would have to do it two or three times, of course.

Continue reading “An assist from Darrell Griffith, the Doctor Dunkenstein”

Ellison enshrined in Kentucky Hall of Fame

Pervis Ellison and Denny Crum (Jim Reed photo)
Pervis Ellison and Denny Crum

Almost three decades after leading the University of Louisville to its second national basketball championship, Pervis Ellison was inducted into the Kentucky Hall of Fame on Thursday, along with former UofL football player Dwayne Woodruff.JR10046-EllisonPlaque

Ellison was the first freshman to be picked as Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament after UofL defeated Duke 72-69 in 1986. He had 2,143 points, 1,149 rebounds and 374 blocked shots during his collegiate career. His jersey hangs in the KFC Yum! Center.

Ellison was the No. 1 pick in the 1989 NBA draft. He was chosen by the Sacramento Kings and spent 11 seasons as a pro. He also played for the Bullets, Celtics and Supersonics.

Woodruff, who graduated from UofL in 1979, played cornerback 12 seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, making 37 interceptions. A sixth round draft pick,  he won a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV. His football jersey hangs in Cardinal Stadium and a study center for athletes on campus bears his name.

Lexington is for the Birds

familyA family with mixed loyalties enjoys pre-game tailgate on the floor in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency prior to the University of Louisville- North Carolina A&T NCAA basketball game Thursday in Lexington.

Denny-and-DarrellMeanwhile over in the Patterson Ballroom, former U of L Coach Denny Crum and All-American Darrell Griffith were greeting University of Louisville alumni at a $25 a plate reception and pep rally, signing autographs and recalling their first NCAA championship in 1980.

Paying respects to a Louisville icon

Click to enlarge

Among the representatives of the University of Louisville and the athletic department paying their respects to Owsley B. Frazier during visitation Tuesday at the Brown & Williamson Club at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium were U of L President Jim Ramsey,  Dan McDonnell, baseball coach; Lisa Pinkston, director of operations, softball; Sandy Pearsall, softball coach; and Jeff Walz, women’s basketball coach. Retired U of L basketball coach Denny Crum was also there to say farewell to the most generous donor in the community’s history. A short distance away, Frazier’s favorite football team was busy preparing for the season opener.

Louisville’s surge shatters UK’s smugness

One of the most amusing aspects of  the days leading up to the Final Four showdown has been the inability of UK coaches, players and fans to avoid talking about University of Louisville basketball.

That doesn’t come easy for a university, which for the better part of the past century, was so wrapped up in its own existence that it was oblivious to the advances of the other school. Convinced of its superiority, not wanting that challenged, the UK athletic department refused to schedule UofL in basketball. That would change after 1983 when an NCAA clash was unavoidable, resulting in a memorable loss to UofL and subsequent pressure from the state legislature.

Earlier this season one of the biggest selling items in Lexington retail outlets was a T-shirt embroidered with “Louisville Is Invisible,” the buyers going along with the contradiction. The person who coined the slogan thought it was provocative, UK fans actually bought into it. But it was considered laughable by Louisville fans.

When it's all said and done, respect is all U of L fans expect from their counterparts. The basketball program is getting plenty of it this week.

UK Coach John Calipari also made a transparent attempt to disrespect the most profitable program in college basketball and the 22,000-seat KFC Yum! Center, declaring, “It’s Kentucky throughout this whole state.” Never mind that Bluegrass polls have consistently debunked the notion that UK is more popular than U of L in Louisville and Jefferson County.

Rick Pitino said the other day that part of the animosity toward UofL was the cultural differences between Lexington and Louisville, rural versus urban and all that portends. U of L was an early leader in recruiting black athletes, with many UK followers jokingly referring to the Louisville “Black Birds” as Cardinals’ success continued. Even today, UofL is referred to as the “ghetto school” by some UK partisans.

Denny Crum, a young protege of UCLA’s Johnny Wooden, would take over the basketball program in 1971 and lead his team to a Final Four during his first season and later notch two national championships. He would be succeeded in 2001 by Rick Pitino, causing mass resentment among UK fans, taking U of L to the Final Four in 2005. That would spark construction of a new 22,000-seat arena, the envy of college basketball. Now UK fans want a new arena but may have to settle for a renovation.

The fan base idolizes the players and worships the basketball program, not taking kindly to challenges, criticism or competition, especially within state borders.

Kentucky basketball, lately, has thrived on one-and-done’s, curiously returning the program to a powerhouse status, feeding the massive ego of the fan base, achieving what it believes to be the ultimate. The fan base idolizes the players and worships the basketball program, not taking kindly to challenges, criticism or competition, especially within state borders.

When it’s all said and done, respect is all U of L fans expect from their counterparts. The school is getting plenty of it this week for two reasons. The Louisville program has earned it and UK fans have no other choice but to acknowledge what UofL has accomplished.

What a week with John Calipari and his followers talking so much about Louisville. The worst fear of Cats’ fans is that everything they believe in could be at risk because of a rival they refused to acknowledge for so long.